Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005


Touched by Lillie: Years later, I’m grateful for it


By Josh Rogers


Al Amateau told me a longtime Chelsea nursery school teacher died and my first words were “Was it Lillie?” It was about 35 years ago since I was in her class and I was only a small child, but I still remembered her name — a sure tribute to the type of teacher she must have been.


“Everyone loved Lillie,” I told Al with confidence, although I couldn’t remember specifically why. I have few clear memories of my time at the Hudson Guild Nursery School, and the ones I do have, don’t illustrate the point well.
I remember sitting around a circle that Lillie was leading and each child was saying how many grandmothers they had. I remembered feeling special because everyone was saying one or two and I was going to say three — Katie, Mae and Dinah. The first two were my parents’ mothers and Dinah lived in the same apartment building as Mae in Brooklyn. Dinah was my first cousins’ grandma and she always treated me like another grandchild, although I was too young to explain any of that to Lillie. “Three — wow, that’s a lot,” I remember her saying with some doubt, but a big smile that I still can see.


About 25 years later I became an assistant teacher at a preschool and it did not occur to me at the time, but I think the feeling Lillie created helped lead me back to nursery school before turning to journalism. While working with preschool teachers at a YMCA, I came up with this theory to describe what motivated them: I thought most either had a magical-type childhood they wanted to re-create and be a part of, or their childhood or school experience was so troubled that they vowed to make sure things would be better for others. I feel blessed to think of myself as being part of the first group. I know my parents have a lot to do with that but Lillie must have also been responsible.


I don’t think I ever knew her last name and I can’t remember much about her, but Lillie gave me something for which I always will be grateful. There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of adults walking around who were also touched by Lillie — even if they don’t remember.

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