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Cabbage Patch dolls, Pepsi and blood pressure cuffs
OXFORD – Now 36 years old, Charlotte Palmer was born in Portland and raised by her great-aunt and uncle from the time she was one month old. She lives in Oxford and teaches at the Auburn Middle School.
She recently took time to tell us about her life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born at Maine Med on May 22, 1975. My parents lived in Portland, but when I was a month old they gave me to my great-aunt and uncle to raise.
I was brought up in North Yarmouth.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I am the youngest of 10, between adopted siblings and foster siblings. I also have two biological sisters by my mom.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My biological dad worked at Humpty Dumpty.
My great-aunt, who I call my mom, was a nurse’s aide and my great-uncle was a manager for one of the residential halls at Pineland. They were pretty much retired by the time I came around, so I don’t remember them working.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: It was a pretty normal childhood. My parents were old fashioned, so there was no hanging around inside – we went outside to play. I loved building houses, mostly with sticks.
We lived on a road with neighbors, but they weren’t sitting on top of us. It had woods behind us and there were power lines, so we would go there sliding and blueberry picking.
We did go to the beach a lot and go camping. We would go to Old Orchard or Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth and we went camping all over, but it was mostly at Big Sky in Yarmouth or the Poland Spring Campground.
There was always a houseful and an abundance of kids to play with. Even though six of their kids were grown, many of their kids were my age, so I had them to play with as well.
Their youngest was in the house and then there were three foster children besides; one stayed for seven years and the other two came at the age of three and stayed till this day as part of the family.
My mom’s name was Charlotte, too, and her youngest was named after her, so there were three of us in the house named Charlotte.
I did Pioneer Girls, but most everything was just with family.
I really wasn’t allowed to date much. My mom always told me to focus on school and that I had the rest of my life to worry about that.
Q: When you were little, was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a nurse. I played nurse with my dolls all the time. I had Cabbage Patch dolls and I always loved the name Autumn. Even though that was not her given name on the certificate, I called her that. We would use our dolls as patients and we had triage stations and IV’s set up. We had make-believe blood pressure cuffs and thermometers.
Q: What schools have you attended?
A: All through North Yarmouth and graduated in 1994 from Greely.
Q: Have you played any sports?
A: I played softball and field hockey for six years and then I played on a women’s field hockey team.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: No I didn’t get in to a whole lot of trouble. The fact that my parents were grandparent’s ages and my sisters did enough stress for them. ... I was always afraid I’d give them a heart attack or something, so I was usually pretty good.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I worked at Hannaford in Yarmouth. I started out as a bagger and worked my way up to a cake decorator. In total, I worked there for seven years.
Q: Did you go to college?
A: I went to Southern Maine Community for my medical certificate, then went for two years in nursing ... but the third year my mom became very ill and I quit.
I had made a decision to go back and get my degree in national applied science, and while I was going to school I was working as an ed tech. I really loved the kids and the energy they had and decided to finish school to become a special education teacher and not a nurse. Instead of worrying if someone was going to make it, I could see life through the students. Probably a lot of that came from my mom. She was such a giving person and took in children and cared for them, including myself.
Q: How did you meet your spouse?
A: I met Stan, actually at a bar in Lewiston. I was single and with a bunch of girls. I was really tired of going through the club scene, but it was one of my friend's birthday, so I decided I go. That was in June of 2003 and we’ve been together ever since. We got married in June of 2008.
Q: What does Stan do?
A: He is a plumber and works for Ranor Mechanical.
Q: Any children?
A: Yes, Stan and I have a daughter, Miss Autumn who is a mini me! And I also have a step-son Owen.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: For the longest time, when I was younger and thinner people would tell me I looked like Tara Reid.
Q: Do you do much traveling?
A: Mostly for vacations. I’ve been to Cancun, Canada, California, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: It would have to be Cancun. It was spring break and a wonderful time in my life; enjoying being young and what life had to offer.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: My mom was the biggest influence. She helped me learn that how I was born into this life didn’t have to dictate what kind of life I was going to have. She always told me to work hard and not rely on anyone to create a life for me. I was to create my own life and if someone came into my life, they would only decorate it. She always had the best way with words. She taught me to have a strong work ethic and if I was going to do something to do it right the first time.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I do rug hooking and love to do anything outdoors, like skiing and swimming or just hanging out with the family and BBQ.
Q: Where do you work?
A: I work at the Auburn Middle School and I’m a special education teacher. I run the behavioral program. It’s for kids who really struggle, mostly emotionally. They have a hard time learning in a traditional classroom. I have eight to 10 kids that require special programming to get the best, least restrictive education possible.
Being middle schoolers is tough enough without having special needs. It’s a time when they are trying to gain independence from adults, so I just have to try to be a good role model.
I also participate in the CLC afterschool program.
Q: What is the afterschool program?
A: It is a program where the kids can pick activities to participate in. It goes from 2:15 to 4:15 during the school year and the first hour is academics and the second is learning a skill. They can pick what they would like to do and I’ve taught things like cake decorating.
I started a school garden and we got a grant to build a greenhouse. Petro’s of Auburn and Off Road Construction of Minot donated the loam. Public Works donated mulch and the PTO donated money for the wood to build 13 raised beds.
We planted peppers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, beans, sunflowers and squash and it’s given to the school for use in the kitchen. We are hoping to expand it so we can give some to soup kitchens and food pantries.
There is also a summer program, so I work two days in the summer caring for the garden with the kids.
It’s a great overall program for the summer. We have a theme each year and this year it’s nautical. Kids can go hiking or sign up for other activities. And at the end of the year we will take them to Range Pond and there will be all kinds of nautical competitions like building boats and seeing which one can hold the most weight before it sinks.
Q: Is it hard to teach kids all day and come home to more?
A: No. Actually my kids behave when I get home!
Q: Have you been in any clubs or organizations?
A: I belong to the MEA and I’m the student council adviser at school.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: Water for Elephants. I had seen the movie and thought it would be good to read the book. It went pretty much the same way as the movie.
Q: What scares you the most?
A: Dying and a fear of something tragic happening to someone close to me. And I am afraid of sharks and alligators; I think I watched Jaws at a young age.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up and why?
A: I have to have my Pepsi and I could not imagine not being a mom.
Q: Do you ever see your biological parents?
A: Both of my parents were alcoholics. My mom was worse than my dad and she pretty much neglected me and that’s why my dad gave me to my great-aunt to raise. She would visit now and then and I would just scream, so the visits became farther and farther apart. She had two other children and actually abandoned them and left the state.
My dad lives in Biddeford and after Humpty Dumpty closed he found odd jobs here and there. He is now 66 and I see him now and then. He will come up and spend a weekend with us. I am grateful that he had the sense to find a better home for me.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Hopefully still teaching and having my masters. I only have two classes left for that. I want to be a better teacher for my students.
Q: What is the one day you would happily live over again?
A: A day with my mom before she got sick. I really wish I had spent more time with her.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: Not so much a memory, but remembering how lucky I was to have so many people looking out for me.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: Just that I am very passionate at what I do. I strive to make a difference in these children’s lives. For them, it’s not just trying to learn material, it’s teaching them strategies to go through daily living and dealing with obstacles that cause their emotional distress.
I give to them what my mom gave to me ... helping them find the courage to make those changes.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: I would want to be with my family and just spending time with them. Probably go camping and being out in nature ... hiking, fishing anything like that.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: My mother of course. She was such a force in my life. I would tell her how much I love and miss her and how much I wish she could be here to meet her grandchildren.