Her name was Hope, and he loved her because she called him Tiger, and for the way the glasses settled just so as she read the book. She’d read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, complete with motorcycle sounds, and he could close his eyes and see that mouse, the ping-pong ball helmet and the motorcycle racing across the room. How could a boy not have a certain regard for his young teacher when she let him answer roll call like the Fonz; or, on his learning that his desk had been moved into a group of three girls, let him hide under his desk half the morning, finally coaxing him out with a “C’mere, Tiger”? And when she led the second grade class out to recess by marching, well a boy could take on the world after that.
They’d chart the weather, and there was something about lions and lambs. They watched a Monarch butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. The whole class went out to set it free on a windy spring day.
This was Kansas, so there were regular tornado drills, and all the children would be taken to the tunnel underneath the school hallway floor where they’d sit for a few minutes, the dim lights lighting up the nuclear danger signs. He never minded the drills, because it smelled like being in a cave, and he could imagine the terrors and adventures that lay out of sight along the unseen dark end of the tunnel.
There was also the terror of the German Shepherd he faced everyday as he headed home from school. He could have gone around the back way to his family’s mobile home, but it was longer and there was a certain shame in not fronting this test. So he would walk by as slow as he dared, counting out the steps. That dog barked something fierce, and though there was always the fear that he would slip his leash and charge him, it never happened. Well, except for the one time almost all his worst fears were realized. That dog did slip his leash and did charge at him. He froze, but didn’t yell or shout. And that was it. After a moment, the dog loped back to his porch, and the young boy breathed out and walked on. He did allow himself to walk on the opposite side of the road after that. But still every day he walked by as slow as he dared, and let that dog bark. It’s what a boy does if Hope calls him Tiger.
[Other Kansas reflections are here.]