I walked to my front window after hearing the news. As I looked out at the beautiful sunset, I thought of Nancy. The sky was on fire with yellow-gold, orange, pink, and purple streaks topped with layers of fluffy white clouds. Everything was calm and quiet. I smiled and thought, Calm and quiet were not words that described my friend.
We first met at school. She had been there a few years and was experienced. I was beginning my second year of teaching. She was the first grade teacher and I was teaching the primary special education students. The year was 1973 and there was no inclusion. My principal told me up front the first day of school, he didn’t know what to do with my kids but if I needed help, some of the other teachers would be of assistance.
And that’s where Nancy came in. I didn’t even have to ask her. I didn’t even know WHAT to ask her. I was floundering and she sensed it. Or maybe that’s just what Nancy always did to help out new teachers. She dragged me down to the office one day a few days before school started and showed me where all the supplies were; even the ones we weren’t supposed to know about. She showed me her room and supplies (there were many) and said Help yourself. She showed me the work area where papers could be “run off” on the mimeograph machine and she taught me how to operate it. And then she showed me how to get the ink off of my hands, fingers, and blouses. A few weeks after school started, she invited my entire class to her classroom for storytime. It became a weekly event. Sometimes we watched a TV show, or worked on an art project, or played a game of Seven Up. I doubt she ever realized what a difference those invitations made to the students in my class…students who didn’t fit in well and were not always accepted by others.
Nancy was one-of-a-kind, almost childlike in her enthusiasm which was why first grade was a perfect fit for her. She was like a mother hen to all of her students; hugging them when they needed a hug, pulling and celebrating her students’ baby teeth, doctoring up skinned knees, and reprimanding those kids that seemed to stay too long in the restroom. I remember her trimming one young student’s hair. She had mentioned to the parents that he needed a haircut but nothing happened. She was convinced that the student’s hair was preventing him from learning to read. He couldn’t see the book with all that hair hanging down in his face. So she got her scissors out and solved the problem.
The comments I saw last night from her friends, students, and colleagues mentioned kindness and a passion for what she did. She had a deep faith in God. There was not a mean bone in her body. She met whatever came into her path with kindness and determination. She had struggled once with cancer and won. This time it was not meant to be.
Melanie, a friend, colleague, and mother to one of Nancy’s students of long ago said it best: “The world is a sorrier place having said goodbye to Nancy. Heaven, on the other hand, is lighting up with joy.”
That must have been what was happening as I watched the sunset from my front window.