When I was in kindergarten, oh, so many years ago, I was a pretty tall kid. I don't have my medical records proving my height in inches, but if memory serves me well, I was as tall as Paulie, and he was the tallest boy. We were a small group of fair-skinned five year olds at Amherst Academy, a small private school in our little town, and our teacher was Mrs. Farris, one of the most petite adults I'd ever met.
Our school was located in one of the older homes in Amherst, just south of the current town library by a block or so. It was a large two-story home with tall white columns across the spacious porch. There were big boxwood bushes on the property where we played at recess. I attended Amherst Academy in kindergarten and first grade in this building, until the school relocated to the Dulwich Manor down Route 60.
A Young Girl Reading
I loved kindergarten. I hated nap time, but I loved my little nap mat with my name written in permanent black ink on the plastic-covered foam pad. I loved singing the ABC song, and counting, and playing with Play-Doh that came in gigantic big No. 10 cans. My area of expertise when it came to sculpting with our dough was elf shoes. I could make a facsimile of an elf shoe with a curvy pointing toe every single time, and I did. Art time was so fun when we were able to use our small cardboard boxes of thick Crayola crayons, and boxes of water color paints. We would wear our daddy's shirts to protect our clothes whenever we painted. I loved graham crackers, and even though it wasn't my favorite, I drank the Kool-Aid at snack time. I loved the famous painting of the girl reading in a bright yellow dress that was on the wall. I loved my bus driver Tommy Mays, and thought he looked just like Bobby Sherman on Here Come the Brides.
I also loved my teacher Mrs. Farris. Our kindergarten teacher was a young mother of two little girls. She had thick, dark hair, a bubbly personality, and a sweet southern drawl. Judy Farris was quick to flash her broad smile, and her infectious laughter came easily. I'm sure we were a handful for her, but she took everything in stride. Mrs. Farris was so petite, and I was fascinated that as a five year old, I wasn't much shorter than she was. One day, I wanted to show her just how big and strong I was.
"Mrs. Far-ris...I can pick you up," I said in my sing-song voice.
"Don't be ridiculous, Denise," she replied. "You can NOT pick me up."
"Wanna bet?" I asked, taking a step toward her. I bent down, and stretched my arms around her, clasping my hands above her legs, and gave it my best shot. I looked up into the eyes of my terrified teacher who was no longer touching the floor.
"Denise, you put me down right this instant."
"I thought you said I couldn't pick you up." I began to twirl her around. I'm sure at this point she was scared I would drop her, and injure both of us, but I was confident that I had her in a good grip. Dropping her had not entered my mind.
"Denise," she said, using her serious teacher voice, "Stop. Put me down NOW." I was mischievous, but not mean. She had challenged me, and I wanted to show her just how strong I was. That day is one of my most vivid early school memories.
When I went home for Daddy's funeral a couple of months ago just after Christmas, I spotted Mrs. Farris heading to a pew on the opposite side of the church from our family's row. I made a bee-line to where she was. "Mrs. Farris," I began. We embraced warmly. Into her ear, I said softly, "I can still pick you up, you know." She grinned.
"I wondered if you still remembered that," she laughed.
"How could I forget?"
After the memorial, I asked if I could have my picture taken with her. She was one of my favorite teachers, after all. When the service ended, we posed by the Christmas tree in the foyer of the Catholic church. She is still a petite, darling woman with a sparkle in her eye. And I'm still big enough to pick her up. You'll be glad to know that not only have I gotten even taller, I've learned that picking up teachers, and spinning them around is not socially acceptable. I know she must be very proud of the progress I've made in that department. I love you, Mrs. Farris.