Just when you think you know someone, you hear that that they do things like show up for their volunteer job at school dressed head to toe in a gorilla costume, hopping on the chairs and bouncing around, and you realize that they are full of infinite surprises.
Right, Dottie Wilson?
Dottie turned 80 the other day and Liberty Bell High School teacher Dani Golden, who has adopted Dottie as the “Methow Grandma” of her children, Leo and Ezra, tipped me off about the milestone. Dani’s family lives across the country, in New York, so years ago Dottie integrated into the Dani Golden-Josh Cole household as a beloved babysitter, friend, and co-teacher.
Like many others, Dani is a bit in awe of Dottie’s practical talents. “I grew up in New York and no one that I knew of mended clothes,” Dani says. “My boys go through pants like a bunch of bananas. I have brought about 30 pair of pants to Dottie that were riddled with holes in the knees and Dottie has patched every single pair. Not only pants — she darns socks and has mended Josh’s pants as well!
Dottie and her late husband, Bob, are well known within the Methow Valley School District, due in part to their facilitation of the free vision and hearing screening program and in part to their dedication to tutoring. Also, for years Dottie has been tutoring kids in English, reading and writing.
“About three years ago, I started to teach a very small reading class to help some students who need to improve their reading fluency,” Dani says. “Dottie became my co-teacher! She comes into my class that is a mix of seventh- and eighth-graders three times a week. These students are darling to us both, but having trouble reading is not an easy burden to carry and many of our student are not super motivated to sit still, read passages, improve handwriting and discuss spelling. So, Dottie and I came up with a check system. If the class earns four checks, meaning they follow the class norms, behave, and avoid all cell phone use, they earn Dottie Cookies.”
“Now, Dottie cookies are hand-made, mouth-watering, delicious chocolate chip cookies delivered right on time in class served on pristine white napkins,” Dani continues. “Sometimes I feel guilty having Dottie bake SO MANY cookies week after week (the check system is working) so one day I brought in store-bought cookies. Although these cookies were indeed ingested, the students told me they did not count as the cookies earned, as they were not Dottie Cookies — did not even come close.”
I’ve had a similar experience about feeling guilty for asking so much of Dottie. At my old job, Dottie was a crackerjack volunteer, taking home epic projects like cutting dozens of giant perfect circles out of old sheets donated by local hotels, or sewing humungous curtains, or priming scores of collage boards. When I felt like I’d overloaded Dottie with too many projects, I’d sometimes list the other projects on Volunteer Methow or the Methownet bulletin board. The next day, inevitably, I’d arrive at work to find a voice mail or an email, with Dottie offering to do the jobs I had been trying to spare her.
Dani says, “Anyone can buy a stuffed animal from the bookstore or online. But when Ezra and Leo expressed their interest in a bear and a bird, Dottie said, ‘Let’s make them!’ So next time we went to her house, she had laid out the material for a panda and koala. I was able to go for a run while the boys sewed their own stuffed animal.” (For those of you who have never experienced raising young children, allow me to impress upon you the understanding that this is the holy grail of good fortune. Dani got to get some exercise, alone, while her kids were occupied doing something not only engaging, but useful in a life skills kind of way, with a trusted elder.)
Dani sums it up for those of us who know Dottie: “I am certain I am not the only person in the Methow Valley who reaps the benefit of Dottie Wilson; I know my students love her!”
If you love her too, make sure you wish Dottie Wilson a belated happy 80th birthday.