Miss Rumphius

Last summer, I discovered the delightful children's book Miss Rumphius written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. We were renting a house on Lopez Island and it was one of those books timed perfectly for the setting in which I first read it.

Then recently, visiting my mom on our way home from Montana, I found a copy of Miss Rumphius on her bookshelf. When I told her how much I loved the book, she said, "Oh yes, one of my favorite teaching supervisors gave that to me. He once wrote a recommendation for me comparing me to Miss Rumphius." My mom taught for 30 years with a 12 year hiatus in-between raising us kids. I asked her if she still had the letter of recommendation and she found it in her files to show me. It is dated from 1996.

As I pondered writing a recommendation for Susan, I was reminded of a children's book titled Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Like other books I've read and enjoyed, this one is for adults as well as children. The story in this book, I believe, best describes Susan. The book is about the Lupine Lady and it reminds me of Susan's philosophy of serving others. So, here is the story.
Once upon a time, the Lupine Lady was a little girl and her name was Alice. Many years ago her grandfather had come to America on a large sailing ship. He was an artist and worked in a shop making things for ships and stores. In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather's knee and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he finished, Alice would say, "When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea." Grandfather responded to her by saying, "That is all very well, little Alice, but there is a third thing you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful." Alice nodded but she did not know what that could be.
As Alice matured and grew older, she remembered what her grandfather told her. She started working in a library helping people find books, sometimes she went to the conservatory to smell the sweet scent of jasmine. She traveled to a real tropical island where people kept cockatoos and monkeys as pets. She walked along the beaches and picked up beautiful shells. One day she met the king of the fishing village and he invited her to visit his home. So she did and she also met his lovely wife. They ate and talked together and when she was about to leave the king gave her a beautiful mother-of-pearl shell on which he had painted a bird of paradise and the words, "You will always be in my heart." "You will always remain in mine too," said Miss Rumphius.
She continued her world travels and then when she grew older, she decided to live in a place by the sea. And she did. From the porch of her new home Miss Rumphius watched the sun come up; she watched it cross the heavens and sparkle on the water; and she saw it set in glory in the evening. Then she started a little garden among the rocks that surrounded her house and she planted a few flower seed in the stony ground. But, there was one more thing she had to do to carry out what her grandfather had asked her to do. She thought, "I have to do something to make the world more beautiful."
The next spring the flowers she had planted the summer before had come up and bloomed in spite of the stony ground. She could see them from her bedroom window, blue and purple and rose-colored. "Lupines," said Miss Rumphius with satisfaction, "I have always loved lupines the best.
After a hard winter spring came and one day she took a walk over the hill, where she had not been for awhile. "I don't believe my eyes!" she cried when she got to the top. For there on the other side of the hill was a large patch of blue and purple and rose-colored lupines! What had been planted in a small way had spread out and grown larger and what a beautiful sight it was to see.
So she hurried home, got out her seed catalogues and sent off for more lupine seeds. All summer, she filled her pockets with seeds and wandered over fields and headlands, sowing lupines. She scattered seed along the highways and down the country lanes. She flung handfuls of them around the schools, churches, and into the hollows and along stone walls. By the next spring, there were lupines everywhere. And they were beautiful and bright. 
This, to me, is Susan's story too. She has planted seeds of learning in whatever she has done. Children have grown under her tutelage. Over the years, I have been thankful for her gift of empathy, her dedication to serve others and to work cooperatively with parents and administrators. There is no doubt in my mind that Susan will plant more seed in the future and then observe how beautiful the flowers become. 

A very apt and lovely new perspective on my very own mother.

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