I was recently asked to write something for a "memory book" for my kindergarten teacher, who has terminal cancer. Someone asked if I still remembered my kindergarten teacher--of course! Okay, it probably helps that I grew up in a small town, where many of my teachers were friends of my parents and parents of my friends, but I'm sure I would remember her, regardless. Who could forget kindergarten?
Back in the dark ages, when I was a child, kindergarten had yet to be mandated as part of the public schools, so the one I attended was private. There were no pre-schools at that time in that small town, so kindergarten was our first exposure to organized learning. (There were day-cares, of course, but the focus there was generally on social activities. Lots of playing outside--remember that? Children played OUTside? On rickety metal swingsets and asphalt playgrounds? And lived to tell the tale?) Purdy's Kindergarten was in the lower level of Mrs. Purdy's house, and playtime was often outside there, as well. No asphalt, though--no, we played in the big backyard, which if I remember correctly was not even FENCED IN (gasp!), and had great fun running and hiding and swinging in the thicket of grapevines. We also learned rudimentary language and mathematic skills, of course, and the other children were so impressed that I could already write "real words." Hee. (My mother was a reading teacher and a pianist--I got a nice headstart on reading both words and musical notation. Thanks, Mom.)
I was an excruciatingly shy child. Excruciatingly. While I was quite a chatterbox at home, in public, with strangers...well, no one could have been blamed for thinking me a mute. I refused to even answer the roll call. I'm not sure exactly what I thought would happen if I dared to verbalize a response in front of the other children, but whatever my childish reasoning, refuse I did. Said refusal did, however, set the stage for perhaps the most gallant act of chivalry ever performed on my behalf. Across the table from me sat the most fascinating person I'd ever seen--a young boy with a Dennis the Menace-esque shock of bright orange hair and freckles ALL OVER HIS FACE. John Robert. (Not John, or Johnny, or Johnny-Bob. John Robert.) I was enthralled. I stared at him whenever I thought he wasn't looking. Eventually he noticed, and stared back, and before you know it, we were deep in puppy love. We held hands and played together outside, and then one day he performed the ultimate act of love. When Mrs. Purdy called my name (and I, as usual, refused to answer), he ducked his head to the side and squeaked "Here." Mrs. Purdy was no fool, and figured out instantly what he'd done, and he got scolded. Yes, my brave young fellow put himself on the line for me, all right. (Where are all the gallant older fellows willing to put themselves at such risk for their lady fair? Sigh. Sadly, we ended up going to different elementary schools the next year, and the love affair was over. Oh, what might have been. Hee.)
Well my shyness persisted, of course...things like that don't resolve overnight, but Mrs. Purdy never pushed me, and eventually I began to come out of my shell. Oh, not enough to lead the class in the Pledge of Allegiance--are you crazy? I don't need a little flag sticker beside my name THAT badly!--but it got better. She arranged playdates for me with some of the other shy little girls, and eventually I was a functioning member of kindergarten society.
So yeah, I remember my kindergarten teacher. My parents have kept her posted through the years about my singing and acting achievements, about which she was thrilled. (My mother still delights in telling my friends the story of how I was afraid to speak out loud. She particularly likes to tell the story after she sees me onstage in some especially outrageous role. "Remember how you used to be afraid to answer the roll in kindergarten? Look at you now!") We're going to do a performance of the play I'm currently working on (the one that's travelling to Louisiana next month for competition) in my hometown, and my mother was very much hoping Mrs. Purdy would be well enough to come. Sadly, that won't be the case.
I hope her family got lots of remembrances from her decades of young pupils. I hope she's enjoyed reading them, and knowing that she had a positive influence on our lives. Thanks to her, to paraphrase an old Gospel hymn, "When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be...able to say HERE!"