Pardon me while I search the paths in my gray matter to find the reason my initial answer to a for-fun Facebook question “If you could talk to anyone right now, who would it be?” was Mrs. Shaw. I assumed the question referred to one no longer living and I also assumed it was a given we all would love to speak to parents and best friends. I decided to open a door beyond those parameters.
Mrs. Shaw popped her head into that door. She was my second grade teacher before Christmas break that seventh year of my life. After Christmas she moved my desk to the other side of the room. Just like that she was my third grade teacher.
Mrs. Shaw was like another grandmother. She wore belted chiffon-y flowered dresses, the swishy kind, stockings and low-heeled black pumps. Though we could wear britches under our dresses for cold walks to school, as long as we hung them in the cloak room during class time, she never wore them. Her more- salt-than-pepper hairdo was short, soft and pouffy and never hinted of perms. She knew how to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING! She could print and do cursive, and she let me practice by printing and writing spelling words for two grades on the blackboard. She had so many books! When I ran out of books to read, she let me help others read so they could finish, too. She knew so many songs AND she could play the piano AND direct at the same time. I even learned to read the alto line. How did she manage to teach me that without my knowing? She taught us a lot about drawing so we probably didn’t need to go upstairs to the art teacher’s room ever, but she let us. She was so proud of the deep purple iris masterpiece I created for her. My parents were proud, too… well, astonished might be a better word…at my drawing I promised was not traced. She was kind, so kind. One of my feet itched really bad one time. She didn’t seem bothered when I asked permission to take off my saddle oxford and sock to scratch it. None of my classmates seemed bothered, either, and no one laughed.
Mrs. Whitmore, my fourth grade teacher who wore outfits that didn’t swish – skirts, blouses and sweaters – didn’t seem to mind that I ran to hug Mrs. Shaw as often as I could. And when I couldn’t find her to hug, Mrs. Whitmore and the principal called my mom to help explain to me why I wouldn’t see Mrs. Shaw anymore.
To help her one more time, I was allowed to walk to all the classrooms beyond the four familiar ones on those shiny halls to get coins in a can for flowers for Mrs. Shaw. My parents and I got all dressed up as if for church to visit her. It didn’t seem right that her pretty flowered dress didn’t swish. Mrs. Shaw taught me about death, too.
Fourth grade wasn’t fun after that. Mrs. Whitmore taught only one grade in her room, so she sent me to the principal’s office often to help deliver messages and sometimes answer a phone. She was never mean, but I didn’t wanted to hug her. She hugged me. That was okay, though they were different from Mrs. Shaw’s.
Were Mrs. Shaw and I to chat now, what might I ask her? If I had the nerve, I might ask what she and my parents talked about when they visited school. It would be fun to know about her favorite teacher, the inspiration for her choice of professions. I would also ask her about the times she took us outside during class for marching. We stood in straight rows and turned sharply at her directions, moving in rhythm in different patterns across the playground. We did not talk, but we listened hard, and felt so proud. What was she up to? There’s a good chance I would let her teach me something new and save my questions for later. I would get in one more hug for sure.
PS. It has occurred to me that I never knew her first name. Along that vein, I can’t recall the first names of ANY of my teachers until I moved to Doniphan for my last year of high school. Is that a small town phenomenon or attributable to the fact that I made my home here after college? Curious. Did none of them include their first names when signing report cards? Maybe not. I signed report cards as ‘Mrs. Jim Lee’ my first year. That might need some explaining if there are any young readers of this column, but please be assured I did not use a quill pen, a bottle of ink and an abacus to record grades. I had Bic pens and an adding machine, thank you.
This first appeared in the Oct.26 issue of my hometown weekly, The Prospect-News. I wrote it for my Close to Home column in that publication.