Mabel Braaten was 64 years old for about 20 years or so.
In those days (before the politically correct era), teachers had to retire at age 65.
Mabel wouldn’t retire. She couldn’t retire. So every year she was 64. And the principal smiled and said “just one more year then?”.
Miss Braaten taught Grade 2.
At least that’s what the sign on the door said.
But the truth of the matter is that she taught life and love.
A teacher couldn’t do today what Mabel did then. There are too many rules.
And if you were sad or not feeling well, you knew the comfort of having her invite you to the front of the room to sit beside her, hold her hand and savor one of the endless butterscotch candies that were hidden in that cavernous desk. Just one though. More than that would have been bad for you. Too much sugar.
If you were crying she hugged you. A great big “this hug can heal anything” kind of hug.
If you were laughing, she laughed with you, never at you, her eyes sparkling with joy.
Everybody got a chance. Everybody got a turn. And everybody was special to Miss Braaten.
She had no children of her own. She’d never married. I heard tales of a romance gone wrong when she was much younger, but nothing that could be substantiated.
So in my 6-year-old heart of hearts, I vowed to marry her.
Miss Braaten lived across the street from my childhood home. That meant that I walked to school with her every day. We held hands on the way to school. It was the safest place a 6 year old boy could be.
Marry her? Silly childhood fantasy I guess. But she was that special.
There was nothing politically correct about Miss Braaten. In today’s educational world of edu-babble and correct-speak, report cards are largely useless to parents. School administrations mandate what can and can not be said on a report card. Wording is carefully monitored. Mabel would never have stood for that type of reporting. Sugar coating the truth would have offended her sense of “right”. She would have marched down to the school board office, barged into the meeting and asked ” are you people out of your minds?’ And the school board would have changed it because she’d taught them when they were in Grade 2 as well.
Even though she lived across the street and had tea with my mother, even though we walked to school every day holding hands, when my first report card came home, along with the marks (all over 90 I say proudly) was this comment: “Saul is a very talented student. His work is excellent and he learns quickly. Would you please teach him to shut up?”. Apparently I was a little too chatty for her liking.
That was Mabel. Honest. Direct. Loving.
I was unpacking another box today as the seemingly endless wrap up to the move to our new home continues. I found a picture of Miss Braaten.
I felt obligated to tell you about her. Because I miss her. And I’m sad because much of what she stood for doesn’t exist any more.
And I can almost hear her say “Saul, I can tell you are sad today. Why don’t you come up to the front of the class and sit right here beside me?”