At Macy Mclaugherty teacher assignments came out sometime in late August. We never knew who our teacher would be until they slapped the printed signs on the windows for us to check. Our mother never knew either, it was always a surprise, except one year. Some parents requested certain teachers for their children. Requesting teachers was a whispered about thing and for some people it was probably the right decision. I don’t know if there were official channels to do this, or if it was merely pulling aside the principal at the grocery store.
My mother only requested our teachers once. First grade for me, second grade for my sister. My mother did not believe in requesting teachers. She wanted us to figure out how to thrive in any situation, and we mostly lucked out with great teachers. But, I think the big funeral, and big sadness, and huge gaping hole in our lives pushed my mother to request, just this one time. I still wasn’t sleeping alone, how would I thrive in school.
First Grade with Mrs. Cornwell. She was kind to me, and always welcomed me in the back door. I walked to school from home, a very short five minute tromp through a field. The field has since been built up and made into a proper playing field. Back then, it was just waist high tick filled hay. She had a booming voice, it was deep and from her gut. I liked that. My sister said she thought it sounded like a movie start talking from across the pod wall. She always said, “I like Mrs. Cornwell’s voice.” Funny the things we remember.
There were other great teachers in the first grade pod – but Mrs. Cornwell we the best for me. She was loving and kind, but also strict. She knew my dad very well and had an empathy for me that I so needed as a six year old. And, she loved reading.
For that year I sat behind my best friend, and we laughed almost all the time. Of course, we paid attention, Mrs. Cornwell made sure of that. But when I think about first grade this is what comes to mind: Mrs. Cornwell in a long jean skirt, reading books, laughing with Grayson and Ice Cream Fridays.
When Mrs. Cornwell assigned me to the special reading group, I fell in love with books. That may be the first time i had someone put a pile of books in front me and say, “go for it.”
I have no clue what G and I laughed about that year. She had a green dinosaur pencil box and I think I had a red one. We were always laughing about something. Laughter is good medicine.
My favorite times, were when the small reading group sat in the back with Mrs. Cornwell. We had her all to ourselves for that 20 minute or 30 minute block. I liked it when we got to read and be with Mrs. Cornwell, just the few of us.
I loved Mrs. Cornwell. She took care of me every day of school after he died. As an adult, I think about the amount of responsibility that would put on a person. She made it look easy. Laughing, hugging me, telling me to stop talking so much to G. She just knew how to handle me in such a fragile state. The hugs were endless. I often went up to her desk, just to talk. She was my teacher and friend.
Years after first grade when I would pass Mrs. Cornwell in the hallways of Macy Mclaugherty, she always smiled so big at me. I could feel her love somewhere in my guts. It was just the warmest, sweetest, kindest smile. I do not know how else to write it. It was like she said, “OH my gosh I’m so happy to have passed by you today!” in just a smile and hello. When she transferred to a different school for a time, I thought Macy lost out. I missed her presence in the school. It made a difference. As an adult, if we passed in Walmart, I still felt like she was so happy to see me that moment.
That first grade year, my sister was in second grade, just a room over. She had a requested teacher too, just this once, Mrs. O’dell. Mrs. Odell was giving hugs and checking in with us all the time. Looking back I wonder if these two teachers ever stopped in the hall to touch base on how we were doing. They were the two people our mother wanted us with every day after he died. That seems like so much responsibility, but they just hugged us and smiled in long jean skirts. I somehow imagine them both in long jean skirts everyday.
I cannot imagine all the thoughts and decisions my mother made after he died. And, I know she did not believe in requesting teachers. But, thank God, just this once she requested Mary Cornwell to be my teacher that first grade year.
Mrs. Cornwell, I want you to know having you in my life for that year after he died meant the world to me. Thank you Mrs. Cornwell, you made a difference in my life. I love you and am better for it. I wish I was closer to give you a big hug, and shine on you like you did on me. Let you know I am so just happy to see your face. Peace and love to you.