May 1 — Alma

by Suzanne Sherman

When I was 10, kittens were born in the wall hamper outside
 my bedroom. I counted them as they entered the world, documented the births in my
 new diary. I wrote that Debbie’s mom took us to May Company and I bought opaque tights. It thrilled me. That same day I wrote that my mother took too many pills and went to the hospital. A few days later I wrote that she was coming home, she was feeling better. The only entries for the rest of that year 
were a few sentences, but the new friendship—writing to myself—quickly

Through junior high I wrote in three-ring binders so I could add
 pages as needed, and I needed a lot of pages now. I chronicled scenes of 
talking to crushes, or not talking to them, catching their eye in the 
hall, I wrote poetry about my aching heart, wondered what life was all
 about, longed for love, pined for a friend who moved away. In high 
school the writings went deeper as I tried to find “home,” chronicled my
 fervent resolve to change my ways so I could stay with my father and
 step-family. I took poetry classes in high school, majored in creative
 writing at college, wrote short stories, a novel, graduated into
 publishing, and missed writing more than I could have imagined.

At 26 I led my first writing workshop, at my dining room table. When I left two
 years later to move across the country, one longtime student wrote me a
 note: “Thank you for seeding a new tongue to flower.” I keep that note
 still on my bulletin board. At 36 I was hired at the local junior
 college to teach memoir writing for older adults. I have done it since 1996.

Some days there is nothing else I would rather do. Other days I 
think I should be with people in the middle of their life story, not
 those gearing up for its final chapters. On one of those mornings a few years ago, a small woman was walked into class by her attendant. She was stooped,
 folded in on herself. Students of that class were the most lucid 
ones at the assisted living facility where I taught for the summer, the ones who could write about their lives for the half hour I gave them every week.
 I’ll bet she doesn’t even know why she’s here, I thought. I greeted her 
and gave her my name, she gave me hers–pronounced very
 carefully–”Alma,” and then her attendant seated her at the far end of
 the table opposite me. When she was settled, she announced, “I’m hard of 
hearing.” I suggested she move up next to me, which took her some time,
 but she did it. I welcomed and introduced her, and she repeated her 
name: “Alma.”

I said, “Your name is unusual. Where is it from?”

 Latin,” she told us. “It means the soul.”

Everything around me lit up 
then. Of course. Thank you, Alma. Thank you for reminding me how 
important it is that every tongue find its flowers.

Suzanne Sherman is a writer, writing consultant, editor, and writing teacher (including SCN online classes).


2 responses to “May 1 — Alma

  1. What a wonderful story and a wonderful character you describe in brief but meaningful words. I know her spirit fills you every day.

  2. Beautiful, Susanne. I love the concept of “seeding a new tongue to flower”.

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