Sally Wallace

Sally Wallace passed away last year in July. Here is here obit in the Champaign Paper;

She taught a class in Short Fiction that I took at Parkland Community College in the early 80s. The class was a joy, quite demanding, very invigorating. She gave us a checklist we had to use for everything we read for her class. It included learning a little about the writer and when they produced the material we were using, date first published and where, POV, setting, first and last line and so on. When I returned to college so many years later I used the approach to reading fiction she taught me, I think it a good method. I busted my ass for her class and she gave me an “A” which by her reputation meant something. She was approachable, but tough. I called her Sally, in and out of class, and would stop by her office and chat with her. I remember bringing fiction I had written for another class for her to read. She praised what I had written and that was pleasing to me. I thought she was an attractive woman, small and trim and fair, and quite witty. I may have been a little smitten by her.

I don’t recall much of what happened in class other than I loved being there. The classroom was bright, windows lining one wall and blackboards all the way across the other, real blackboards with dusty white chalk. One time Sally wrote an “a” on the left side of the boards and then walked all the way to the right and wrote “lot.” She said that was how far apart the space should be when a person wrote “a lot,” and if we ran it together in a paper as “alot” she would give us a failing grade. Once she said she would not eat at a restaurant that had grammar errors in their menu

She demonstrated ideas about punctuation with the sentence “Woman without her man is nothing.” Depending on where you put commas in the sentence the meaning is radically different. Woman, without her man, is nothing. Or – Woman, without her, man is nothing. She was very precise with her language.

I know I have a paper or two I wrote for her still, I found them when I returned to college searching for a 20th century syllabus to compare to a 21st. She was quite encouraging about the papers, with many handwritten notes that made it very clear she had read and considered what I had written. 

One personal story, she related that at Mount Holyoke, where she did her undergrad, they wrote their papers out longhand and one professor limited the papers to a single side of one sheet of paper. She told of writing as small as possible to be able to get all the ideas she wanted to present into the paper.  

I had not forgotten her, though had not thought of her for quite some time. When I returned to college, to UMSL a couple of years ago, in one of my first classes I was assigned This Is Water, the famous commencement address by David Foster Wallace. At the time I thought it one of the more excellent things I had read in quite some time. I had done the reading prep Sally taught and noticed in his biography he was from Champaign and his father was a U of I professor and his mother, “a grammar snoot” , was a JuCo Instructor at Parkland. After reading some of the things he had written I was honored to have been his mother’s student and could see how she could have created an environment that produced his like.

When I graduated from UMSL a year and a half ago I did a search for her and knew she had retired from teaching but that she was alive, though she had moved to Arizona. I don’t know if she would have remembered me, but maybe, my mother taught at Parkland for a while and was quite notorious and I was loud and boisterous and really cared about her class. I sent a couple of emails to Parkland college and what might have been an account she still used but got no response.

I don’t know why I searched for her the last couple of days, what prompted me, but I found her obit and thought of her fondly. Thanks Sally.