Brewton, Alabama—Camp 31 Barbecue. A place with pine on the floors, pine on the walls, pork on the plates.
It’s Tuesday, lunchtime. I’m sitting with Miss Jacque. She is a slight, older woman. She has bright blue eyes, and when she opens her mouth, South Alabama comes out.
“You’re a writer, huh?” she says.
“I’ve been called worse, ma’am.”
“I taught writing, you know,” she says. “I was a middle-school teacher in East Brewton, nearly all my life. I taught’em, graded’em, and sent’em up.”
Miss Jacque had students from all walks of life. The well-off. The not-so-well off. And those living in poverty.
She has stories about underprivileged students that would make a grown man leak saltwater.
We are interrupted by our waitress.
Our server asks if we need refills on iced tea. Miss Jacque nods. The girl fills our glasses and leaves the pitcher on the table. She gives Miss Jacque a hug.
Miss Jacque’s face loses four decades.
When the waitress walks away, Miss Jacque remarks: “She used’a be in my class, long time ago. She was a rowdy one, but I sure love her.”
Miss Jacque seems to have a lot of love. In fact, she would’ve taught school forever if she could have. But time caught up with her.
Every cowgirl has to hang up her lasso eventually.
The day after her farewell party, she realized retiring was harder than she thought.
“I was slap miserable. It was horrible. I got so dadgum bored I about died. I’m too old to be bored.”
Too old. Though I do not learn how old she is, exactly. Miss Jacque is a sophisticated belle. And the time-honored rule is: any Alabamian woman who does not disclose her age—consentingly and of her own accord—is thereby twenty-nine until Jesus comes back.
After Miss Jacque quit teaching, she found other ways to keep busy.
One of her projects: she visits thrift stores. Not for herself.
She wanders the aisles of second-hand shops selecting middle-school-sized jeans, shorts, shirts, skirts, and shoes. She buys by the truckload.
“I take’em home, wash’em, and then I iron’em.” Then, she drops them at the school.
I ask Miss Jacque which church program she does this for.
She laughs. “Church? Ain’t no church. Just me. I do it outta pocket. I’ve seen what these kids go through. Some of their parents can’t afford decent clothes.”
Recently, someone called Miss Jacque. There was a teenage boy who didn’t have any underwear. They asked Miss Jacque if she could do anything about it.
Miss Jacque was on the problem like stink on rice.
“I rounded up all sorts of brand-new boy’s underwear. Folks donated so much, we had plenty to go around. Boys need clean underwear, you know.”
So I’ve heard.
The waitress brings our bill. Miss Jacque insists on leaving a healthy tip. She slides money toward the edge of the table. She stands. She hugs me with frail arms.
“Folks tell me I talk WAY too much,” she says. “They’re probably right. Hope I didn’t chat your head off, I’m really sorry.”
Sorry. Don’t be.
You’re one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.
Cathi Russell - August 23, 2017 12:50 pm
Again with the weepy glees!!! ❤
Diane Enloe - August 23, 2017 12:57 pm
Another great read….thank you, Sean! ☺️
Maxine Cockerill - August 23, 2017 1:05 pm
Sean…no doubt about it. I love your love of people and your perspective on ‘ the facts of life’ that make it worth living. Keep on doing what you are so good at, giving the rest of us a reason to smile even though sometimes through tears.
Lori Q - August 23, 2017 1:08 pm
You have a way with words, sir. Thanks for inspiring me to write. I grew up in Texas and look forward to putting some experiences down on paper. Thank you for helping us readers to feel through your words. To smile unexpectedly–loved the part about taking decades off her face when she received (and gave back) the hug. Thanks, Sean
Catherine - August 23, 2017 1:09 pm
Ahhh. We need more news about the Ms. Jacque’s and less of all the other things going on in our world. There are wonderful people out there. Thanks for introducing them to me.
Sharon - August 23, 2017 1:12 pm
We see and hear about the rogue teachers in the news all the time. What we don’t hear about is the ones like this sweet lady. I am thankful to know a few of these types of teachers, who for them, it is not a job but a calling.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - August 23, 2017 1:18 pm
I wish I could meet her — I’d give her a big hug!!
Trudy :) - August 23, 2017 1:21 pm
I, too, am a retired teacher. I was the lead substitute in a certain high school and taught English in the summer there, too. I liked substituting; I got to know more students that way. I can’t say I like retirement, but age and some school administrators think one should retire so a new person, who is less expensive, can be there instead. Now I teach via the computer to some of the very ones I had in various classrooms. They see me on Facebook and talk to me about their lives, troubles, children, and want advice. They tell me, “Life is really tough, Mz. R.” I tell them, “I was tough on you.” They tell me, “Yeah you were, but you cared, you loved us.” I smile and sometimes my eyes are moist, too.
