She could be explained in one word: CROCHETY. She moved faster than anyone I knew, rapping her cane on the desk of a sleepy 7th grader, or hitting the blackboard in rapid succession so we would look up at her flowing cursive that she had just scratched. Her white ponytail bobbed as she read dramatically from Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” or selected poems from Rod McKuen’s Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows.
We called her Grace when we talked about her behind her back because 7th graders usually talk about what they perceive as whackos. Even the craziest among us didn’t dare to disturb when we entered her hallowed kingdom. She demanded our desk be free of debris, just a #2, a pink eraser, and multiple sheets of notebook paper. We dared not touch our grammar books under our chairs because she believed in what was called ‘Transformational’ grammar back then. Grace didn’t believe in doing rote exercises in comma placement or tense. And believed if you were a reader you were also a writer. And that all of us were sojourners and that many of us were at best only average or below average at that point in our lives.
One day, I was writing a mystery in class and got brave enough to raise my hand after she was done writing what literature we would read that night for homework.
“What, Miss Olson (she never called us by our first names)?”
“I’m not sure about how to punctuate this conversation.”
She ran up close, I feared she would be making an example of me any moment.
“What’s underneath your chair, Olson?”
“UMMM, my grammar book?”
Bamm— her hand came down flat down on my story.
“Not that, that’s not a real book. I’m talking about #44.”
Shocked I muttered, “You mean my Nancy Drew?”
“I just finished #45. I think you’ll even on that first page she will be blabbering about something to someone. I know you can figure it out, Olson.”
All heads were pointed in my direction as she made a quick getaway to her chalkboard. She turned and rapidly looked in my direction. I will always remember her wink and her toothy grin.
PS In the winter of that year I was happy with a C- on my poem entitled Toboggan Run and forever will remember her comment on the top, With a little work this could be a dandy!
PSS A month later I got the good news from American Girl magazine that they would be publishing my poem in their next issue. My tidy mom even said she liked it, right before it went in her circular file. Oh, how I wish that I had it still. One scandalous teacher can make all the difference in one little girl’s life. Miss Grace was mine.