Hopewell High School, 1972. Freshman English class. “That was my first year of teaching,” Brenda Pleasant said.
I don’t remember that. I do remember a not-so-easy A, and a worse-than-that conduct grade after I accepted Greg Davis’ dare to perform a cartwheel down the aisle during a test. And I recall something else.
There’s a knock on the classroom door and a lanky, long-haired guy in a jean jacket saunters in, motorcycle helmet hanging casually from one hand. Gangly 14-year olds gawk as Ms. Pleasant excuses herself and steps into the hallway. She floats back in on a cloud of giddy and it dawns on us that just maybe this bubbly teacher has more going on than parts of speech, sentence structure and critical analyses. This might be English class, but right now it’s all about chemistry.
One of the great pleasures of growing up in a small town is returning over the years to meet teachers as adults, to watch each other’s families grow, and catch up on life’s achievements and challenges, if not always in person, then on Facebook.
When I took up creative nonfiction in my 50’s, it was no surprise that Brenda became a reader of my work, providing encouragement that kept me writing even as the rejections came fast and furious.
I watched from afar as she supported her husband through his illness, teaching me once again, this time lessons in fidelity to a person, a place and a way of life. Her last years without him were difficult, but she carried on as mother, daughter, sister, friend.
She left the world without warning. When I think of last Tuesday, I imagine her climbing into bed and pulling up the covers. As she drifts off to sleep, she finds herself in front of her English class, the lesson interrupted by a knock at the door. The kids look up as a lanky young man in a jean jacket saunters in carrying not one, but two helmets. With a wink and one last look over her shoulder, they walk hand in hand out the door into the light and she rides off with the man of her dreams.