I recently worked as a Poll Clerk for the Canadian federal election. If you voted last week, you were likely served at your polling station by two people. The first handed you the ballot. The other probably had their head down, pen and ruler in hand, frantically shuffling paper. I was the second person.
That pile of paper includes the list of people registered to vote at that specific polling station. Our list was 24 pages long and I leafed through it for 12 hours. One name jumped out at me – I recognized it from elementary school. The uncommon family name was the same as that of my Grade One French teacher. Could this person be related to him?
I turned to my work partner and explained what I had seen. We chatted and decided – keeping privacy in mind – that it would not be inappropriate for me to ask about my teacher, as I saw the name during my duties as Poll Clerk.
A Busy Day
The day was full of faces, names and stories. We watched adults explaining the process to toddlers. Three little sets of hands helped to put the ballot in the box, their eyes growing big when they learned that your vote is a secret. We saw elders, many with walkers and canes, make the effort to come out and cast their ballot.
I had forgotten about my teacher by the time the woman on the list arrived that evening. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know, I told myself.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said, hoping she wouldn’t think I was crazy. She nodded. I asked if anyone in her family was a teacher.
“Yes,” she said. “My father.” I told her that he had been my teacher in elementary school – over forty years ago.
“At South Hull?” she exclaimed. “He taught you?” I laughed to myself – did I look that old? As I told her that I had fond memories of him as my first French teacher, her eyes filled with emotion. “I will make sure to tell him,” she assured me. “Believe it or not, he’s still teaching – university. At 80! He refuses to stop.”
I was pleasantly surprised that my memories of him had touched her the way they did. It was obvious that she was very proud of him. I was also happy to hear that he was alive and well.
When she returned to the table to cast her vote, I wrote my childhood name on a scrap of paper. “Nancy Staniforth,” she read, “I will be sure to let him know.” We smiled at each other as she turned to leave.
A few years ago, I would have been too shy to speak to her. As I grow older, I realize that we may only have one chance to ask a question, share information or tell someone they made a difference in our lives.
I don’t know if he will remember me – the shy blonde girl in the front row of his class in 1975. I do know that it felt good to let him know the impression he made over forty years ago is still with me today.