Motherhood & Words

When I was growing up, I remember thinking how odd it was when my dad, who was a professor, became friends with his former students. They would stop by the house to visit when they were in the Twin Cities. They kept in touch via mail and phone. And I wondered how it was possible to be friends with someone who had been your teacher. Wasn’t there a power differential? Could you ever really move beyond the teacher-student relationship? I doubted it.

But then I met Juanita. She was my advisor for my Spanish minor at Macalester College, and I took every class she offered. In the classroom she was quirky, funny and so, so smart. When I first sat in her office, surrounded by Day of the Dead skulls and colorful tapestries, I remember thinking, “This lady is cool.” (Profound, I know. Cut me some slack. I was nineteen.)

As I was finishing my senior year, Juanita asked me if I would cat-sit for her and her husband, George, while they were traveling over J-term. I jumped at the chance to stay in their lovely condo overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis. It was the first of a number of stints spent petting and grooming and cuddling with their cats, Deva and Raven. And maybe it was this connection to Juanita’s home and kitties that helped us move beyond a student-teacher relationship. Perhaps. But more likely, it was just that Juanita was unassuming, open, and didn’t have any interest in power play.

When D and I got married, Juanita and George were there. And since then, we have shared dozens of meals, wonderful wine, stories, and laughter.

Juanita was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. She fought it and did incredibly well for longer than expected. She and George traveled a ton. She wrote incredible poetry. She shaved her head and covered her scalp in tattoos.

My friend and teacher, Juanita Garciagodoy, died last Thursday. She was 59 years old. She taught me how to be a teacher and a friend (and how to be one after the other). She taught me about gratitude and living life to the fullest.

It is fitting to celebrate Juanita’s life on her favorite holiday: Dia de los Muertos. I am grateful to Juanita for making my life richer. I am grateful to Juanita for her years of friendship. Gracias, querida.

Some of Juanita’s writing:

The Two Fridas

Towards Mictlan

In Referential Magazine

Posted in


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Amber on November 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Thank you for sharing this, Kate. For some reason, your story and Juanita’s really struck me. Your friendship and her tattoos. I was bowled over. I googled her and found this piece written by another friend of hers:

    He writes about the stories of her tattoos. Wearing her stories so boldly.

    Take care, Kate.

  2. Kate Hopper on November 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Thank you so much for the link, Amber! What a wonderful piece. Everyone, please click above and take a look at Juanita’s incredible tattoos!

  3. Myrna Mibus on November 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    How sad and yet how wonderful the story of an amazing woman and your discovery of a teacher, a friend.
    So sorry for your loss, Kate – my teacher, my friend 🙂

    • Kate on November 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Thank you, Myrna.

  4. Jim McGarry on November 2, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Kate: Thanks for writing this fine piece. I am so sorry I can’t be there tonight to celebrate my friend and classmate’s life. I was able to see her and George last fall when I was out there for that conference. Thanks for posting these writings of Juanita’s, which I am looking forward to reading.
    All the best,
    Jim McGarry

    • Kate on November 3, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Jim, thank you so much. My dad and I were talking about you last night just before the service. I knew the two of you were close, as well. Thinking of you!

  5. Shannon on November 3, 2011 at 7:27 am


    It was great to see you the other day in class. I am so sorry for your loss – your friend’s spirit was beautiful, creative and everlasting. Take care of yourself.

    • Kate on November 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Thank you so much, Shannon. You’re exactly right about Juanita’s spirit. (I was a backet-case last night during the service, though.)

      I’d loved having you in class, though I wish we’d had time to really catch up. I’m anxious to hear about your memoir.

  6. Joy on November 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend and mentor, Kate. Hugs to you.

    • Kate on November 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Thank you, Joy!

  7. Cecilia on November 17, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I’m so sorry, Kate. This is a beautiful tribute and it is heartwarming to know that you had someone like Juanita in your life. I think teachers can make the most wonderful friends…I am still close to my second grade teacher and the best thing to have come out of my writing class with you is our friendship.

    • Kate on November 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      Thank you, Cecilia. I agree! And I’m so thankful for your friendship!