She was in her early 20s when she descended on our reservation town, the teacher with long, reddish hair and a lovely laugh, not to mention pretty blue eyes.
Those pretty blue eyes required contact lenses, however, and almost everyday, it seemed, one would pop out and the whole room full of second-graders would be summoned to clear an area to help search for the wayward lens. Once it had been recovered, she’d slip it into her mouth to clean it, and then out it would come and back into her eye.
We loved our teacher, and she loved us, along with the high school basketball coach. Once she forgot to retrieve us after lunch recess, so we let ourselves into the school building without her to guide us, walking in our usual single-file line back to our classroom, just like we’d done so many times before. We surprised her, sneaking up as we did, finding her in the room where we hung our coats, there sneaking a kiss with the man who soon would become her husband, the father of their someday children. We giggled at the sight and her face turned bright red.
Her time in our town was brief, but the memories she has kept and those I recall, too, though different, go deep. For me, that year was a life-changer, a time when someone outside my family of origin saw something sparkle in a quiet little girl and called me out, quietly, since she knew that was my way.
“You should be a writer,” she said. “You’re very good at telling stories.” Only I heard, and my soul began to fly in that moment of affirmation. I tucked her words away in a deeply-held place and let them sit.
Through the years, many options presented themselves, but eventually the one that had been carefully harbored inched its way to the surface. It was time to decide my future direction, and as I seriously sorted through the possibilities, I pulled them out of their recessed place — these words that maybe I should write, not just for practice but for real.
She stayed in touch all these years, first through my mother, then directly with me when I moved to go to college in the same city where she’d ended up after leaving my hometown. Knowing I was far from home, she brought brownies to my dorm, and later, came to my wedding. And after I left and returned once again, whenever we’d bump into one another around town, she’d tell me how much she loved my writing, and how proud she was, and how she still tells her students to this day about the quiet little girl in her classroom from long ago.
And now, this Christmas, her card has arrived as usual, and in it, along with the annual update and photo, a hand-written note:
“I so enjoy your columns. They make me smile, nod in agreement, and sometimes bring a tear to my eyes. I believe that means you are a good writer. Have a blessed Christmas with your family!”
The gift returns, it seems, going round and round, gathering momentum. A blessing given comes back and blesses. One tear is shed on one end, prompting more on the other.
What do I need for Christmas? The reception has already happened, and not a gift opened. But I have heard my children perform in concerts, been given meaningful work, had a chance to sing for others, and helped prepare food for those in a local homeless shelter. And now, a voice from the past has come and gifted me yet another time.
No tangibles can replace the value of these treasures, these presents from the heart that fill my life. On this Christmas 2013, my cup is piping hot and overflowing. I will sip it slowly and with an abundance of happy gratitude.
What is the gift you most want this Christmas?