Deer teecher letters stir memories In a matter of days, some Sycamore High School seniors will get a note from someone they haven't heard from in years. Themselves. Their first-grade selves, to be exact. Nicole Cashen, for example, will open her mail to this: Dear Mrs. Stoneberger, You were nice when you gave us math pges to do over the sumer. I will miss you. From Nicki Cashen On the verge of high school graduation, the teen-agers may have for- rrrtf on urhrt f hotr f i WCre rst 8ra(e- men iuiuici learner, Linda Stoneberger, has not. Each year at this time, she heads to a bedroom closet and 5 carefully extracts a J stack of wide-ruled L. Stoneberger letters that have been packed away for a dozen years. She reads them over, matches their authors to the first-grade roster she has saved for 12 years, then calls the high school to update home addresses. Each student who is still a Sycamore student receives a graduation card, his own first-grade letter, and a warm note of congratulations and memories from his former teacher. ' "I just say I'm so happy to know they're graduating," says the 20-year Maple Dale Elementary veteran who retired last year. "I say I remember them from first grade, because I do. "I see their name and their little faces and it all comes back to me. I can picture where they sat in their classrooms." Someone remembers Just as the graduates' lives are about to change dramatically as college looms, high-school friendships fade and adults obsess over where they are going it's nice to know someone remembers where they have been. "I cried when we received Adam's card and first-grade paper," one . mother wrote to Mrs. Stoneberger. Her son observed, "Wow, you certainly caught me by surprise. It's kin-da funny, but my handwriting and spelling abilities haven't changed much." . Sometimes the letters provide ' clues to an earlier self. Their teacher . had asked her class to write an end-' of-the-year letter telling her what they liked and didn't about first grade. As might be predicted, they were unfailingly honest. "I like jim. But I bon't like muosu-sik," wrote one. "I don't lik to get my name up," wrote another, referring to the gentle practice of improving behavior by writing a student's name on the blackboard. Bev Smith promised her teacher , she would "see my name in the summer program" for the public library's reading program. Another student reassured, "I like Mrs. Stoneberger. I like art and I like (Room) 104" then lobbied one last time, "I want to sit at Table 4." Good interpreter A dozen years later, their teacher is still usually able to decipher what her students meant. "I hat the short resis," wrote Jason Leitman. "Oh, that was the year we cut back on recess time," his teacher translates. Sometimes even she can't figure out exactly what was on her students' minds. "My favoret thing was math and art. I did not lik reading. I wish we got a kanggaroo this year," penciled Chad Dewald. His teacher remembers no discussion at all of a classroom kangaroo. Chad probably can't help her. Most of the time, the authors themselves have long forgotten the letters (although one recipient reassured her teacher, "Unfortunately I don't remember that letter I wrote, but I'm sure I meant every word of it.") There is no need to grope for memories. It is enough that, much as the world moves on, bonds between people remain. It is enough that others help us hold on to our earliest selves. And it's enough plenty that Mrs. Stoneberger remembers, and cares.