As we sail into July, my heart and head turn to teachers. Those wonderful unsung heroes in our lives who show up and do their life-changing work, often with little acknowledgment. Just as my grandkids are loving their summer holidays, I hope teachers are enjoying their hard earned vacations too.
I am thinking today of a life-changing moment in my grade 3 class with Mrs. Forbes. That was 67 years ago, and the memory is vivid. It clearly made its way into my hippocampus.
The story goes like this:
In a terror-stricken moment, just before I fainted, her deep brown eyes caught mine. A sound, like the hum of electric wires, accompanied by flashes of light and waves of nausea, propelled me into unconsciousness. Then I threw up.
“Class dismissed,” Mrs. Forbes, announced. “ We will all take recess while the janitor cleans and air’s the room. I will meet you in the playground.”
I glanced furtively to the other end of the row, looking for my desk. It was still empty. My desk was positioned directly beside and a little ahead of the spot where Mrs. Forbes stood every morning during the singing of “O Canada.”
I remembered now. It was just as we began to sing the part about, “with glowing hearts, we see thee…” my voice had choked in mid-sentence. I felt the blood drain from my face as my hands went cold, and a knot grabbed my stomach. Terror raced through my seven-year-old body.
Life can change in a moment.
I saw it all like a movie on fast-forward. My early birthday gift that year was the most perfect school bag. Soft, light gray, square canvas sides, trimmed with fire engine red leather, and red leather handle and shoulder strap, with charcoal gray buckles. I slept with my bag that night and proudly wore it over my shoulder on the first day of school. I had carefully placed my brand-new scribblers, HP pencils, and pink pearl eraser inside and could hardly wait to see if all of my new schoolbooks would fit.
The movie continued as Mrs. Forbes noticed me packing up my reader and arithmetic book before school ended on that first day. Without looking at me she announced, “There is one important rule in this class. No one is to take anything home from school. Everything is to remain in your desks-all books, scribblers, and pencils, at all times.”
My questioning face looked at her, and as an afterthought, she emphasized, “I know you will forget them at home, and that causes trouble for everyone.” No exceptions.
Head lowered I placed my beloved books back in the desk. I could hardly believe my ears. Scuffing my way home, in my brown oxfords, on that dusty gravel road, the empty schoolbag rested lightly over my slumped shoulders as my joy was vanquished.
Until, the Friday, when we magically had a substitute teacher who didn’t know the rules. At the end of that day, I skipped home with my schoolbag bulging with my forbidden treasures. Everything fit, just like I thought.
However, on that Monday morning, when I glanced at my desk, I saw it was empty. My schoolbag was not slung over the back of my chair. It was lying on my desk at home, packed and ready to go. I did not have a pencil or a scrap of paper with me, let alone a book. Mrs. Forbes had been right, and I was horrified.
“I’ve called your mother,” Mrs. Forbes said, as her voice brought me back to the present. She looked at me closely, as she continued. “She will be here soon. Come outside. You will feel better in the fresh air.”
Soon my mother appeared, tense and pale with worry, holding my little sister’s hand. “I can’t understand what happened to Trudy,” my mother addressed Mrs. Forbes. “She was perfectly healthy when she left home this morning.”
My head dropped and after an agonizing period of silence, I looked up. Mrs. Forbes looked at me for what seemed an exceedingly long time. Finally, she spoke, “I’m certain Trudy will feel much better once she gets home, Mrs. Boyle. A day of reading won’t hurt her. I am confident that this is one of those things that will never happen again.”
And then she smiled.
Mercy comes in many forms. I tasted and felt it on that cool, crisp September morning. Not a word about my disobedience, empty desk, forgetfulness, or me. Kindness is a powerful teacher, and it is with me still. Remembering Mrs. Forbes, with gratitude.
PS I have written longer versions of this story, but today I was compelled to adapt this story of my wonderful teacher for Drops. Mrs. Forbes, long since deceased, continues to influence my life way beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. I thank her still. Do you have a memory of a special teacher who still impacts your life? I would love to hear about it.
May you get to spend lots of time outdoors enjoying the vastness of the sky, mountains, and sea, along with all the particulars of summer: wildflowers, running barefoot on the grass and sand, the taste of a local strawberry, the smell of a wild rose and the palette of colors out of every corner of your eyes. I hope you don’t miss these moments. Warmly, Trudy
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I loved this story. It reminded me of Miss Higgins, my fourth grade teacher in 1952-53. We were always learning something whether by reading or by participating in art projects, observing butterfly pupa in the big windows of our classroom, drawing murals of the Nile River. It all comes back with great clarity. When 3 of us got together 3 years ago we all named Miss Higgins as our favorite teacher. I remember how I thought she must cry every Saturday and Sunday and holiday because she didn’t get to see us! Thanks Miss Higgins, for all you did for us that long time ago.
I so love that you wrote about your Miss Higgins. We were so lucky to have these very special teachers. Thank you Liz.