If we're lucky, we have people from our pasts we look up to and who act as silent, or, sometimes not-so-silent, mentors. These life witnesses help support us when our fears, foibles, griefs and even our crazy ideas overpower us, and, if need be, they are able to gently coax us along until we believe in ourselves again.
In my life I've been blessed with such mentors in triplicate: three ladies I've always referred to as the Great Triumvirate. In my mind, as long as two or even one of these venerable women lived on, loving friends as they were, they all lived. But, in March of this year, the last of them, my mother, Anne Geer, died, and after weeks of emotional and household upheaval, I have had time to reflect on facing the rest of my life without the presence in it of any of my Great Triumvirate.
When they all met in the late 1930s as young teachers at Holland Central School, my GT members had no idea their friendship would last until they were all well into their 90s. Be that as it may, their relationship certainly had an auspicious beginning. During the pre-World War II years, it was expected that unmarried female teachers would board with families in the towns in which they taught. In 1940, though, the ladies in my GT decided to strike out on their own, and they rented a small house together in the hamlet of Holland. This caused quite the scandal! After all, what were they doing there together without "adult supervision" (although they were each close to 30!). My father, who was courting my mother at the time, was warned not to park his car in front of the GT's little house because it might ruin his reputation! That these very staid ladies would have been thought to be notorious was the cause of great humor to them all their lives.
My mother was the school librarian and her gregarious, romantic nature cloaked a steely will, although she always had the courage to admit when she was mistaken. The other two GT'ers, Betty Fisher and Pauline Schenk, math and elementary teachers, respectively, represented totally different personalities from my mother or from each other.
Betty, quiet and stern, seemed at first acquaintance to be as unyielding as a geometry theorem. It wouldn't take an observer long, however, to find that her heart was as big as infinity. Through some fine-tuned inner filter, she was able to hone in on the student or colleague who needed her gentle strength, and she gave it willingly. Pauline appeared to be shy and almost frail, but was strong beyond measure, chiefly because she was the sole support of her mother and younger brothers.
There was a naive seriousness to her that was tempered throughout the years but that never quite left her, and her affection for children was always disarming. In 1942 the GT "broke up" as my mother married, Pauline moved back with her family, and Betty left town, although she eventually returned to teach in Holland. But, for the next 60 years, the GT shared their dreams and struggles with each other, celebrating their differences yet knowing that their history together meant they never had to explain themselves to each other.
Collectively, my Great Triumvirate taught school for almost 100 years and impacted the lives of multiple thousands of children. But their lesson to this wayward offspring is of the patient nurturing a devoted friendship requires, and of the almost mystical glow of joy that spills from and surrounds it, even after the participants are gone.
Judith Geer of Holland counts her fortunes to have been under the caring guidance of three great ladies.