She always wore a smile. A big one. She was a delightful, late twenty-something bubbly spirit, and she was my fourth grade teacher.
Mrs. Pigeon was an average-looking, White woman who always had something funny to say … that is, something funny to a ten-year old. And she made us feel like we mattered. In fact, she’s one of the reasons I’m earning a living as a writer today.
Let me set the stage …
I didn’t really know anything about “being” a writer. I knew I enjoyed writing, but in my urban jungle there were government workers and housekeepers and bartenders and school crossing guards. You know, “normal” working people. (I don’t mean to slight anyone, but if you’re a writer, you understand the “normal” comment … Remember the responses you got from family and friends when you told them you wanted to become a writer? “Well, THAT’S different.” “When are you going to get a real job?” But that’s a whole ‘nother article.)
Anyway, I wrote my very first poem in Mrs. Pigeon’s fourth grade class. We were learning how to write poetry and our assignment was to complete the first two lines from the textbook. It read:
“Woodpecker sent a telegram.
I heard that tapping sound.”
I thought real hard about my response. (I was so serious!) I wanted the poem to be both informative and amusing. Naturally, it had to rhyme, because in fourth grade the concept of a poem that doesn’t rhyme is just plain dumb. (I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.)
The poem also had to make sense. It had to rise above the everyday ten-year-old jargon and strike a chord with its reader. (Yeah, I was that deep.) After pondering for the longest time (up to, like, fifteen minutes), EUREKA! I struck gold!
…I remember approaching my teacher’s desk.
“What if she thinks it’s stupid?” I asked myself. “No, she wouldn’t think that. She’s Mrs. Pigeon!”
Yet with a bit of trepidation, I held my head up and continued the long, methodical walk to what was bound to be my new life. With ever step I grew more and more confident! I’d found my calling. After so many struggles: the knee scrapes from hitting the concrete in all those double-dutch jump rope attempts, the repeated paddle ball start-ups…
NOT good for my self-esteem!
…losing (again!) at that stupid game of jacks—all these were things at which I absolutely sucked! But this … ahhh, this one moment unleashed my true passion, the person I was destined to become.
I stood alongside Mrs. Pigeon as she read the poem to herself. I could see her lips moving.
“Come on, get to it, woman! You’re gonna love it!” I remember thinking to myself.
“…I heard that tapping sound.”
At long last. “Here it comes,” I thought. Surely SHE’S going to get it!
“When he stopped, he slipped,
And fell upon the ground.”
(Okay, so it wasn’t Nikki Giovanni, but keep in mind I was only ten.)
Mrs. Pigeon’s response was classic! I still remember her tossing her head back, giving a very audible, enthusiastic wail of a laugh—and I believe there was an angelic chorus in the background.
“I love it, Judith! I love it!” she exclaimed, her hearty laughter causing strife and envy throughout the sea of ten-year-olds.
Yes, finally, I did it! I found my calling! A star was born…and…it…was… ME!
This might sound a bit over the top, but that very brief moment remains with me even today, nearly 40 years later. Mrs. Pigeon has no idea how her response completely changed my introverted world into one of endless possibilities.
She doesn’t know how I often think of her when I’ve reached a professional milestone in my writing career, how she set the tone for my future. She doesn’t know that I’m working from home as a full-time writer, and that I credit her and that one moment in time—however fleeting—with laying a blueprint for who I was to become.
I’ve held all types of jobs: actor, singer, construction worker, corrections officer, executive assistant, etc. But the point I have to make is that I’ve come back home to my roots. To the place I found at ten years old in an unassuming elementary classroom with a teacher named Mrs. Pigeon.
So, Mrs. Pigeon, thank you.
Judith Brown is a nationally-published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. A writer and editor for a health care publisher, Ms. Brown also conducts writing workshops, provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to workplace culture, and serves as a PR/marketing consultant for small business industries. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.