My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, was as popular and plain as the crayon of the same name in our crayola boxes. Her skin was lighter than the burnt brown of an Indian’s, but it was still wrinkled and grooved like parched land. Her short chopped hair was black as a raven’s coat and just as practical too. She was sharp and fierce, easily frightening shy students like me with half a glance.
I’m not sure if she liked children, but I know she liked wild birds. One spring she took our class bird-watching at a park just south of town. Her eyes looked different in the light of day and behind those binoculars. They didn’t dart downwards to dumbstruck faces absent with answers, but upward to the sky of forward flying feathers. She’d point a bony finger at a bird passing overhead and smile. Not half a smile, like when she waited for a dull kid’s response in class, but a smile so full it overflowed to her eyes.
Back in the classroom, her smile kind of left her. After school I heard my mom say, “Poor Mrs. Brown.” Mrs. Brown’s daughter was killed at a rest area just off the highway, close to home. I think it was a big truck. A truck driver ran her over; smashed her bones into the tar road. I felt so sorry for my teacher, but I didn’t say so. I didn’t say a peep.
The next day at school, I searched Mrs. Brown’s eyes, and for the whole rest of the year I didn’t avert my gaze. I was looking for her sadness, but nowhere were there tears. I looked up to her, like a baby bird to its mother. Mrs. Brown went on teaching us proper nouns and some cool science stuff too, but the thing I’ll remember most is how it was the birds that called her upward.