It's funny. The things you remember from your childhood. Honestly, due to the challenging environment in which I grew up, my brain has all but blocked out the majority of my life up until the age of about eleven. However, a few good memories stick in my mind. For instance, my first play school in Ernesettle, Plymouth. Where I had a best friend named Katie (Katy?), I think that was her name, and we would play at being the A-team (a popular TV show at the time). Strangely, she'd be BA Baracus, and I'd be Hannibal. This is the same play school where I played endlessly with a small He-Man toy that could be pulled backward along the floor before being let fly, zipping along the carpet. I have no idea what it looked like, only how it worked.
Having moved to another area of Plymouth, Honicknowle, I joined West Park Primary School. It was a local council estate school, and was not exactly renowned for its quality. However. Among the war-weary teachers who had all but given up their dreams of enlightening young minds in favour of getting through a day dealing with badly behaved little monsters, there were a few who still held high their torches of truth.
One was Mrs Gentle. Who, as I recall, would tell us that would become Mrs Nasty if we were naughty. She was a patient woman, even in the face of my five-year old arrogance. Indeed, while I was trying to correct her on her understanding of which was the largest dinosaur that ever lived, she patiently told me that I may be right but that there were ways and ways of saying things. Of course she was correct and, together with my mother, my desire to tell the world it was wrong and I was right was quelled. Almost.
At the age of nine, or perhaps ten, another teacher entered my life. She taught class six, and her name was Mrs Gray. This wonderful woman had the light of the world behind her eyes. The universe was a place to explore and it started at your doorstep. Her dedication and love for all the children she taught (yes even the terrors) was boundless. Moreover, she talked to us like little people instead of children. We would read the book 'Roots' as a class, and discuss the concept of slavery. I remember balling my eyes out when being asked to play the white slave driver in a re-enactment of the book. I was sensitive (not sure what happened to that?).
For one reason or another, and I could not tell you why, she took a particular shine to me. She saw in me some spark, some thirst for knowledge. In particular, science in all its forms. Indeed, in class six, Mrs Gray began teaching me about nuclear physics. We read several books on the process of nuclear fission, uranium 238 and the use of carbon rods in the reactor. She gave me a collection of books on the Chernobyl disaster. Yes I was a nerd. Actually, I still am.
Mrs Gray taught me for one year.
For more than twenty years she has followed my scientific career, though my bachelors and my doctorate and into the pharmaceutical industry. Over this time, she has never failed to remember a birthday or a Christmas. Even if I have. Her letters have evolved from pen and paper to email, primarily to accommodate my moving abroad no doubt. With pride that sometimes even I cannot fathom, this wonderful lady will write endlessly about her thoughts on my accomplishments. What's more, she has never focussed, nor proffered an opinion (negative or otherwise), on my many life blunders (and there have been many). No. Her letters merely tell me how she is proud to watch from afar.
So, Mrs Gray, as I write 'Huaca' (the last in the 'Huahuqui' trilogy), the first page already contains a dedication to you.
Thank you for being you and setting me on my path.