Why is it that no matter how old we are, we still refer to our teachers by their surname?!
Thirty-five years after leaving my school, Brescia House, I met up with my old sports teacher, Ms Hillcoat. She told me her Christian name was Heather, Heather Hillcoat. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to call her by her first name? Ms Hillcoat. That surname seem to be engraved on my heart! Let me tell you of this encounter and how “Ms Hillcoat” was reunited with an old friend of hers.
I was having lunch with Jan. She is a laid back sort of person who is natural and easy to talk to. I laughingly said to her: “I haven’t thought of this person for ages but you remind me so much of my old PE teacher. Her name was Ms Hillcoat. Heather Hillcoat.”
Jan’s mouth literally dropped open. “Heather Hillcoat!” she croaked. “Gaynor, Heather and I both trained to become PE teachers together. She was a very close friend of mine.”
Now it was my turn to be totally gobsmacked. They had lost touch with each other when they graduated. I told my friend, B, about this amazing coincidence while we were having lunch in Knysna.
“Mum said that she had seen Ms Hillcoat several years ago, serving in an antique shop not far from where we are now,” I said spearing an asparagus.
“Here? In Knysna?” asked B, her asparagus un-speared and looking forlorn. “Let’s have a look on Google and see if we can find her.”
B is a wunderkind on the computer and within seconds she said to me: “Is this her?”
I looked at a photo of a Knysna bowls team and there, grinning back at me, was a well remembered face from my past. Within seconds B had her phone number and I heard a familiar voice answer the phone.
“Ms Hillcoat…um…this is Gaynor Young. I’m not sure if you remember me but….”
“Gaynor, of course I remember you! How totally wonderful to speak to you.”
“I’m in Knysna at East Heads Cafe and I wondered…”
“That is just around the corner from me…….”
We drove the five minutes to her house. I got out of the car and walked hesitantly towards the door. I was quite nervous about seeing Ms Hillcoat again. I remembered her on the hockey field with us, silver whistle in her mouth, running as the ball swung from one side of the field to the other. She was dressed in her blue sports skirt which showed off her sporty, tanned legs. Her voice was encouraging, reprimanding, coaxing. Thirty-five years later, I rang the doorbell and there she was!
I stepped back from an enormous hug and looked into that well-remembered face. More creases showed on both of us but she still had that wonderful large white smile and those blue eyes that could be incredibly piercing. I introduced B and we went through to where coffee was brewing.
“And, Gaynor, please won’t you sign this for me?” Ms Hillcoat held out a well read copy of my book.
“You bought it!” I exclaimed, “Oh, Ms Hillcoat, I am so pleased.”
“Gaynor, it’s Heather, remember? And yes, I have lent this book to countless people. It’s just great!”
Before we left that day we made arrangements to meet at East Heads Cafe with Jan. What a wonderful breakfast we had that day. It was a meeting of old friends and new. Jan and Heather had been friends almost fifty years ago. A lot changes in one’s life during that time. I last saw ‘Ms Hillcoat’ when I was seventeen years old. Thirty-five years ago, I was a different person. That lunch was a re-discovering of our past, of our present, of each other.
As Jan said later: “I felt grateful to meet a soul of my past and to realise once again that not many degrees remove us from people who’ve influenced our lives.”
“She bought back long forgotten but happy memories,” Heather recounts.
It was a period of discovery for me too. I was experiencing the birth of a new friendship.
I re-encountered my old school teacher, Ms Hillcoat. I met up with ‘Heather’. She was no longer a teacher. Here was a potential friend! Teachers are an invaluable part of life and I am so grateful for them. But friends are something else entirely.
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand
Nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship
It is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one
When you discover that someone else believes in you
And is willing to trust you with a friendship.”
Ralph Waldorf Emerson