Remembering my grade-three teacher Mrs. Forbes (now deceased) with so much appreciation. I have never forgotten her kindness and example.
This posting is for another favourite teacher of mine, Anne-Marie, who is a first year teacher, and like Mrs Forbes has a Grade 3-4 split. I think they would have liked each other. (both kind, smart and funny although their fashion is totally different) I wanted to remind her that after 53 years I still think of Mrs. Forbes. Imagine! the influence a teacher can have on a young child. It will be the same for Anne-Marie’s students. With love, Trudy
The Empty Desk
In a terror stricken moment, just before I fainted, her dark 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 all in the playground. Trudy will be fine shortly.”
“Put your head down between your knees.” My teacher’s voice was muffled, but it was surely her. The acrid smell and sour taste assailed my senses. Through the large paned window, I felt the hot sunlight fall on the back of my neck, now wet with perspiration. My small body trembled.
I listened, with head bent, to the last of my classmates scuffing their way outdoors, stumbling across creaky old floorboards, banging up against desks and chairs, and finally stomping down a squeaky staircase, and out through the big, oak, front door. After the last child passed through, it closed slowly with a thud.
I glanced furtively to the other end of the row, looking for my desk. It was still empty. The old wooden desks, lined up side by side, with five rows and five desks in each row took up most of the room. 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. My brain exploded as though struck by a red-hot poker. I felt the blood drain from my face as my hands went cold, and a knot grabbed my stomach and wouldn’t let go. Terror raced through my seven year old body.
Life can change in a moment. The moment before I had been staring at Mrs. Forbes, my beautiful, tall, grade three teacher. Unlike my Mother and the Mother’s of my friends, she looked exotic, with her dark brown eyes, tanned skin, and perfect white teeth. Today, dressed in a navy taffeta skirt and pink silk blouse, she rustled, when she moved, like wind in the birch trees behind our house. My eyes were fixated on her earrings, pastel pink earrings, big and shaped like flowers, peonies perhaps. They looked like starched nylon, shaped into petals and I wondered how she could support their weight on her earlobes. She had them in every colour and the pale blue ones she wore a week ago were my favourite. I was smitten.
And then the next moment happened, and my short grade-three life flashed before my eyes. I saw it all like a movie on fast-forward. The longed for schoolbag in Bentley’s shop window; the beautifully wrapped gift in white tissue paper covered with small coloured dots and a wide blue ribbon; holding my breath while tearing off the paper. Yes, there it was! The most perfect school bag I had ever seen. Soft, light gray, square canvas sides, trimmed with fire engine red leather, and red leather handle and shoulder strap, too, with charcoal gray buckles.
I saw how 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. I could hardly wait to see if all of my new schoolbooks would fit.
The movie now continued in my head, as Mrs. Forbes had 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 to everyone.” I wanted to tell her that I wouldn’t forget. But even before I worked up the courage to speak, she added, “No exceptions. Anyone who disobeys this rule will be reprimanded.”
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. My happiness and constant companions were my schoolbooks. My pride and joy was a full schoolbag, especially this new gray and red schoolbag, just the right size to hold everything. And now my schoolbag was empty.
Everyday I thought of how this rule might change. I longed to take my treasures home to show my Mother. And then it happened. Three days ago, on Friday when the substitute teacher arrived, it seemed an answer to my prayers. Substitutes didn’t know all the rules. So, at the end of that day I skipped home with my schoolbag bulging with my forbidden treasures. Everything fit, just like I thought.
Now, here, on Monday morning, a bolt of lightening had struck without warning. My desk 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. I was horrified.
“I’ve called for 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 a long time, with that gaze of hers. 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, my forgetfulness, or me. Silence can be a powerful teacher.
Remembering Mrs. Forbes, by Trudy Boyle