“It had been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same but she didn’t.” He chuckled as he stared out at the crowd. They were taking a bit longer than usual to settle but they would get there. He repeated the sentence and waited for the surprised looks he expected but they never came. The group of teenagers usually turned everything into something dirty and Mr Turnbull played on that idea, hoping to spark their interest but they were off that day. It wasn’t like any other, he would soon find out and thought someone should have warned him.
“She had a hard time getting up, I had to give her a hand.” Mr Turnbull rolled his eyes, now regretting his choice of phrases and innuendos. He shouldn’t have stooped to their level and now he was talking about his mother in a sexual way. He felt maybe he could save it, to turn things around but he’d have to improvise and not even look at what he wrote over several agonizing hours. He was a planner and this wasn’t going as planned. At this point, it wasn’t even really going.
There was a murmur throughout the audience and teachers, his peers, trying to hush their students but they struggled, too. For the first time in the 23 years of being a high school principal at Stewart High Mr Turnbull felt sweat take over his forehead. This was not good.
“STUDENTS! Pay attention.” He literally and figuratively lost his cool and had no idea why. This was just a regular monthly assembly with nothing more to share than his mother visiting. It was the first time she ever came to visit, the first time she returned to the school. Martha Turnbull left town when her only son, and only child, took a teaching position at the school she was once in charge of.
Nothing happened between mother and son, they talked daily and she sent post cards from every airport she landed in. Mr Turnbull, Richard, was proud of his mother for all the work she did for the world once she retired and hoped to do the same. He just wanted to be able to bring a family along but it didn’t look promising. It wasn’t that he didn’t meet “Mr Right” yet, it’s that he met too many of them.
He couldn’t seem to commit to anything but teaching.
The students finally settled but they were no longer looking at him, their heads were turned to someone who stood up and was walking, or rather strutting, down the center of the room. It was hard for Richard to see but then he did and gasped. His mother was witnessing this entire auditorium of chaos and his meltdown. He tightened his grip on the sides of the podium to steady himself and keep him from fainting as she got on the stage. She didn’t need a microphone when she exclaimed – “Listen up! This man deserves your respect and I expect you to give it to him.”
While the student body, teachers included, only recognized Mrs Turnbull from the photo that adorned the main hallway by the office, they all straightened and gave her their full attention. Even after all these years she still had it.
And then Mr Turnbull did faint as his mother took the speech off the podium and started reading it. She wasn’t supposed to ever read or hear what he wrote. He collapsed to the floor and hoped it would make her stop.
When he came to she was still reading, out loud, to a very focused audience. A man, Mr Stark, was helping him up into a chair as his mother continued:
“If you knew my mother you would know just how odd the relationships between students and teachers have become. Never would she ever befriend a teenager or chaperone, give advice on clothing or crushes. You guys have something special in this school and I want every one of you to realize that.”
Was she crying? Richard struggled to get to his feet and stand beside his mother. He never saw the women shed a tear but she was doing so then. It pained him more than he ever imagined as he took the speech from her hands and hugged her. The audience applauded much to his embarrassment but he took solace in that moment, knowing it was rare.
“Mom, I…” he couldn’t get the words out, she wouldn’t let him.
“Stop. You’re right. I made a lousy principal and mother. I should have visited, should have been here on your first day instead of in Africa. You needed me just as much as those starving kids did. You changed this whole school around and while it looks the same, it feels a lot different. You feel different.”
“Mom, I am happy. It seems weird and you caught me on an awful day but I like the changes we have been making to the education system. I know you may not understand them all as you were never one to “feel” but this is the new way of doing things.”
“Richard, I may not have done many things right but I want to think I did what I could in my day. You have taken over the reins of this school and I am confused by it all.” Her tears kept falling, Richard started to cry, too. There was not a sound in the whole room as if everyone was frozen in place despite the rising temperatures.
“This is embarrassing, we really should talk about this later,” Richard pleaded but still no one, not even his mother, moved.
“I think it’s time for you to retire.”
“Mother, don’t tell me what I should do. At this point you have no right to think about my next step.” Richard was disgusted, dismayed and disapproved of his mother’s words.
“Come with me, to Africa. I have adopted a child and he wants to meet you. He has a brother who I want to adopt too but I just can’t handle both. I thought…”
And then Richard realized what she was suggesting and he paused, took her hand and faced the student body. “I’m announcing my retirement, effective immediately.” The crowd exploded in applause and he wasn’t sure how to take that. It didn’t really matter though, he was going to meet his family and that was all that mattered.