Old Teachers

I waited for Daddy Longlegs in the car with the boys in the backseat. They giggled in a secret, quiet way as they conspired together on something. I have found it best to quietly observe than to turn around and disrupt their work. I readjusted the rear-view mirror and watched them with a raised eyebrow.

A sock hit my shoulder like a single musical note, followed by another, and a size 7 Croc landed on the dashboard and hysterical laughter rose in a crescendo from behind my seat.

By the time their father returned, the boys were irritated. There was nothing left to throw. No socks, no shoes and since they were strapped into their seats, throwing their pants was not an option. I had gathered a nice collection of everything they lobbed into the front seat.  

The trunk popped open.

“They couldn’t find the right stuff,” Daddy Longlegs huffed as he loaded stones into the back of our Honda-CRV.

He shut the trunk and slid into the driver’s seat.

“The guy in there,” he gestured towards the store with his thumb, “he was trying to match the stone to what I ordered until I said, it’s the cobblestone. And the guy laughed and said, ‘I’ll never forget it now. Cobblestone, cobblestone, cobblestone. That reminds me of my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Cobble. I wonder where he is now. I’ve been thinking about good ol’ Mr. Cobble a lot lately. What a guy.’”

It made me think of some of my former teachers, like Mrs. Landrum who seemed ancient when I was a kindergartener, but I think she was only in her fifties and blessed with salt and pepper hair, and Mrs. Prince who tossed out Jolly Ranchers for the right answer or if we were having a hard day and Mrs. Ambler who read a chapter a day from classics like Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys.

“Memory is more indelible than ink.” Anita Loos

I wonder who will leave a lasting impression like that for my sons from the memories and experiences that are unformed and undone and from the people they have yet to meet. Who pops up for you, Dear Reader, when you remember those formative characters from your youth like the unforgettable, Mr. Cobble?

Fly Right

bird

When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.