A swish of skirt, a whiff of lily-of- the-valley talcum perfume as Teacher walked by the girl's desk, closed the door to the classroom-- closed the door to the hallway clatter, to the ammonia smells from Mr. Doak's mop, closed the door to the phantom-like principal who roamed around looking for more of the bully old runny-nosed boys to yell at and strap making a sound that would echo around the school and long after, too, when she was home, tucked in her bed and the sound returned to seep into her dreams and wake her up, afraid.
Teacher closed the door on that trembling and on all the schoolwork yet to do and the many other undone things like the cleaning up of desks or the search for lost mittens or erasing the blackboard which was really a green board or emptying the trash can that smelled of apple cores. Today, Teacher would wait until later to take a ruler to the brushes and fill the air with clouds of chalk dust because now was the time the Teacher closed the door on Time, on all the static and dust and scratch of Busy, the always all day long noise that made the girl's head hurt behind her eyes, pain like an earache hurting so much sometimes that the girl just wanted to cry. Or find a cool dark place to hide.
The girl would know, forever and ever the rest of her life that when people talked about the opening of doors that she had a secret : that the closing of doors was a necessary magical and wondrous thing because now---now with the door closed this girl who was seven knew the day's name was Friday and the bell would soon ring the night would come with fish for supper and funny tv the rolling of dice the games of snakes and ladders and the next day would be a sizzle: of bacon and eggs and comic book colours of freedom from sitting in rows and rows but for now the girl could sit, she would sit, yes, she'd sit and sit and sit forever because Teacher, perched on the edge of her desk at the front of the room, now swinging her legs like she must be happy as a hummingbird too, well, now the Teacher opened THE BOOK.
"Now where were we?" said Teacher with eyes like kindness, eyes like the eyes of Bambi's mother. "Does anybody know where we left off?" She asked, as she asked every time. And the girl, along with others shouted out: Chapter Four! Chapter Five! or wherever they were because the girl had been waiting all week to return again to the world inside that book. She had closed her eyes every night and imagined what could ever possibly happen next when the page was turned. Now, the girl gulped and her breath came all wheezy, little hiccups of breath, until finally, she stopped wiggling and settled, resting her head on the cool hard surface of desk. She smelled lemons and sighed. Listened. She listened to words and the words made a song like the kind she wanted to know by heart. She listened to Teacher's voice go all in and out and around in circles and zig zags in spirals and G clef signs up and down high and low full of blue and purple and deep emerald velvet and sparkle and sadness and those words and the voice of the Teacher made every impossible thing possible in the whole everlasting wide world of forever and ever. And the girl was safe and the girl was loved and the girl was blessed with wings of fancy.
The book I remember the Teacher reading was Toby Tyler. It was a tale about a monkey. (Kind of.)
The teacher who read the book to the girl and her class was Bea Goodwin.
Bea Goodwin travelled with me into every school and library reading I've given over the past twenty-five years because whenever I'm asked 'when did you start writing' --- I tell a story. It's a true story. It begins like this:
"When I was in a Grade Two, I had a teacher named Mrs. Goodwin.( How could you ever lose if your teacher's name was Mrs. GoodWIN? How could anything be bad if her name was GOODwin?) One day she said, 'class today, we are going to write poems.' (This was long before a time like now, before most teachers believed that children could write poems and stories of their own.) Write our own! What an idea. We knew what poems were because Mrs. Goodwin read one every day--we knew an elfman could talk down where lilies blew and fog could move on little cat feet. We knew that some poems rhymed and some did not. She said we could write about anything we wanted. The sun, a shoe, our names.... "
I won't tell the whole story but Mrs. Goodwin is largely responsible for why I grew up to be a writer. It's a story best told in person. Outloud. After moving away from Moncton as a child we were reunited in 1987 when I was thirty and Toes in My nose was published. Bea Goodwin was still vibrant and eager to show me poems... three of mine she'd kept all those years.
When I returned home after a trip to Quebec early in this New Year, I had an email from Mrs. Goodwin's grandson.
You don't know me but you've been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was Mrs. Beatrice Goodwin, your former teacher whom you dedicated your book to. My Aunt recently spoke with you at a book signing and you signed your newest book for Bea. She was so overjoyed to open it and read it on Christmas Day. I'm writing you to regrettably inform you that on Friday, December 30th at approximately 6pm, Beatrice Goodwin passed away.
I know you won't get this message in time to attend any services in Moncton as they're Tuesday the 3rd, however I simply wanted you to know that you were as important a part of her life as she was to you and the mere mention of your name brought a smile to her face even at the darkest of times.
Thank you for your love and support and please continue to do what you do because it touches more lives than you can ever possibly imagine.
It was a story about monkeys.
I was only one of her many students. Bea Goodwin once said in a radio inteview on CBC--- "all my students were special."
I was able to attend the service and hear her grandson's eloquent tribute.
And I thought about how many were with us, about the reach of teachers and how they often never know what lives they've touched or how. I'm glad she knew what she meant to me. I'm glad her family let me know.
Does anybody know where we leave off and another begins ?
To me, it's all as beautiful and sad and mysterious as poetry that speaks to a heart.