5 Questions with Mrs. Bean

Sophie Prettyman, Staff Writer

Downey High English and poetry teacher Josette Bean did not grow up basking in the warm California sun, eating popsicles to beat the heat in the shade of palm trees, but in the chilly town of Wasilla, Alaska. She recalls memories of her life in Alaska and how she came to live in California.


Q1: When and why did you leave Alaska and how did you come to work in Downey?

A1: I’m beginning to realize that the plot of my life is accidental: I accidentally left Alaska at 17 [for college at Arizona State University]. I intended to return home after college (warm, warm college), but did not, so really, I never had the self-awareness to realize I was leaving for good. I came to California because I was summoned…okay because I fell in love, and the boy I loved lived here. He was originally from Alaska, too. But as young love is wont to do, it died an unceremonious death. Then I met my own, sweet Mr. Bean—the real and inescapable love of my life. I never actually applied for a job at Downey! I received a call from friend who had applied but already gotten a job at another school; she said the principal at the time, Dr. Phil Jones, would be calling me, and he did, and I interviewed and got the job. What luck!

Q2: What was it like moving from a freezing, not very populated place to a crowded, warm one? Any culture shock or homesickness?

A2: Lots of shock–some weather-related, some people-related. I remember standing in line at ASU to register for classes and sweat just pouring off me. I think I was thawing or melting.  I do miss the cool weather and a really well-woven woolen sweater…and boots–boots! Not Uggs or “cute” boots, but big, fat, warm boots. I have had to learn patience. People in California think they’re laid back, but really, the freeway reveals a different story, and now, I’m just as lunatic as the rest of California drivers! I do miss home sometimes, mostly in the fall and winter. The changing of the seasons, the colors that leaves change, the anticipation of snow—those are elements of Alaska that I miss…and of course, my family. My mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and nieces all still live up there, so visits are not as often as I wish they were, but summer visits to the cabin, and a rare winter visit are delightful. There is just one thing I do not miss: scraping ice off the windshield of the car EVERY day in order to get to school.  It’s harder to do than it might seem. I am often melancholy—mostly when I’m on the crowded freeway, or in the middle of the hordes at Costco—because the masses of people stand as a sharp contrast to the open tundra and the treed forests of Alaska. Sometimes, after it’s been sunny for a hundred days in a row, I really miss home.

Q3: In class, you have mentioned being chased by a moose when you were young and have numerous posters from the Alaska State Fair. Can you elaborate a little bit on what it was like being chased by a moose, what the state fair was like, and any other adolescent memories?

A3: It was terrifying. A moose is much larger than pictures indicate. It was our dog’s fault; Casper barked and chased that moose, and then the moose chased me in my pink snow suit. The snow was deep, and every step felled me, but I finally figured out that dodging behind trees was a keen plan. Moose are, I discovered, not very agile. The state fair was a real state fair—the only one in the whole state, for three weeks in August after the harvests. It was a lot like Charlotte’s Web. You’d meet people from Barrow, Sitka, Delta Junction, Nome, and Fairbanks. They’d bring their animals for auction and slaughter. My 8th-grade geography teacher, Mr. Dinkel (real name!), grew the biggest cabbage in the WORLD several years in a row. Hundreds of pounds, the thing was. Crazy big. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would drive out on the lake, which was frozen solid, and have bonfires. During the winter, I had to go outside in the cold and chop wood for my family’s fireplace.

Q4: What do you think your life would be like if you were still living in Alaska?

A4: I think it would be fantastic—because that’s how I’d choose to see it, and perception is everything; I’d be a teacher (still scraping ice off my windshield) but working in a smaller school (which Downey used to be!). But I can’t believe I would ever have made such loyal and comforting friendships as those I have here; Mrs. Carlson has made the long journey here worth all that I had to give up. Oh yeah, and Mr. Bean, too!

Q5: Are there any similarities between Downey and the town where you grew up?

A5: None. Seriously, none. Nope, can’t even think of one.