Mrs. Hawking was my first grade teacher. I thought she was ancient at the time, but she is still living today. She was a widower and would wear her beautiful white/gray hair pulled up in a bun in the Pentecostal fashion. She would also wear long flowery print dresses that she made herself upon her sewing machine. She was a teacher from a different era - a kinder, more gentler time when everyday life moved at a slower pace. This kinder, more gentler time was reflected in the way she would sit with me after school in the afternoons helping me with my spelling and reading. As with most things in life, I was late to the party for these things as well. I struggled with the simple Sally, Dick, and Jane readers that most kids had long since moved on from. "Try to associate the words with pictures in your mind," Mrs. Hawking would tell me as she patiently guided me through reading these simple little books. Slowly, but surely, I would grow to read with aplomb by the end of the year due much to the diligence and guidance of Mrs. Hawking.
Many years passed and I was a grown man. The scene was my grandmother's visitation for her funeral. It was a sad time and many tears were shed as we said our goodbyes to a great woman. I was standing next to the casket as I reached out to hold my dead grandmother's cold and clammy hand. I felt an arm wrap around me as I turned to look. It was Mrs. Hawking. "I thought I should be here for your father and you," she said with a reserved smile. I was so glad to see her and those long ago days of staying after school with her came flooding back.
"What are you doing with yourself these days?" she asked as we stepped aside, away from the coffin.
"I am a writer," I said, but the main reason I said that was I was out of work and I didn't know what else to say. It felt pretentious. I didn't really think of myself as a writer at the time although I wrote everyday in my paper journal and had been dabbling in short stories for years.
"What kind of writing?"
"Nonfiction," I said, having learned that saying this in response to that question seemed to satisfy most people without further questions.
"You always had it in you," she told me, so proud of how far I had come from those hard after-school sessions of slogging through the English language.
"I couldn't have done it without you," I replied, and she left me to go sign the guest book and leave after a few more moments of reflection and reminiscing.
I watched as she walked out of the funeral home and remarked at how she still had an aura of teacher about her. She had long since retired and was in her eighties now. She was still teaching in these advanced years. Not of simple things like dotting your I's or crossing your T's, but of lessons in life and kindness, and being there for your fellow person in a time of need. Her legacy lives on after all these years in my just being able to write this. I wish she could read my writings today. I think she would be proud.