My childhood home had a small, unremarkable garden, but I felt proud of our peppermint plant. So much so that I brought a few leaves for show-and-tell in elementary school, accompanied by a lined sheet of notes about the plant. So much so that I still have the lined sheet of notes. I’m a minimalist, not a sentimentalist, never a saver; my hanging onto that scrap of paper says something.
Back then, and occasionally in high school and college, I had Teacher’s Pet tendencies. As early as first grade, I got in good with the teacher—no small feat with the legendary, universally-feared Mrs. Dale. I wanted Mrs. Dale’s approval, but I also felt genuine affection for her; if you can be serious and quirky at a young age, then I was, and Mrs. Dale was non-judgmental and encouraging. And she was serious and quirky in her own right.
She had shelves filled with musty boxes of odd artifacts. She had amazing penmanship. (She was a first-grade teacher in the 70s, probably got her training and started her career in the 40s; penmanship was part of the deal, but still–it was really good.) She was firm and stern, and consistently so: never, ever could we walk with lollipops in our mouths—not even the Tootsie Pops she distributed to winners of Heads-Up Seven Up and to me for no reason at all. She had a terrible wardrobe (even for a first-grade teacher in the 70s who probably got her training and started her career in the 40s). Anyway, I loved Mrs. Dale. I wanted to do right by her, and she must have done right by me to be so clear in my head after more than three decades.
I remember very little about my teachers or my schoolwork between my time with Mrs. Dale and my eighth grade year (a portrait for another day). In second grade, I stole a classmate’s sticker collection, something that mattered little to my schoolwork but feels as if it happened yesterday. In sixth grade, I did independent study for an entire semester—a surprisingly forgettable experience. In third grade, I focused on penmanship, though I never achieved Mrs. Dale’s artistry. In seventh grade, I learned about Mt. Rushmore; a large color photograph in a textbook inexplicably sparked fear of that monument (actually, all monuments) in me, which never dissipated.
And one year, of course, I brought peppermint leaves to class. Show-and-tell was most fun if you had the best thing to show and told everyone about it in the best way. But if you bring in peppermint leaves, you’re not going to show or tell the best. No matter–I stood proud that day. And still today I hold dear those leaves and those lined notes and my elementary self, a little girl who loved simple, personal things.