In kindergarten, all we ever did was play, and sing and dance to the tune, “Skip to My Lou.” We’d also gather around in a circle for story time. For this, I had two teachers: the lovely and serene Miss Callahan, who always wore pretty dresses, pink lipstick and shiny, black pumps; and Miss Diamond, a gray-haired, pointy-nosed spinster with a laugh that crackled, snapped and popped. Miss Diamond scared the wits out of me, mostly because she reminded me of Miss Gulch, the character in The Wizard of Oz who wanted Toto to be destroyed on account that he bit her. I didn’t want to picture Miss Diamond around dogs.
But oh, Miss Callahan! How I adored this sweet, soft-spoken teacher who’d stand by the door each day as we arrived at school, pleasantly greeting each of her students.
“Why, hello!” she’d say, as if she was surprised to see that we actually had shown up for school.
One by one, she’d shake our hands as we entered the classroom. Meanwhile, Miss Diamond would sit at her desk, writing out her plan for the day. She’d put on her glasses and look at us shrewdly, as if she was expecting that any minute we’d do something bad, or worse, burst out with a curse word. But we never did, at least, not that I can recall.
We all loved Miss Callahan. Our schools days revolved around her, and I wasn’t the only one who would try to jockey into a position near her for story time, or wheedle my way to her side so that I could hold her hand while we danced in a circle. Poor Miss Diamond. No one tried as hard to sit by her. No one seemed to care whether she left the room or stayed with us all day.
On the last day before Spring Break, I brought in a gift for Miss Callahan. With my mother’s help, we cut a pink rose from the rose bush in our yard. My mother suggested I take two, one for Miss Diamond. I stubbornly shook my head, as I couldn’t see the logic in bringing a flower for someone who frightened me.
I couldn’t wait to give Miss Callahan the rose. On the bus, my fingers curled tightly around the stem, careful not to touch the thorns. I imagined how thrilled she’d be when I gave her the rose. How she’d hug me in heartfelt appreciation and invite me to sit next to her during story time. Surely, I would become her pet pupil after this!
As the bus pulled up, the excitement was too much to bear. I could no longer contain my euphoria that I would soon be bestowing this precious flower upon Miss Callahan. I sprinted up the steps to the school and walked briskly down the hall, carefully holding my precious cargo.
As I approached the door to the kindergarten, my heart stopped. There was no sign of Miss Callahan. Panic set in. I couldn’t even feel that a thorn was pushing into my index finger, about to pierce skin and draw blood. I became frantic. Like Cary Grant in “North By Northwest,” I knew something was awry. Where in the world was Miss Callahan?
Dread soon turned to despair. For, instead of Miss Callahan, it was Miss Diamond standing by the door. When she saw the rose, her eyes widened with surprise as she said,
Oh, no! My mind went blank! I tried to think of something to say while I quickly looked past her, into the classroom, for signs of Miss Callahan. She was nowhere to be found! Miss Diamond looked at me expectantly.
Crestfallen, I had no choice but to nod my head in response to her question. I hoped she wouldn’t see the tears welling in my eyes. Miss Diamond plucked the rose from my suddenly strong, vice-like grip, and haphazardly plunked it into a vase on her desk. She then told us that Miss Callahan had a doctor’s appointment and would be in later. Desperate thoughts began spinning in my head. Could I take the rose back to give to Miss Callahan? Would Miss Diamond notice? Or should I tell the truth, how the rose was not meant for her, but for Miss Callahan?
Too much of a coward, I spent the rest of the day in absolute agony, going through the motions of playtime, story time and dance. When Miss Callahan arrived, she noticed the rose on Miss Diamond’s desk and admired its beauty. The rose that was meant for her. I could say nothing. After school, I went home, ran into my mother’s arms and cried. My mother had been right. If I had brought in two roses, one for each, this would never have happened. I would not have been crushed with disappointment.
When school resumed after the break, we were all excited to see Miss Callahan again, back in her usual spot, ready to greet us. This time, Miss Diamond was standing with her, and I noticed something different about her. Something that didn’t seem so scary anymore.
I started to think, maybe it had something to do with the rose. And that’s when it hit me. No one had ever given Miss Diamond a gift before. All of a sudden, she seemed a little nicer, kinder. Could have been my imagination, but now she wasn’t as terrifying as Miss Gulch. Though, she was no Miss Callahan, either. Still, when circle time came, I made it a point to walk past Miss Callahan and take Miss Diamond’s hand. Miss Diamond looked down at me and smiled.