Miss Koegel was a rough first grade teacher. On the first day she wrote on the board the number thirty. “Can any of you read this?”
“Thirty,” I said. I would soon learn to raise my hand before I spoke.
“So.” She squinted at me through her round wire-rimmed spectacles.
That was the beginning of her story she showed to us. “So.”
Miss Koegel was an experienced confident teacher. She smelled of the perfumes at Macy’s. She dressed like a teacher the same way a lumber-jack dressed like a lumber-jack. Her clothes reflected, “School-Marm” sensibilities for the culture and of the day.
She wore a man’s wrist watch* and kept a nice handkerchief tucked in her other sleeve at all times.
First year at Grammar School was a tough year. So much of who I was went by the boards like a ship losing its masts and rigging. Spontaneity; “So.” Jokes; “So.” Questions; “So.” Sitting still; “So.”
“So,” was such a small word that, for Miss Koegel and for me, it had such a huge effect on me. It was as if she pulled a cord and Angel Falls stopped in mid-flow, the sun hung still in the sky, the air in the classroom seemed thinner somehow and she eyed me through her wire-rimmed glasses but without malice, perhaps something akin to curiosity.
At the end of that first year we regretted our poor behavior, the times we felt we let Miss Koegel down, once in assembly we almost forgot a part of our recitation, but Julie Vernon kept going with the correct rote with such feeling we fell in and followed her lead. For Miss Koegel we gave our best. She was pleased for our trying.
Last day of classes before the summer holiday she gave us each a card. Her desk was piled high with fruit baskets, cakes, pastries, wrapped gifts, and an old catcher’s mitt from the Principal. It meant this was her time to retire. It was a tradition to give the retiring personnel the ‘ole mitt’. It was so from the founding of the school.
Someone new next year would wash Miss Koegel’s windows and polish the brass bell. Some new teacher would arrange the chairs and make the task lists and watch over the younger children, since we were by now half-grown an entire year of education to our credit.
Thirty children wept and passed packets of tissues around to comfort more than quell the tears and dribble.
My card was the last card. It had a large hand-lettered number-30 on the envelope. I was seat-30 in the classroom, line-30 in the grade book, child-30, one-of-thirty collection, and the last of her students to hug her good-bye.
I had put on so many skills and found new interests by Miss Koegel’s firm direction and kindness. I read well, some improvement needed in printing, followed direction well, most of the time, and showed at aptitude for asking questions.
I could hardly see for my tears. Miss Koegel said much more than that one word and she endlessly demonstrated her genuine interest in me as a student and as a human being. There had to be more at this last meeting.
“Be a good person.”
No promise to keep in touch, no ‘see-ya-later’, nothing personal or extra peppy yet her words meant so much more to me for their direct and simple instruction. I felt I could not let Miss Koegel down to be anyone but a good person.
I only got close, but I’m still trying, needs improvement.
07 May 2018
Daily Prompt, Second-helping
* The watch had been her late husband’s watch during his enlistment during World War II in the Pacific.