Ellen Dranginis. We shared a name (my middle name is Ellen), a birthday, and the love of words. She has been gone for a long time. If she could talk to me today, what would she say?
Egads and little fishes, Miss Wasson! You’ve got what it takes! What are you doing, sitting here and doubting yourself? Get busy writing. Write children’s books. Write poetry. Write what your heart is saying.
She was the queen of Central Junior High School in West Frankfort, Illinois. The monarch of the hallway from the library to her classroom. Not a beautiful woman, by any outward definition, but a beautiful soul who illuminated so many of my days. Devoted to her parents. Never married. Her students were the children she never had.
If it hadn’t been for her, I would have let the layers of don’ts and can’ts and shouldn’ts cover up the precious gift God gave me. She held up the mirror of possibility, told me to look in it, and then christened me as a writer. In seventh grade, because of knowing her, my life turned and changed.
There wasn’t much call for writers in our hometown of 9,000. Being different was difficult for me. I watched and remembered, recorded and embellished, documented and chronicled. My mother saw it as a waste of paper. I saw it as the greatest liberation. Miss Dranginis was the first one to understand.
Years later, while I was teaching creative writing in a fourth grade classroom in Ponca City, Oklahoma, I met Jeremy. Our eyes locked across the classroom, and our love of words connected us. While the other students moaned and barely managed to get a few words on the paper, Jeremy followed me around the room, asking for more paper. His excitement fused with mine, and we were joined in a creative journey. Was I Jeremy's liberator that day? I hope so.
That evening, Jeremy’s teacher took me, the guest teacher, to dinner. Before we had even ordered our food, she asked, “Okay, I have to know. Who in my class has a gift for writing?”
Without even hesitating, I answered, “Jeremy does, for sure.”
“Jeremy? You’re kidding,” she said. “He’s my biggest discipline problem in class.”
I wonder if my experience with Jeremy was like Miss Dranginis’ experience with me. When the flame sparked inside me, she fanned it until it burned brightly. And she never stopped fanning it, despite the water that was poured on it, the fire extinguishers that were aimed on it, and the ashes that barely glowed at times.
I spent only 25 years wondering if I could be a writer. If others would enjoy reading my work. If a little girl from West Frankfort could write for a job. Make a living. Enjoy her life. As long as she lived, Miss Dranginis never stopped encouraging me.
I wish you were here, Miss D. I wish I could hear your voice again. I wish I could talk to you. I wish I could tell you that my writing dreams did come true.
Laura Warfel is a widow, writer, and follower of Jesus Christ. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, because of the encouragement of the Launch Out Conference and Jon Acuff, she launched More Than A Widow on Facebook and Twitter. Today she blogs, tweets, and posts to help widows (and those who know them) find encouragement, hope, and resources for the journey. Her goal is to help all widows live beyond the label and live as more than a widow.
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Warfel