Fold your paper to the margin one last time. RIP, Ms. Howell. (Borrowed that from April Dawn, but it seems like the best line to say.)
My 6th grade English teacher passed away yesterday. She was from a different part of the world – the northeastern U. S., I think, Massachusetts or New York maybe, although I really can’t remember for certain and anyway, it might as well have been the planet Saturn to a 12-year-old from Eastern Kentucky . She favored Hush Puppies shoes and horn-rimmed eyeglasses that were a few years out of style, and never could quite get her pants long enough. Maybe that was because she was eight feet tall. She looked eight feet tall to me at the time. I still remember her looking like that, too; isn’t it funny, how we move along in our lives, but we think of people as they looked when we first knew them, as though they looked that way for the rest of their lives?
Also, Ms. Howell drove a dark green Volkswagen. It was an older model, a little beat up, and there were places where the paint peeled and you could see the primer underneath. I doubt she cared much, though; she never seemed like the type to be bothered by something as small as that. I’d rather believe she drove that car for her entire life and I suppose that’s just something else she will always have in my mind. Right now, I can’t remember if it was a Rabbit or a Beetle but I’m pretty sure it was one or the other.
Oh. I do remember that she taught in a Vietnamese village during the War. I remember that clearly because she talked about it sometimes in class. Even as a kid, I thought teaching Vietnamese villagers was a pretty damn brave thing to do; I hate to go outside in the rain, much less halfway around the world where it rains artillery shells and napalm.
In sixth grade, most of the kids thought Ms. Howell was pretty weird, and I’d be lying if I said I was any different. But looking back on it through the years, I started thinking of her as one of the coolest teachers I ever had. I don’t know how much she might have changed over the years, but I don’t need to know. Sometimes I just prefer to keep people the way they were.
I posted this on Facebook yesterday, but have now added the link to Ms. Howell’s obituary. There’s a picture, and it looks exactly how I remember her, except with bigger eyeglasses. Also, the obit confirms that she was born in Queens, New York (not Massachusetts), on Christmas Day. How about that.