Every year, in some quiet moment between Christmas and New Year’s, I reach into my heart and pull out a memory.
The summer I was 7, my mother and stepfather decided we needed a fresh start. So we left the town where I had walked wherever I pleased (to school or church or my grandmother’s house) and moved miles away to a house in the middle of a cow pasture, or as my grandmother said, in the middle of nowhere.
Talk about lonely. Have you ever tried having a civilized conversation with a herd of sullen-faced cows?
That fall, I climbed on a bus, waved goodbye to the cows and rode into town to start second grade in a new school where I knew no one. Twenty minutes later, in a room filled with strangers, I began to miss the cows. Then I heard a voice. “Good morning, class!”
Her name was Mrs. Harrison. She was tall and thin with silvery hair and a smile like my grandmother’s, the kind of smile that makes you feel, all at once, safe and happy and good. If I knew nothing else about her, I knew this: She liked me. I was sure of it. And that was that.
From that day on, I soaked up every word she said, everything she tried to teach us. She told me I was smart, and I was glad to let her think so. But mostly, I just wanted to make her proud of me. The best teachers always seem to have that effect.
One day, on the way out of class to catch the bus for home, I ducked in the bathroom to wash something sticky off my hands. (I hate sticky.) And when I ran out, the bus was gone.
Mrs. Harrison saw me and realized what had happened.
“Can you call your mother to come pick you up?” she said.
My stepfather was at work and my mother had no car.
“It’s OK,” I said. “I can walk.”
“No, no,” she said. “I’ll drive you. I have a few things to finish up first. You can help me.”
Talk about a dream come true. She let me clean the chalkboard. I don’t recall what was written on it. Spelling words, probably. Some numbers, maybe, addition and subtraction. The usual.
Then I saw, up in the corner, that she had written the day’s date, and the names of some boys who had gotten in trouble, mostly for being boys.
“Should I erase the date and those names?” I said.
“Of course!” she said. “Today is past. Tomorrow’s the future. We all get a fresh start!”
I had to stand on a chair to reach the names, but I scrubbed them extra hard. I wondered if the boys could feel it, their sins being wiped away.
While Mrs. Harrison worked on lessons, I took the erasers outside to clean them. When I came back, she laughed and wiped chalk dust off my face. Finally, she gathered up her purse and the stacks of papers that teachers always carry, and turned to leave. But first she looked at the chalkboard.
“You did a fine job!” she said, lighting me up like Christmas. “What a nice, clean slate! Can you imagine what wonders we will write on it tomorrow?”
Then she drove me home.
That was a lifetime ago. But I remember it clearly each time I take down the old calendar to hang up the new. I turn the pages, month by month, recalling things we did, places we went, people who came to visit us, birthdays and anniversaries and doctor’s appointments galore.
I give thanks for the blessings and the blessings in disguise. Then I leave both calendars on the table for my husband to transfer all the dates we want to remember from one year to the next. His handwriting is a lot more legible than mine.
The old calendar is past. The new one is the future. We all get a fresh start _ a nice, clean slate.
Can you imagine? What wonders we will write on 2017?