She’d welcomed me before I could get out of my driver’s seat — this beautiful woman whom I had not seen for almost fifty years.
We’d once spent an entire year together, she and I. She as teacher — I as her student. Oh the memories of that second grade year. Hippo Holes. Tutti’s Panties. The Snow White play. The news articles we composed daily.
And now, I discovered she was living just miles away on the other side of town. She reached out to me and we’d set a date. I was excited to reconnect with this motivator who’d first awakened my passion to write.
Upon first glance, she seemed shorter than I remembered, but then again my former perspective was behind an elementary desk. She’d silvered through the years, like a polished mirror reflecting the illumination of others. But more than a simple mirror, her eyes emitted their own light from a secret radiance within— bright, luminescent, and sourced from joy.
Mrs. Crouch slipped her arm through mine and we were instant friends — our child/adult history enhancing the exchange, rather than encumbering us. “Call me Ruth,” she insisted and I realized I’d never known her first name. As we settled around her dining table, she served ice cold 7Up and her own homemade chocolate chip cookies. (Would I be such a hostess at near ninety?)
We looked at faded pictures and shared distant memories. About the first year of school integration. About the little boy who did his work from under his desk. About the West Texas tornado of 1968. My friend Scarlet and I had dallied on the playground. Mrs. Crouch had herded seven-year-olds into the junior high gym. “I had all of you join hands to get inside. You last two babies almost blew away when our daisy-chain broke. I was terrified,” she recalled.
We told stories enthusiastically and laughed effortlessly. My favorites were ones I’d never heard.
“My first year in Crosbyton, I taught fifth grade,” Ruth shared, “next to an older, no-nonsense teacher with a classroom of indolent boys. After the bell rang, I noticed Vivian left her classroom, headed briskly to the boy’s restroom. Within moments, I heard her heels clicking vigorously back toward our rooms, so I stopped her at the doorway to hear her news. Vivian said, ’I was going to break up this foolishness. I slammed open the door of the boy’s restroom, spotted a pair of legs underneath a stall and shouted, ‘You have one minute to finish your business and get to my room!’”
With a sparkle in her eye, Mrs. Crouch finished the story she’d heard. “Unfortunately, it was our principal’s voice that replied, ‘Thanks, Vivian,” he replied gruffly. “I’ll try to hurry.’”
These stories were definitely not for second graders. Mrs. Crouch continued.
“Another year, I taught alongside a woman legendary for her freshly frozen corn. In the height of harvest season, we always knew Ethel spent her weekends shucking, blanching, and cutting corn off the cob by the five-gallon buckets full. One Saturday, in the middle of corn prep, her grown daughter stopped by unexpectedly with a three-year-old. ‘Will you keep him for a few minutes, Mom? I won’t be long,’ the daughter assured, as she pushed the little boy inside. Seeing her protests ignored, Ethel sighed while her daughter scurried down the sidewalk. Resigned to multitasking, Ethel turned back into the room just in time to see her grandson urinating into the large bucket full of freshly-cut kernels of corn.”
My mouth flew open at this point in Mrs. Crouch’s story, knowing the amount of wasted time and effort this meant for this grandmother. “What did she do?” I asked in astonishment.
“I asked her the same thing,” Mrs. Crouch replied with a twinkle. “She said she just labeled it ‘pees and corn’ and put it in the freezer!”
My delightful afternoon ended all too soon. Instead of good-bye’s, we discussed a date for our next get-together. As I returned to my car, I felt refreshed, encouraged and motivated all from a couple of hours with a new, old friend.
On my way home, I realized why I still remembered so many details about my second grade year. It was because I had a very special teacher that year. She was not only a woman of insight, but also one of initiative, influence, and inspiration.
There is an old Chinese proverb that translates, “Teachers open the door. But, you must walk through the door yourself.” I’ve always liked that saying. Today, I realize how blessed our class was to not only have an open door, but to see Mrs. Crouch in the doorway beckoning us enter.
Our second grade class, complete with Mrs. Crouch.