My friend asked me to play golf after school this week. Though nothing sounded better, I had schedule a parent-teacher conference for that same afternoon, so I had to pass.
It killed me.
The meeting proved to be productive. We sat at an outdoor table at a safe distance – parents, student, and myself – and discussed their child’s progress thus far. I like the parents a lot, so in addition to setting goals for their son, we chatted about a variety of topics.
If I couldn’t be playing golf, it was a good alternative.
As the meeting wrapped, I rose from the table and turned. Standing about ten feet away was a young woman who I recognized immediately but couldn’t quite place. Standing beside her was a young man.
“Do you know me?” she asked.
“I do,” I said. “But what is your name?”
She told me. Instantly I knew exactly who she was. A former student nearly a decade ago, all grown up. Then the fifth grader still sitting at the table shouted, “It’s really you?”
Even though we’ve only been in school for about 40 days, I’ve already told my class two stories about this former student now standing in front of me, and I still have a handful of other stories to tell about her.
“You remember me?” she asked.
“Of course I do,” I said. “In fact, remember the Barbie doll that you gave me on my birthday? It’s still there.”
When she was in fifth grade, this student arrived at school on my birthday with a gift. I happened to be sitting at my desk alongside my principal, Plato, with whom I share a birthday. Her gift was a Barbie doll. I took it, examined it, and quickly realized that something was wrong with this doll. It was dirty. The clothing was tattered. The hair was snarled.
“Where did you get this?” I asked.
“The dumpster,” she said with a devilish smile.
I tossed it across my desk in disgust, but Plato quickly snapped it up. “No,” he said. “You can’t reject a gift from a student.” He rose and placed the doll on the corner of a bookshelf, overlooking my desk. “This needs to stay right here,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “Until the day you retire.”
“It’s really still there?” my former student asked.
I couldn’t invite her into the classroom because of pandemic procedures, but I popped open my door and allowed her to peek inside. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s still there. That was…”
“Nine years ago,” I said.
She slapped the young man standing beside you. “See?” she said. “I told you he wouldn’t forget me.”
“Never,” I said.
My former student is now a sophomore in college. She returned home this week when her college shut down due to the pandemic. On a whim, she decided to stop by to visit me.
I’m so glad she did.
She told me that I hadn’t aged a bit, which was sweet and possibly a lie, but we chatted for a while. I listed the stories about her that I had told my current crop of students so far, including the story of the Barbie doll and the time she had come to school on Columbus Day, not realizing there was no school.
“Where were you guys?” she asked the next day. “Was that some kind of prank?”
I also listed the stories that I had yet to tell. The incredible story about how she turned her life around in fifth grade. The time her father threatened to kill me. Her amazing end-of-year poem.
She remembered them all, too.
“It’s great to be remembered,” she said.
I told her that I felt the same.
I missed out on a round of golf on a picturesque fall day alongside a good friend. Instead, I received something far better. Glorious, even. Thank goodness I had scheduled that parent-teacher conference or I might have missed her altogether.
Yes, it’s true. There are some things better than golf.