Yesterday, I had a book reading and signing—my first promotional event ever— and I was an overwhelming combination of exciting and nervous. I was worried, ‘will anyone show up,’ ‘will I read well,’ and ‘what if I freeze?’ Ultimately the answers were that people did show up, I did decent reading, and I didn’t freeze.
The first question, ‘will anyone show up’ was really my biggest fear, because it was somewhat out of my control. I had invited a lot of people, and didn’t know how many would actually be coming. I knew that my parents, my sister, and my mother-in-law would be there, but how many others? Ultimately I had several friends, friends parents, and parents friends show up. But one person I didn’t know about, and certainly didn’t expect showed up as well.
I was talking with my sister before taking the podium to read, and an older woman came up to me with an excited smile, and a twinkle in her eyes.
“You’re Michael Cole?” she asked gently.
“Yes,” I said with a smile, assuming she had seen the flyer that the bookstore had put out, and was just interested in seeing a book reading.
“Where did you go to first grade?” she asked.
I stumbled for a minute, because I couldn’t remember the name of the school, but my sister chimed in and said, “Banks School in Waltham.”
Her smile widened reassured, and she pulled a manilla folder out from under her arm, and opened it. It held a class picture, of me at seven years old, along with twenty or so other children, some of whom I vaguely remembered, and in the corner a younger version of herself, with the same excited smile.
“I saw your name and picture in the newsletter, and I thought you had the same eyes.” To give you some perspective, I was seven years old in 1992, and obviously looked quite a bit different than I do now, so for her to have recognized me is nothing short of amazing.
“I was your first grade teacher, but I never knew what happened to you.” She went on to explain that she had kept up with all of the students that she could, many of whom had grown up in Waltham and gone through the school system. She still spoke with a few people from my class.
The summer between second and third grade, my family moved from Waltham to Marlborough, where we lived until after I graduated high school.
Excited that it was actually me, she went to the front of the store, and bought a copy of my book, and came back and listened to the reading. After the reading, she spoke with my mother, my wife, and my sister, and took a picture with my wife, son, and me.
Yesterday was a great day in a lot of ways, and I am so grateful to everyone for coming out, and supporting me, but this was such a wonderfully bizarre turn of events, and really made my day. I should also mention that all of the excitement immediately before my reading did take my mind off of my nerves, because—as for most people— public speaking isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with.
Her name is Jane Lillis, and last night, after my mother and I both posted on Facebook about the experience, and my mother posted the picture of Ms. Lillis with Sarah, Logan, and me, my cousin, who had gone to Banks as well commented “Is that Miss Lillis?” and “She has always been awesome.”
I don’t remember much from first grade, unfortunately, I didn’t really remember Ms. Lillis, but she remembered me, and apparently most of the other kids she had, and it seems clear to me that she was (she’s retired now) a very special and dedicated teacher.
Thank you so much Ms. Lillis for coming yesterday, and making yesterday very special.
(I didn’t include the entirety of the class picture in the ‘featured image’ section, because I didn’t know if all of the people in the picture would be ok with that, and I do not have contact with any of them.)