Second grade was the best school year of my life. I loved the playground; I had a special rock for tossing into the hopscotch squares. My best friend, Elaine, taught me how to do Double Dutch jump rope.
Seven seemed the best age to be.
But the most wonderful thing about second grade was my teacher. Helen Kitchell Evans strode into the classroom the first day of school and surveyed us with spectacled eyes that sparked when they touched my face.
“GOOD MORNING, CHILDREN! Welcome to the second grade. I am Mrs. Evans, and we are going to have a splendid time together this year.”
I had never heard a voice like hers. It seemed to come from all four corners of the room at once, bouncing off small heads and lopsided books and dusty erasers. There was a thick, rich quality to its sound; it reminded me of warm Thanksgiving gravy sluicing down creamy mashed potatoes.
Mrs. Evans had my undivided attention from that first day. The enthusiasm she emitted propelled us like paper airplanes, flinging us outside the windows of ordinary learning and into a world aerated by her essence.
My new teacher loved words. Her heart was bursting with ideas and stories and poems, and they gushed out grandly—to be memorized and printed and performed by her students.
Her imagination was large enough to keep us enthralled: so occupied and entertained that we didn’t realize the skills we were being taught as we sat there, listening.
That October, Mrs. Evans had a special poem to teach us. She had written it herself. I couldn’t believe anybody I knew had actually thought up her own poem, but somehow it seemed possible when I looked at my teacher’s face.
We were going to perform the poem for the entire school on Halloween. We made witch’s hats from black construction paper rolled into cones and Mrs. Evans drew a wart on each of our tiny faces with a black marker. Then we practiced.
“Old black hats. Coal black cats.
Elves—and witches, too!
Grinning faces…going places…
They may call on YOU!
Still—no one is there.
Ghosts are out. Witches about.
We practiced over and over, every day, for weeks. “It’s not just what you say that counts,” our teacher firmly reminded us after each oration. “It’s HOW you say it.”
Our voices hiss and cackled the poem until we had it just right; just the way Mrs. Evans heard it in her head when she wrote it.
Halloween finally came. We single-filed to the front of the gym—a coven of ragtag witches and warlocks who know our teacher’s poem inside and out. Then Mrs. Evans made her way to the front of her class.
As she turned to direct our recitation, every heart inside every marker-warted child reached toward hers in an earnest desire to make her proud. She smiled, and we knew she loved us before we even began to speak.
I’ll never forget Mrs. Evans. Her teaching and her enthusiasm and love for words influenced my life in countless ways. I have enjoyed a lifelong appreciation for books and poetry, and I often hear the rich timbre of her voice echoing in my heart as I write.
“Remember,” her memory whispers to the grownup me. “It’s not just what you have to say that counts. It’s HOW you say it.”
Thank you forever, Mrs. Evans.
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