Janus at the Gate: Looking Back


On the Today show this morning, they were talking about January being named for Janus. And how he is associated with gates, doorways and beginnings. Also that he’s depicted with two faces pointing in opposite directions.  Looking forward, looking back. I guess it’s not hard to tell from my previous post I was clearly born in January.

So here’s a post looking back I began for Thanksgiving. Next I’ll tell you about some of the exciting things on the horizon for this spring. Happy New Year all! The best is yet it be …

Last month I got a note from the folks at Edutopia inviting me to contribute to their Thank A Teacher Discussion.  And since the two most important teachers in my life have died this year, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on their importance in my life. And I’m finding they continue to teach me important lessons.

I met “Miss Dorothy” when I was eight years old. No doubt the chaos coming from the living room as I explored the piano was wearing on my mother. She convinced Dorothy I was ready for lessons. Dorothy rose to the challenge and for next 11 years she was a constant in my life. Once a week or twice a week—piano, theory, recorder. Memorizing at least ten pieces every year for Guild auditions; solos, duos, duets, and hymns for NC Music Teachers competitions. Playing and singing with a half dozen other students for book club or garden club. [The year we were all dressed up in long robes with lighted candle wreaths for St. Lucia and Swedish Christmas I particularly remember as exciting and fraught with danger!]

She also loaded us in the car and off we went to music clinics. My first glimpses of UNC, Duke, East Carolina, and Appalachian were all with Dorothy. It seemed perfectly normal at the time, but I look back now and she strikes me as a daring woman indeed.

She was a major cultural force in a very small town. She influenced hundreds of lives—in church, in civic organizations, in education, and in government. She not only taught me Bach, and Chopin, and Debussy, but also style, and professionalism, and dedication. Eleven years with such a woman was perhaps the one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me.

Which brings me my most important teacher.

For a woman who spent more than 80 years mainly in two small towns, my mother was probably the most cosmopolitan person I have ever known.  For me, our family, and her community, she was Dr. Spock, Dear Abby, Julia Child, Miss Manners, protocol specialist Letitia Baldridge, fashion designer Edith Head, and gardener Elizabeth Lawrence all rolled into one.

She introduced me to Orton Plantation, to Biltmore, to Washington, Natchez, Charleston, Savannah and France. She analyzed the structure of things. She studied everything—buildings, rooms, furniture, clothes, people. She was a painter, a dressmaker, a flower arranger, a gardener, a gourmet cook, a designer, and an interior decorator. She took limited resources and transformed them with eloquence and style. All this in addition to her professional life as a registered nurse, a hospital administrator, and an anesthetist.

She taught me the way things should be done. She taught me that reading can open the world to you. She taught me to remain calm in the face of crisis. She taught me the value of honor, a good name, and friendships that last a lifetime.  I am doubly blessed.



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