Meet Miss Mildred Shelton. It’s actually Mrs. Shelton but holding true to southern culture and respect, everyone just calls her Miss Mildred.
I have known Miss Mildred the majority of my life but only from afar, as I went to school with her son, Shannon. Miss Mildred’s daughter, Lee Joyner, is a follower of both Germain Media and myself. Lee contacted me, informing me that I might be interested in telling her mom’s story. When Lee gave me the rough details I couldn’t help but wholeheartedly agree!
I set up a time to meet with Miss Mildred at her home in Hot Springs, North Carolina for January 21, 2017. Miss Mildred greeted me at the door, asking me politely to come in. She escorted me into her very neat living room, wearing ladies slacks, button up blue blouse and dress slippers.
We went through the normal custom of having an introductory conversation. I find her to be very warm and forthcoming. Her smile is gentle and when she laughs her eyes gleam with just a bright spark. I cannot decide if that spark is defiance or mischievousness. She cuts no corners and is direct, a trait I admire and also possess. This allows our conversation to flow smoothly.
As always, I start by asking Miss Mildred about her childhood and upbringing.
One of nine children, she begins “Well, I spent most of my childhood here in Hot Springs. However, I came from a broken home and when I was a teenager, I went to live with my father for four years in Miami, Florida.”
“I came home one summer to visit mother. She rented a place over in town and was having to move. My brother-in-law, Henry, decided that he was going to get some help moving mothers furniture and belongings. Little did I know that the young man he hired, Robert, would wind up becoming my husband.”
“Well, Robert helped him move the stuff but he did not speak one word to me. Not one! And he did not speak a word to me for one whole year until I came back the next year.”
She goes on “I saw him on the bridge in town and we had a conversation. When we wrapped it up, I said ‘Let’s go home’. Robert always said when I said that he took me up on it and never left!”
She laughs and smiles fondly at the memory.
I switch gears, turning to her career, as I have always known Miss Mildred as a school teacher.
“I guess I was what you would call a late bloomer. I didn’t graduate college until I was in my forties. My first job was working at the old Walnut School through the National Family Literacy Program, which I did for thirteen years until they cut the funding for it. I taught adults and three year olds how to read.”
This would wind up being the hallmark of Miss Mildred’s teaching career. She is an absolutely fierce advocate of literacy, not only nationwide but more in particular for the people within her own community and Appalachia. She even taught GED classes before she ever attended college.
Our conversation drifts to the people and culture of Appalachia for a few moments.
“I once had to go to Washington D.C. for training. The instructor said ‘We have to get the people of Appalachia to catch up with us’. That infuriated me for him to say that.”
“I replied ‘Did you ever think that we don’t want to catch up’?! He didn’t speak to me again.”
“I believe that comments and attitudes like his actually belittle them, not the ones they are trying to belittle because they are measuring people with a yardstick of bias.”
I try to get back on track but cannot help swapping tales and stories. It’s just in my nature. I tell Miss Mildred about the time that Shannon and I played hooky. We took off in his red 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and headed to Asheville, hitting the arcades and looking at cars, dreaming like most young men do.
Miss Mildred smiles and then states matter-of-factly “He played hooky a lot. I sat him down and told him that I didn’t care if I had to come to school with him and follow him from class to class to class. He said that he didn’t want me to be embarrassed. I told him that it wouldn’t embarrass me one bit. He knew my threat was good and that ended the hooky sessions.”
The highlight of Miss Mildred’s career came over twenty five years ago. She got to go to the White House and meet President George H.W. Bush.
However, holding true to her nature, she doesn’t take credit for that event and is actually more proud of how it came to be.
“I had a student named Regina Lynn. Regina had quit school. She came to me and got her G.E.D. She was one of three students nationwide chosen by President Bush to be honored at the White House.”
She continues “Regina went on to attend Mars Hill College and graduated with honors” she says with a note of satisfaction.
Miss Mildred is retired now. Like most of who have aged, she has grandchildren and she is quite proud of all four of them. “I have one in Law School, one who is a nurse, one who is a model and one who is attending college in Berea, Kentucky.”
That being said, Miss Mildred has suffered some heavy setbacks. “I had a fall in July of 2014 and lost my left eye due to it. I lost Shannon a few months later in October of 2014 and then Robert in October of 2015.”
I manage to summons the courage to ask her how she finds strength to carry on. She quickly replies “God!” with emphasis.
“Without him, I could not have done it. Don’t get me wrong. I cried. I screamed. I threw things. But God got me through it.”
I ask her what she misses most about teaching and what problems does she see within the education system today. She laughs and says “Well, I can’t keep you here for the next twenty four hours but I will tell you this; I miss the interaction with the children and I think children should be taught for the sake of learning not learning to test.”
We wrap up our conversation and I walk out the front door, encountering a soft rain shower on the short walk to my car. I cannot help but wonder if the heavens are crying tears of sorrow or tears of joy.
I prefer to think the latter.
In final, I cannot help but ponder on Miss Mildred’s visit with President Bush. He had his famous ‘Thousand Points of Light’ program of which Miss Mildred was one but I think she is much more than that.
Miss Mildred has spent her adult life teaching children and adults alike to both read and succeed. She is a thousand points of light herself, busting through like crepuscular rays on a cloudy day, hitting the valleys and peaks showing both the possibilities for us all and the roads we each must face.
A light to read by. A light to learn by. A light to live by.
For that, we should all be grateful.
Thank You Miss Mildred.
Y’all have a great week!