Sunday, October 26, 2008

Show and Tell: Pomegranate

I've known amazing people. Maria Nichols was head and shoulders above them all.

The best woman I have ever known wasn't much to look at: A tiny hunched over figure with gray frazzled hair and an arm swollen from cancer treatments. She wore thick polyester clothes and had a long face that drooped with age and experience. Her feet would be stuffed into colorless orthopedic shoes.

She wore glasses and when she wanted to make a point to the middle schoolers she taught she would stare through her glasses' thick lenses and slowly, deliberately, push them up her nose with her gnarled middle finger.

She wove amazing tales and prodded students to think and cursed us out in foreign languages while appealing to her sister, Minerva, the goddess, to knock some sense into us.

She also introduced me to pomegranates.

Mrs. Nichols, my mama Maria, taught my social studies class in 7th and 8th grade. (I don't think it was called social studies though. It was the gifted/talented class and I think they called it something else. D, if you're reading, do you remember?) She also let a handful of us eat lunch in her room. We were the social outcasts who would clutch our lunch trays looking for traps to avoid, but once she opened her room to us, it was like our own personal Lyceum. We would eat and talk and listen. And one day we were talking about Persephone, who was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds by Hades to make her return to the underworld. One of us mentioned we had never had a pomegranate, so Mama Maria brought one in sometime shortly after.

I thought of her earlier today as I cracked open a pomegranate. Whenever I see the pomegranate thread the infertility community uses as a symbol, I can't help but think that in another time she would have been a great and wild blogger.She was a true teacher - she didn't just recite facts and expect them recited back. She told stories and made us live them and make connections between them. She wanted us to experience life, not just know some version of it from a book.

My Mama Maria passed away when I was in my senior year of college. Everyone who knew her felt the loss deeply. She made so many feel as though they were her prize student, her special child.

She never said goodbye, she would just send me off with an Irish blessing, as she called me her Irish Colleen.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Only after "May the wind always be at your back" she would mutter "and not of ye'."


  1. You are making me bawl on a Sunday night. What a great story and I'm glad you have such a wonderful association with her with pomegranates.

  2. I love pomegranates and I had that same Irish prayer hanging on the wall of my bedroom growing up.

    What a lovely memory - thank you for sharing!

  3. What a beautiful story Io! I will never look at pomegranates the same again!

  4. This is an awesome story. The memorable teachers you just never forget...

    On the pomegranate note, I *love* them. I put the seeds in salad, tons, and it's divine.

  5. Oh, Io! This is so beautiful! It's freezing here this morning, but my heart is glowing with the warmth of this memory. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful teacher and mentor.

    And I will never hear that blessing again without muttering her little addendum...

  6. Beautiful! It seems like there are so few real teachers recently. (And I was a teacher, so I am allowed to comment, right?)

  7. beautiful poem, your lucky to of had a teacher like that. I had a few too that were great.

    I love poms, but they aren't that great her in Fl, when i lived in Ohio for a short time they were 100% better.

  8. I love this woman and regret that she's no longer with us, because I'd have loved to have met her. What an amazing teacher.

  9. What an absolutely beautiful story. Thanks for sharing such a precious memory.

  10. What an amazing's wonderful that you're able to hang onto such beautiful memories of her.

  11. Io, what a good story. I have never had a pomegranite, but when I do, I will think of that teacher. It's amazing how people touch other peoples lives in such inadvertant(sp?) ways..

  12. Ah, Io, what a post. Speaking as a teacher, I can confidently say you blessed Mama Maria's life as richly as she blessed yours.

  13. Love reading about your amazing teacher.

  14. What a beautiful story, Io. That was one special person, special teacher! Thanks for sharing!!

  15. I just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you yesterday as I tripped through my local Price Chopper. My bean has pink eye so I took advantage of a promotion, filled his script and got a $25 gift card for doing so. I dug through coupons and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I got up to the counter, ended up with 7 bags of groceries, and only spent $6.87 of my own money. I thought to myself, I've got to tell IO about this!

    It made me laugh because I was in the snooty Price Chopper in my area. I was all "ghetto" with my coupons, wearing my sweat pants, and my kiddo had a weepy eye. I think I scared some of the rich ladies. heehee

  16. That was a beautiful post. My most memorable teacher was also a social studies teacher. Thanks for sharing.


  17. wow.

    I actually got shivers reading that.

    I know that poem...I have heard it before...but where?