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Friendship Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

Shoes—c'mon—what 11-year-old boy looks at his teacher's feet? She was always standing where he couldn't see over the heads of his classmates, except during tests when she sat with her feet behind her desk. Maybe he should have looked, given that Mrs. Arrington was his favorite teacher.

It was 1962 and he was 11 years old. He had just moved to big city Seattle from faraway Farmington, New Mexico. It was the "Century 21" World's Fair and for a boy on the verge of growing up, that was an irresistible attraction. Sixth grade in a new school was coming in the fall but the summer was his.

Fifth grade at Farmington’s brand-new Eastside Elementary was his favorite year of school so far. The school had fresh-smelling new textbooks and a playfield with real playground equipment. It was much nicer than old Swinburne. Mostly, he was proud to be a student of Mrs. Arrington, who went out of her way to make the shy introvert welcome as a valued member of her class.

Mrs. Arrington, he remembered from so long ago, had medium brown hair. She wore dresses with pleated skirts, but he didn't remember if they were patterned or solid colors. He wanted to say they were patterned but maybe that was just his personal preference.

He remembered her spelling tests, full of words that broadened his class's view of the outside world. One of the words was "Venezuela." Some of his classmates quibbled about the meager prospect of ever using that word in a real conversation. But they still had to spell it right, and he was pleased when he got an A on the test. When the class lined up from tallest to shortest, he was sometimes the tallest and sometimes a pinch shorter depending on which boy had the growth spurt that morning. But she always made sure they were fairly matched—every other day he got to pick up the homework and test papers.

He was a gangly awkward kid, taller than all but one of his classmates. That made him a target for other boys, all stronger and rougher than him. During a beating one afternoon at recess, he landed in a puddle from the sprinkler system and limped back to class all muddy. On the way, they rudely called him “dirt stain," chanting it over and over. Mrs. Arrington assured him that a change into clean clothes would fix the embarrassment. She was right, as she was about everything. After that, he remembered, she was always on recess patrol, covertly watching his interactions with his playmates. To him, she was larger than life and he adored her.

Another time, a classmate pushed his way into the lunch line in front of the skinny boy. That was called "taking cuts" and it wasn’t allowed. He told his rude classmate off. The boy smacked him on the shoulder and he dropped his lunch money. When he bent to pick it up, the other boy stepped on his fingers. He got up and stomped on the other boy's foot as hard as he could. Mrs. Arrington saw the whole episode and both were sent to the principal’s office. That evening, his parents were visited by the other boy's parents, who informed them that he had broken the other boy's foot maliciously. Mrs. Arrington found out and promised his parents that she would defend him.

Anyway, back to the world's fair. AT&T had an exhibit building that looked like a telephone. Their slimline "Princess" phone had just been released and most of the exhibit was (as he looked back) a marketing effort to sell the new phone. Their campaign must have worked well; when his sister was a teenager, she had a Princess phone.

The other thing he remembered in the AT&T exhibit was a big wheel with numbers on it. Visitors picked from one to 20 and if their number came up when the wheel stopped spinning, they won a prize. At various times he won a green plastic Princess phone on a keychain, a sheet of AT&T stickers, and a little round card with the company's famous globe logo. He remembered there were other things, but one grand prize kept eluding him. He spent much of his fair time in the AT&T exhibit, picking numbers, watching the wheel go around, and hoping. One day he hit the jackpot, a free long-distance phone call to anyone.

Of course, there was only one person he wanted to share his lucky call with—Mrs. Arrington.

He still remembers her amazement as a former student called her from the world's fair, of all places. They talked for the full three minutes AT&T allowed, probably about his new home, where he would go to school in the fall, and how he enjoyed the exhibits and food at the "Exposition of Progress." He's sure he told her about the 12' by 12' by 12' Plexiglas cube outside filled with 1 Million silver dollars. He might have revealed how worried he was that someone would steal those gleaming coins.

Later, his parents got a letter from Mrs. Arrington containing a clipping from the Farmington Daily Times—an interview with her about getting a momentous long-distance call from ... from him. This was when long-distance calls were a luxury, priced out of the reach of families like his. Oh, how he must have beamed when he read the article. He could tell that Mrs. Arrington was a town celebrity, worthy of a higher status in the realm of teachers, not only for the phone call but for being remembered so fondly by a former student.

He still remembers the spelling test with the word "Venezuela." After he started his professional writing career, he authored motivational articles to inspire door-to-door salespeople about the many perks of success. Imagine his surprise on his first day to discover the company sold 65% of their biggest product in, of all places, Venezuela. Was he ever glad he'd learned to spell it correctly in Mrs. Arrington's class in the fifth grade.

Mrs. Arrington, you made his life richer by far. Your class was wonderful. You were the best teacher he ever had. He doesn't remember your shoes but if he ever vacations to the beautiful beaches of Venezuela, he will raise a glass in your memory.

September 19, 2022 01:16

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1 comment

Emily Grace
01:20 Sep 30, 2022

Aw, that was sweet. I had no clue phone calls were such a big deal back then!


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