Monday, August 15, 2011

Back To School


         In elementary school, teachers dubbed me Terrible Tom, so as I sidled up to my eight-year-old-niece's third-grade classroom door, I thought it natural to feel a little uneasy.
Amy said, "You'll really like Miss Hardy, Uncle Tommy."
"I'm sure."
I knocked lightly on the closed door.
It swung open, and in front of me stood a blond young woman so attractive  that the sight of her took my breath away. 
"Good morning, Amy!" she said. "And welcome to our third-grade classroom, Mr. Spencer. Come in, please. We have a seat for you."
My hand darted out. Miss Hardy and I shook. "Thank you," I said.
From my seat in the back of the room at a table, I counted thirty-two desks—quite a roomful of kids for one person to handle. And I'd forgotten what a third-grade classroom was like: the tiny desks, the low chalkboard, the bulletin board filled with colorful drawings, the room smelling of glue.
Yesterday, I'd spoken to the school's principal at length, explaining I'd missed open house last week because of business—I'm an insurance agent—but Amy liked her teacher so much she insisted I visit their classroom and meet Miss Hardy. He assured me the teacher wouldn't mind.
As Miss Hardy taught spelling and handwriting, she smiled and laughed a lot. She was having fun, so were the kids. I was totally impressed.
At recess time, after the kids scampered out of the classroom to the playground, Miss Hardy sat down across from me at the table. "Well, Mr. Spencer, I don't have playground duty today. We have a chance to talk."
"How's Amy doing?"
"Just great. She's a lovely, intelligent child."
I nodded gratefully. "I think you're quite a teacher."
"Thank you," she said, blushing. "I love seeing kids happy."
I explained Amy had lost both her parents in an automobile accident two years ago in San Diego, where her family had lived. Her dad was my brother. I adopted Amy. Her coming to live with her grandpa and me—an invalided widower and a bachelor—back in her dad's little hometown of Walcott was a big change for her and a great challenge for all of us.
"It's great to see her doing well," I said. "And she insisted that I meet you—I hope I haven't caused you any inconvenience."
"Not at all, Mr. Spencer. Please visit anytime."
I looked past Miss Hardy through the window to where kids romped in the playground in the sunshine. "I used to go to school here," I said. "Played on that very playground. Got into lots of trouble."
Miss Hardy smiled. "Fortunately Amy's no trouble at all—she's a delight."
"I'm glad," I said. I pushed myself up from my chair and prepared to say good-bye to Miss Hardy, though I didn't want to. Her blond hair, cheerful smile, and buoyant personality—all had captured me.
She wore no rings.
I wondered if she had any weekend plans.
She pursed her pink lips and looked as if she wanted to say something, but I spoke first. "Um...I hope you don't think I'm out of line here..."
She shook her head. "I was about to say exactly the same thing."
"Well, ordinarily I wouldn't put this burden on a single dad, but we have a field trip tomorrow to Niabi Zoo, and I wondered...well, I wondered if you could chaperon one of the buses with me. Or with another teacher, if you prefer."
"A school bus?" I said warily. "One of those yellow monsters?"
"Monsters, indeed—the very reason we're always short of chaperons."
I smiled. "The last elementary school bus I rode I got kicked off for throwing a snowball—inside the bus. Once I brought a garden snake aboard—and really freaked everyone."
"Shame on you," she said. Then, "Will you be able to help?"
"I think I can rearrange my tomorrow's schedule."
"Wonderful. The weather's supposed to be seventy-eight and sunny.""
"Ah—just one thing, though."
I simply couldn't resist a bit of mischief.  "I always get sick if I have to ride in the back of the bus."
Miss Hardy flashed a smile. "Perhaps you can sit in front," she said. "Near me."
"That would be fine."
"But you have to behave. No snakes. No snowballs."
I nodded happily. "I'll behave, I promise."
"See you and Amy at seven-thirty," she said. "Front of the building."
We shook hands again in parting, our warm palms lingering together a moment longer than necessary. By the time I hit the sunlight in the street, I was thinking my first day back to school had been the best school day of my life.
I couldn't wait to ride a school bus. Again. With Miss Hardy.

The End
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