Every five or six years, I have a student who drives me crazy. The journey is short, mind you, so I work very hard at a good defense. “Never smile during the first three weeks of school” is my motto, and my creed is “You can always lighten up; but you can’t tighten up.” Therefore, my mean-as-a-catbox demeanor works very well for most students. By the time the kids figure out that I am actually sentimental and soft-hearted to a fault, they are so trained to behave that I don’t have discipline problems.
Except Billy Bryson. Billy is bright, ornery, and sneaky. Billy is so like me that I lay awake nights hoping he will get swine flu. So, when my principal showed up in my second period class last Tuesday, I was hoping she was coming to get Billy.
“What’s your address?” she asked.
“Billy sits right there,” I replied, pointing at his chair. (Did I tell you about my hearing loss?) The principal ignored me, and repeated her question. I raised my right eyebrow and gave the number and street. “You might want to go home,” she said, “your house is on fire.”
As I watched the volunteer firemen marching in and out of my house, I could think of just one thing: the seven bras hanging on the line next to the woodstove. Half of the fire department is made up of young people who have been in my classes sometime or other in the last 24 years, and the thought of those children seeing my enormous bras – big enough to catapult a pair of watermelons at least a quarter mile – was enough to make this old lady blush. I had the freedom to think about those bras because everything that matters to me – my husband and my dog – was safely outside the house.
After the fire was knocked down, the fire marshall instructed us to go into the house and get our medicines, and whatever we might need. The house was dark. The air was thick with the acrid odor of wet, charred wood, melted plastic, scorched fiberglass, and fire-retardant foam. It is a nasty and unforgettable smell. We grabbed the medicines, several containers of loose-leaf tea, the strainer, and a six pack of beer. It pays to keep one’s priorities straight at a time like this. Our insurance agent showed up just as I had gathered those damned bras into a pile and was attempting to torch them with a Bic lighter. “We don’t want to call the fire department again,” he explained helpfully as he took the lighter away from me.
Three hours later we were in a hotel room with our dog, realizing just how quickly everything in this short life can change. It was time for TEA! I heated water, found some cups, and opened a bag of Oolong. It smelled just like Lapsang Souchong. A bag of jasmine pearls smelled just the same. Ditto on the matcha, genmaicha, and Earl of Grey. Tea is an amazing conductor of odors!
Monday I was back at school, getting ready to face Billy Bryson. Billy was first to arrive. He asked me how I was, gave me a bear hug, and held out a package, “It’s from Mom and me.” Inside were three ounces of fresh spiced black tea. Cancel that order for retroactive birth control!