One day before lunch in Mrs. Becker’s 1994–1995 first grade class, we practiced telling time on analog clocks. After lunch, we reviewed basic punctuation.
And before the end of our grueling 8:00 am-2:20 pm day, we learned that Mrs. Becker was 123 years old.
She told us this fact in hushed dramatic tones, equivalent today to a housewife confessing her nose job to camera. She knew it was an enormous revelation, yet she also conveyed an “aw shucks” humble attitude and moved on quickly.
“I am 123 years old, the second oldest person alive,” she said. “Now who can name all the planets?”
We were in awe. Imagine two dozen 6 and 7-year-olds learning that dinosaurs are still around, the moon is indeed made of cheese, or well, that the adult they know best — apart from their families — is a living legend… probably in that giant world record book at home.
After school, when my boisterous older sister tried to wow me with her recently acquired knowledge of moon cycles, I one-upped her:
“Mrs. Becker is 123 years old!” I sang out.
“Is not!” Jenni maturely countered.
“Is so!” I ingeniously debated back.
Then Jenni, sporting frizzy pigtails and pink denim overalls, got serious.
“No, Jodi. Don’t be a dummy! She’s not. She can’t be. She was joking. She didn’t mean for you to actually believe it.”
That supposed “truth” pained me; Jenni might as well have punched me in the stomach or spat on my favorite beanie baby.
Mrs. Becker, my beloved Mrs. Becker = a liar? Say it wasn’t so! Had I read Julius Ceasar by then, I would have likened her to Brutus.
This was a woman who opened up my mind to the joys of math, introduced me to new universes through reading, and comforted me when I fell off the monkey bars. She was my hero, my idol, my savior (who occasionally extended nap time so she could catch more of the OJ trial).
Mrs. Becker couldn’t lie to me! She’s wouldn’t.
So, I continued to believe it. So what if she looked younger than my grandparents, themselves only in their 60s and 70s? I knew about moisturizer and other skincare products from my mom; perhaps Mrs. Becker used really good ones. Perhaps she never smoked, always ate her vegetables, and drank lots of milk. Perhaps, if I did the same, I’d live beyond 120 too.
As I progressed past Mrs. Becker’s cozy teddy-bear-filled classroom and onto older grades, I was told many things I didn’t want to believe.
I learned about pollution, disease, famine, and corruption. I memorized facts about the Holocaust, the Atlantic slave trade, and the Vietnam War.
I discovered my crush didn’t like me back.
I found out that the sweet woman who taught me to swim died — struck by a car in her 30s.
I watched the twin towers fall and learned the word ‘terrorism’. I saw my paternal grandparents fade away and learned the word ‘Alzheimer’s’.
I learned how to prepare for a hurricane, hide from a tornado, write a eulogy.
The world drenched me in truths far more astounding than Mrs. Becker’s supposed age.
While spring cleaning a few years ago, I unearthed that above photo of me, beaming beside an equally radiant Mrs. Becker. I remembered her great tale and decided what I wanted to believe — which concepts taught to me by my many treasured teachers, mentors, and role models within this crazy world I wanted to hold onto. So —
Yes, my first grade teacher was 123.