Chelsey - August 23, 2017 1:36 pm
“Like stink on rice.” That one wasn’t lost on me. ?
Laura Young - August 23, 2017 1:58 pm
Oh, for more Ms Jacques of the world! A special lady who was blessed by those she taught, but who blessed so many more (including you, I think)- a teacher who saw more in her children than a need for ‘book learning”.
Connie - August 23, 2017 2:00 pm
God has a special place in Heaven for school teachers. Teachers and nurses are about the least appreciated people, abs the hardest working, on the planet. Thank you for appreciating them.
Sandra Marrar - August 23, 2017 2:07 pm
Aww, Miss Jacque is just precious! God bless her.
Gwen McGill - August 23, 2017 2:07 pm
Again, you made me cry. Reminds me of how poor my husband was growing up. Embarrassed by not having the right clothes to wear to school. He could not go on a special field trip to a tv station to be in the audience of a children’s tv show because he didn’t have the required shirt and pants. He was embarrassed his whole childhood. Whenever I buy things to donate for a kid’s Christmas for the Salvation Army or when my church participates in gathering things for the needy, I always think of a young boy not having what he needs and feeling bad about it. Plus, I like to give my husband nice things when I can to try to make up for so much.
Carolyn Finlayson - August 23, 2017 2:26 pm
I strive to be like Miss Jackie one day
NovaLee - August 23, 2017 2:30 pm
Beautiful story, Sean. Much appreciated by this old, retired school teacher who pines for earlier days.❤
Rene Hodges - August 23, 2017 2:43 pm
You’re mixing metaphors there, Sean! White on rice or stink on “merde”! Great story!
Grace E. Henderson - August 23, 2017 3:02 pm
Scratch the rolls of teachers…teachers who loved their work and loved their “kids”… and you’ll find dozens of those underpaid and often retired teachers who continue to help their students: with school supplies (priced these days for above average income parents); with unsigned notes of encouragement; with odd jobs around their house and yard and payment for those jobs that are twice the hourly wage; and most certainly with prayers. ANd I bet those same “old teachers” dole out dollars as a reward for good grades.
I know dozens of ladies…and gentlemen… like Miss Jacque.
And I bet your grade school teacher remembers you fondly, too.
Wendy - August 23, 2017 4:33 pm
Sean, I was waiting in a doctor’s office (again) yesterday and had a lovely surprise when I saw your column in a local little newspaper. It was the Opelika Observer. I wish your writings appeared in our daily paper, the Opelika-Auburn News. We live in Auburn but there are more Bama fans here than anyone knows. I’m a proud alum, but the only one in my whole extended family. Sorry for being off topic but one of my majors was English & I admire my English teachers to this day!
Martha Tubb - August 23, 2017 5:28 pm
We all probably remember some ladies just like her. ..we should.
I hope I can be a little like her.
Jack Quanstrum - August 23, 2017 5:36 pm
How sweet, Sean and so is she. Doing things for others is the greatest joy in this life that there can be. You display that in your writings and so do all the people you share with us. They are all good Samaritins. All I want to do is be like them , you and Jamie. I am working on it and it’s bringing me joy! Shalom!
Lynda Richards - August 23, 2017 5:52 pm
I just love love love the way you write, Sean. “Every gal has to hang up her lasso sometime,” is so charming. Painting with words. Put me down as one of your biggest fans.
Sam Hunneman - August 24, 2017 1:36 am
Open minds and open hearts… The Brewton schools were very lucky. And Miss Jacque’s students, even luckier.
Ben - October 7, 2017 11:23 am
“So I’ve heard.”
Doc - October 7, 2017 12:17 pm
And the time-honored rule for us Carolina girls who do not disclose our age—consentingly and of our own accord—is also thereby twenty-nine until Jesus comes back! I’m 29 and holding as we say! 🙂
Denise Hammond - October 7, 2017 12:41 pm
Sean I so love your stories, and yes my eyes always fill with those salt water liquid. As many have said you have inspired me to the thoughts out of my head and put them on paper, some may never be read but great memories to leave behind for our kids and others if they like.
rivereagle - October 7, 2017 2:55 pm
Love your writing, Sean. One thought, in low country South Carolina the phrase is “Like white on rice.” Stink is saved for a different noun . . . . . . .
Lorna Bramley - October 7, 2017 4:17 pm
Thank you…just wonderful. Hello to you from the UK.