Friday, May 30, 2014

Alcohol and Parenting

A student I had many years ago tried to find me through Oprah. Then came Facebook and she contacted me to tell me the difference I had made in her life when I was her fifth grade teacher. She has given me permission to post her contact to thank me.

Hi Carol, I wanted to forward this letter to you. This is a letter that I wrote to Oprah in the hopes that she would find you and provide me an opportunity to thank you (before the days of Facebook). Making sure you knew what a wonderful and positive influence you were during a very dark time is something has always been on my "bucket list". So, here it goes...

     Dear Oprah, 
I know that you honor teachers who have gone above and beyond in providing support to their students. I began this letter three years ago and when I heard that 2010 would be your last year, I realized I had to send my story about such a teacher. 
In 1976 my mother passed away after a horrible struggle with pancreatic cancer. I was 10 yrs old and during the time she was ill and the time following, my family fell apart. My father was not around and my mother was a single parent and while she certainly was not a great mother when she was healthy, her death made a sad situation even worse. 
I was born into a middle class family of six children making me the youngest of seven. Around the time I turned 5 my parents began fighting, horrible, physical fights fueled by alcoholism. Soon they separated and my father disappeared, and my older siblings moved. I ended up living alone with my mother in a dilapidated flat next to a prostitution house in a less than ideal part of town. The alcohol and cancer diagnosis consumed her and I learned to become self sufficient. 
During her illness, I was in 5th grade attending Selby Lane School in Atherton, CA. Selby Lane was located in an affluent area and I was one of the kids bussed in from “the other side of the tracks”. Surrounded by such affluence, with a dying mother, I found myself not belonging. I became an introvert and delved into my schoolwork. I was blessed at the time to have Carol Noren as my teacher. She was young without a family and took me under her wing. I don’t recall much of that year but I do remember how she would bring me to her cozy apartment after school and work with me to get through the assignments. For the first time in years, I felt I had an advocate. She spent hours outside of school providing a safe haven. 
After time out of school when my mother died, I returned to a “Welcome Back Emily” banner with signatures and pictures from my classmates. Always flying under the radar, I felt overwhelmed with love and support. In retrospect I am sure that I should not have passed 5th grade based on attendance alone, as I spent much of the year at the hospital. Fortunately for me, Ms. Noren recognized that I was a bright student in a dark place and holding me back would not have benefited me in any way. 
I then finished the 5th grade and moved to another city with one of my sisters. Time passed and it wasn’t until I had my own children and recognized the gift she gave me. Now that I have school aged children, I see how the influence of strong and loving teachers can make all the difference in the world and being a parent, I find the need to locate and thank her imperative. Saying that Ms. Noren “went above and beyond” is a great understatement. I have no idea where she is as that was over 35 yrs ago. I do know her influence and love kept me on the straight and narrow, not wanting to veer down the wrong path.
Oprah, I hope that you can help me in celebrating her warmth and compassion and let her know that she did a make a difference-a very big difference. Thank you for taking the time to hear my story.
 Emily Franchi


  1. Oh how neat Carol with the impact that you made on her life that she remembered it for the rest of her life and even took the effort to try to track you down with the help of Oprah Winfrey. We sometimes don't know the impact of our actions on others, so it is neat she took the time to actually show it in your case!


  2. That's amazing! I think teachers have a huge role in shaping young lives and many of them never realize the big difference they make. For every student that tells you, there are probably hundreds more who never will...but they're impacted by your influence every day.


Thanks for your careful reflection here. Best to you as you continue to not drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs; also DO not text and eat while driving. Pull over to the side of the road if you need to do that.