by Nancy Malcolm
My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old. Because of that, my daddy thought it best that I not go to kindergarten that next year. He thought it might be too much for me to be thrust into the world and forced to leave the safety of my home. Needless to say, when I finally turned six and was eligible for first grade, I was elated. I remember distinctly the red plaid dress my grandma had made me for my first day of school. And so it was to be, I happily walked to school with my big brother and joined the other children at Wolflin Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, 1959.
Miss Ruth Hooper was my first grade teacher. She was a handsome woman, very tall and thin. She had never been married and as my daddy would say, “she was an old maid school teacher, a spinster”. Miss Hooper also attended our church, First United Methodist in downtown Amarillo. I think she always saw my dad in a different light, after all, he was a tall, good looking widower with a promising career. I always did think she had a crush on him.
There are two defining moments inside of my first grade year. The first involves an “accident”. Because, I had not been to kindergarten, I was very shy and reserved at school. We were all sitting in our seats, silently working on our handwriting, or something equally important, when I suddenly felt the urge to pee. I glanced up to the front of the room and I saw Miss Hooper sitting straight laced at her desk, grading papers. The length of the row of desks might as well of been the length of a football field. “Maybe it will pass”, I thought, “I can hold it”. After much inner debate, I finally stood up to make the long walk to the front and ask to go to the restroom. I wanted to cry, run and pee all at the same time, and finally with my last ounce of courage, I made it to her desk. Just as she glanced up and I began to open my mouth, “it” happened. I peed right then and there, standing beside my teacher.
What happened next was one woman’s act of compassion. Miss Hooper, quickly turned over the tall metal tumbler full of water perched on her desk. She jumped up and apologized to me for getting me wet. She excused us from the class and took me to the office, so I could go home to change. She hugged me and told me everything would be ok and we never spoke of it again. Her compassion and kindness has stayed with me all these years and has inspired me to show the same for the students I would later teach in my own classroom.
The second defining moment was when our first grade class was in charge of a PTA meeting. Miss Hooper chose students to say the Pledge of Allegiance; carry the flag and sing. I was chosen to recite the Bible verse for the evening. Recite, not read. For days I studied the 23rd Psalm. I would have to walk up to the microphone, alone, and recite the Psalm from memory. I remember standing there at the microphone and reciting the verses, but what I remember most is that all of a sudden, my daddy’s face came into focus and I could see him in the audience, smiling at me and encouraging me to go on. To this day, the 23rd Psalm is my favorite Bible verse and holds a special place in my heart. I’ve often wondered why she chose me and why this verse, but I know why… I needed it.
So, thank you, Miss Ruth Hooper. You taught me to read and write, but you also taught me about compassion and grace and the power of God’s word.
My first grade year, was the first of many years that I would learn life lessons. I am so grateful for her and for all the ways she blessed me and restored a piece of my broken heart. I think it is so true, that we may never know all the ways we touch other people’s lives. We hold the power of compassion, mercy and love in our smiles and in our actions. You just never know when you will be someone’s miracle.