“The first stab of love is like a sunset, a blaze of color…” – Anna Godbersen
I agree with Anna Godberson. I’d add that first-love isn’t the only love so outstanding, but it is the measure of the (eventual) love of our lives.
My first love was Ms. Cross. It was the purest, warmest, fuzziest kind of love. Ms. Cross was my first grade teacher. Yet, she was so much more than that. She made my heart bigger, my courage stronger, my curiosity broader. I was years from puberty, my first car, or my eligibility to vote. Shoot, I had just learned to tie my own shoes when I met her, the lady who graced our first grade classroom at St. Jude Elementary School.
Ms. Cross shone upon me like a magical force and transformed me into my better (seven-year-old) self. Beside her making me feel like a million bucks when she looked at me, she showed me kindness, beauty, grace, and generosity. She revealed those universal gifts in the classroom, on the playground, and as she floated down the hallway en route to the cafeteria.
Man, and her snacks: oyster crackers and cherry Kool-Aid. She served the Kool-Aid in those little Dixie cups with riddles printed on the sides that I only began to decode with her gentle tutoring. I ate each oyster cracker individually, letting them melt in my mouth like my heart melted for her.
Oh, Ms. Cross. Once, I got to stroll with her, hand-in-hand, on a beautiful moon-lit summer night. It made a memory I take with me into old age. It would have never happened without the deft scheming of Mrs. Wahl, my mother’s friend, confidant, and collaborator. Mrs. Wahl and her four children were like family – we were always over each other’s house and the Wahls were a permanent fixture at our cottage in the summers. Mrs. Wahl was keen to my infatuation with the rookie teacher who, as luck would have it, lived just a few doors down the street. The night was still young, and the eight of us kids had just devoured a few Fantasy bowling ally pizza pies. We were in the backyard starting a kick-the-can tourney, when Mrs. Wahl called me up to the back porch.
“Tim, you want to visit Ms. Cross?” She said, my mom peering over her shoulder with a mischievous grin.
I nodded, dumbly, answering matter-of-factly like any seven year-old would; not realizing in my young innocence that the question wasn’t rhetorical.
“Come on.” Mrs. Wahl took my hand and led me around the aluminum-sided bungalow and out onto the sidewalk. We walked down the street as I counted each crack in the concrete on our way to meet my angel-on-earth.
And there she was. Ms. Cross stood in the middle of the sidewalk, bathed in the glow of the streetlight, her back ram-rod straight, her auburn hair cascading over her shoulders, a dimpled smile that couldn’t be fabricated – she was really happy to see me! If I could only describe the mirth, the joy, the serenity that whirled within me… pardon the cliche, but time stood still. And so did we, for a moment. Mrs. Wahl transferred my damp little hand into Ms. Cross’, bid us good bye, turned, and walked back into the darkness. I was left under the streetlamp with Ms. Cross. She looked down upon me and asked if I’d like to go for a walk around the block. Struck with wonder, I wasn’t able to articulate language – I probably just grunted, or gestured, in the affirmative. And we were off, drifting around the block, my hand at head-level to reach hers, as we shared fifteen minutes of exquisite, pedestrain communion.
I don’t know what was said on that twilight constitutional, nor what was seen. I simply remember that cacophony of splendid feelings within me, and the sense that all was right in a world that was graced with someone like dear Ms. Cross.
We soon went our separate ways, me to the public school a few blocks away, and Ms. Cross to a career that, I imagine, blessed the lives of many other children over the years.
I’ve walked the earth for many, many years with her memory in my heart. That memory served as a life preserver during times of little faith, and a wind beneath my wings during more inspired periods. But, I assure you, her effect upon me wasn’t matched until many years later – in very similar circumstances, too. I was in my late twenties by then, and a good friend of mine and I went for a sunset walk at the cottage. We’d been friends for quite awhile, laughing at the same movies, horsing around while waiting in long lines, and reading the same books. But on that particular walk, I realized what this auburn-haired, dimpled-cheeked, straight-backed friend of mine was doing – she could conjure in me that same cacophony of serenity and joy that I knew back in first grade.
She made me a better man, as she held my hand.