My childhood memories are so intertwined with my twin’s that sometimes we have a hard time keeping straight where one of our experiences started and the other’s ended. Case in point, to this day we continue to agree to disagree about a dream we both insist we had when we were 3 or 4 involving a big white evil car, a ballerina and skeleton bones down a drain. I swear it was my dream. Shelly swears it was hers.
So it was for us at Sequoia Junior High School in 1969 and 197o, because even though technically, I never had Mrs. Carroll as a teacher, Shelly did. But all these years later, I still feel as if Mrs. Carroll was my teacher, too.
Her full name was Ingeborg Mafalda Carroll, but to her students, she was Mrs. “Inky” Carroll. She died June 4 at age 82, which blows my mind because to me, she’ll remain eternally in her mid-30s.
When Mrs. Carroll was Shelly’s teacher, Shelly came home from school with daily stories about this incredible, funny, kind, strict teacher who actually favored Shelly. In fact, Shelly was sure she was Mrs. Carroll’s favorite. I, being Shelly’s identical twin in another class (Mr. Blomster’s), assumed second-hand favorite student status with Mrs. Carroll, too. To be a favorite of Mrs. Carroll’s was a very nice thing.
I cannot think of Mrs Carroll without remembering one incident that happened in 1969, though Shelly nor I knew the entire story until decades later, long after we’d left Sequoia, grown up, married, and had children of our own.
Background: It was 1966 when our father divorced our mother, and left us all behind in Redding. Our mother’s mental health ebbed and flowed, and she struggled to stay afloat. Although occasionally she rallied and had a few good days, eventually she took a nosedive and sank to a place of no return.
We had no car, very little money and sometimes even less food. My sisters and I developed these coping-skill mind games, like one where we would sprinkle powdered Tang on Wheaties and pour water on it so we could pretend it was milk on our cereal.
Clothes were an afterthought. Homework was never done. Hygiene was optional, because there was nobody nagging us to take baths, brush our teeth, and all that stuff that should be routine. We had no family, and my mother had burned her few friend bridges. It was our mother, and us four, increasingly feral girls.
By the time Shelly and I hit Sequoia Junior High, we must have looked like a couple of ragamuffins. I remember being aware of “rich” girls – clean kids with clean hair – who wore the similar styles of clothes and shoes. I knew my sisters and I were misfits, but we were so far from the norm that it never dawned upon me to want to be part of that group of popular, affluent (probably middle class, in retrospect) girls.
Our mother finally killed herself in 1969. Our father didn’t want us, so we became foster kids – basically just handed over by default – in the home of the people I’d called for help the night Mama died. That began a whole other kind of horror-story dysfunction, but that’s not what this story is about.
This story is about Mrs. Carroll – who I now know, thanks to Facebook posts by her former students on the page of her daughter, Robyn Rockwell — that 1969 was the first year Mrs. Carroll became a teacher. It was her second career. Her first career was as a hairdresser, so she got a relatively late start on her 25-year teaching gig.
It was shortly after our mother’s death that Mrs. Carroll really took Shelly under her wing. Once, Mrs. Carroll even selected Shelly from all the students in the entire class to go to the library and stay there to look up some obscure piece of information. That was so Mrs. Carroll.
At the library, Shelly searched and searched for what Mrs. Carroll had requested, but she couldn’t find it, even after asking the librarian for help. She didn’t want to disappoint her favorite teacher. When Shelly returned to the classroom she found a somber scene with a stern looking Mrs. Carroll. Some of students – even a few boys – were crying. The bell rang. Class was over, and nothing was ever said about that day until many years later, when Shelly bumped into a former classmate from Sequoia, a girl who was part of the popular, well-dressed group. The girl/turned woman asked for Shelly’s forgiveness, and said she was haunted by something that happened in Mrs. Carroll’s class.
That’s when Shelly learned the real reason Mrs. Carroll had sent Shelly on the impossible library errand. While Shelly was at the library, Mrs. Carroll lowered the boom on her students. She lectured on bullying and gave them a lesson in compassion after she’d heard unkind comments from some students with regard to Shelly and me. Maybe it was about our clothes, or being poor, or having a mother who’d killed herself. Whatever the catalyst, Mrs. Carroll made a such a lasting impression upon her students that decades later, this particular woman was still feeling haunted and guilty.
Shelly told the woman to let it go. It all happened a long time ago, and the people involved were kids who probably didn’t mean anything by it.
Since Mrs. Carroll’s death, the comments have piled up on Facebook about her, and memories about her, like that epic raised eyebrow, followed by that great laugh. Some people mentioned Mrs. Carroll’s accepting nature, and her tendency to stick up for the underdog. Others talked about how Mrs. Carroll had a knack for informally “adopting” students, and the fact that she made such an indelible impression on her students that multiple students grew up, wrote books and acknowledged in black and white that Mrs. Carroll was a person of tremendous influence and inspiration in their lives.
Some students, like David Arness, reminisced about the “essay jar”.
“Have many times shared with my own kids, some of her teachings,” former classmate Arness wrote on his Facebook comment. “Remember the essay jar? Yes, it was meant as a punishment for acting up individually, but so often turned into an entirely different experience!”
Jennifer Temple put it best. “I won’t forget Mrs. Carroll, either. Here’s to these amazing teachers who teach us for one year and yet who are with us for life.”
Here’s to Mrs. Carroll, a woman who leaves behind her heartbroken family, friends, and countless students. We were all her favorites.
A celebration of life will honor Ingeborg “Inky” Carroll on Mon. June 15 at 2 p.m. at the Valley Christian Center in Anderson.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.