I see there’s a moth clinging to the screen, on this, the
first day of winter. And it’s a gloomy
day; a rainy day. Squints and I set out
to run our errands.
A man jogs. In his
left hand, he holds a newspaper folded back, which he reads as he runs down the
sidewalk, right hand pumping furiously. Another
man walks, face tilted towards the sky, his blue and white golf umbrella
serving as a walking stick.
The clouds press in dark and thick and at the corner the
crossing guard waits. She wears a bright
yellow vest with an orange belt and her stop sign lies upside down against a
gnarled tree. She picks it up suddenly,
steps into the street and holds it aloft while the high school students
roll their eyes and meander across the street in great bunches, enjoying the
first day of their holiday break.
Our errands complete, we return home. Darkness settles and we decide to take a
walk. “Look, Mom!” Squints stops beneath a street light and
points to a stone wall. “It’s a wooly
bear.” A thin wooly bear, to be sure, and
my neighbor would say that is indicative of a gentle winter. Squints picks it up, puts a protective glove on
top. He carries it home gingerly and
tucks it beneath the straw in the backyard raised bed. “I did my good deed today, Mom.” He grins at me.
And this naturally reminds me of my grandmother who—whenever
someone did something good—would say, “you got your gold star.”
Thoughts of this gold star take me back to elementary
school. My school—Village School—was on
Main Street. Carved into the stone just
above the door was one word: opportunity. I remember the janitor, an older man with a
stomach that overlapped his jeans. He
would push the broom down the hallway at regular intervals, pausing at the end
of the hall to dig a red handkerchief from his back pocket and mop his face. He was a kind man; a gentle man, and the
younger kids adored him. But the older
students, having learned cruelty, rolled their eyes and mocked him for his size
and the redness of his face.
From my seat in the first grade classroom, I could watch the
janitor from behind my desk as he made his way down the hallway, gathering up
dirt and broken pencils and bits of paper with the broom. My teacher, Mrs. G, would lasso in my
attention again. By the time I had her—she’d
already had my sisters—Mrs. G must have been in her seventies. She wore black cat glasses and practical
dresses and sensible shoes, which would peek out from the bottom of her solid wooden
That desk had heavy drawers.
Drawers that held containers of lick-on stars, red and green
and blue and—best of all—gold, which Mrs. G would affix to our spelling and
math tests. There was a bag of
peppermints in that drawer, too, and a silver fork, likely borrowed from the
cafeteria. One tine of this fork was bent forwards, and with that tine, Mrs. G, with her arthritic, gnarled hands, her tongue
nestled in the corner of her mouth, would coax the stubborn knots from our shoelaces.
When we tired of penmanship, when winter snow beckoned
through the windows, Mrs. G would line us up to “wet our whistles.” We would take long slurpy drinks from the
fountain before returning to the classroom and our thick pencils and our gold
stars, of course.
Today my elementary school is a medical facility. And the janitor and Mrs. G are long
dead. But they both earned their gold
stars within those walls of opportunity; The janitor cleaning up after
thoughtless students who scattered things in the hallway; Mrs. G, inspiring her
charges and working knots from grimy shoelaces.
Labels: Creative non-fiction, Growing up, Teachers