I saw her in the Winn-Dixie parking lot. I was walking in. She was coming out. I recognized her right off.
I’ve changed a lot over the years. She hasn’t. She looks like she did when I sat in her English class long ago. White hair, pearls, dressed to the nines.
She taught night classes.
Back then, I’d arrive at campus early. I’d eat supper in my truck—a pimento cheese sandwich—while doing homework. Then, I’d change my work-shirt and go inside.
Hers was the only class I didn’t hate.
She wasn’t an overly friendly woman. And because of this, several students didn’t care for her. But she was kind to me during a time when I felt lost.
And in my book that’s a good teacher.
Though as it happens, I’m not exactly what you’d call a good pupil. I never have been. In my school career, I’ve spent most of my accredited hours trying to figure out whether the professors were speaking graduate-level Pig-Latin.
After my first semester with her, I signed up for her English II course. After I graduated, I took two more of her classes, just because I liked her.
My mama asked why on earth I’d go to the trouble, taking classes I didn’t need.
I hate goodbyes, I guess.
I remember when her husband passed. She didn’t come to school for a week. The entire night-class-full of construction grunts and cocktail waitresses buried her desk in sympathy cards.
I went to the funeral with another student. We both wore neckties. She cried when she saw us.
We returned the favor.
The night of our last class, I remember her saying, “I’ve enjoyed having you, you’re a smart boy.”
That might seem like a small word. But she’s one of the only teachers who’s ever gone and said that. That single kindhearted sentence has done me a lot of good over the years.
That evening, she asked what I’d be doing with my degree.
I told her I hadn’t attended college for a career, but because of a promise I’d made to a dead man.
Today she was that same woman.
She patted my cheek and said, “You look so old.”
I blushed. We embraced.
I offered to roll her shopping buggy to her vehicle. I loaded her groceries. We talked. She still teaches night-classes, I still drive an ugly truck.
Before we said goodbye, she said, “You know, when I first became a teacher I thought I was gonna make a big difference in the world, but somewhere along the way, I realized that’s not who I am.”
I gave her one final hug and told her I disagreed.
Because she sure as hell made a difference in my life.