A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



They say you never forget your first love; I know I'll never forget mine.

She was tall (which was important to me, because I was tall). She was beautiful (intense eyes, great hair, killer smile). She was athletic (best darn dodge ball player I ever saw). And she was exotic (I wasn't exactly sure where Canada was, but it was a foreign country, eh?).

She was also my fourth-grade teacher, which made our relationship forbidden -- and exciting.

And we did have a relationship, make no mistake about it. I could see it in her eyes when she picked me to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. I could feel it when our hands "accidentally" touched while simultaneously reaching for the same Elmer's Glue bottle. I could sense it in the way she always seemed to call on me when I knew the answer.

Folks said Miss Green was passionate about teaching. But I knew better. She was passionate about me. It didn't matter that I was 9 and she was 20 or 40 or 90 or whatever (when you're 9, adult ages are relative. They'll all just . . . old -- even the cute ones). It was the era of "The Graduate," and society was abuzz with older women, younger men and coo-coo-ca-choo. Whatever that was.

And so halfway through the school year I decided it was time to quit being childish. One of us needed to be brave and daring. I could see that Miss Green was in an awkward position. It would be up to me to make the first move. But it would have to be the right move -- bold, but not obvious; direct, but not impertinent; fearless, but not reckless.

At last I came upon the perfect way to declare my love. Each week we were issued light blue lunch tickets, which Miss Green kept until lunch time. It was her job to make sure they were properly filled out and maintained. One day she passed them out early, and I took advantage of the opportunity to draw an elaborate design on the back. The centerpiece of the design was a heart with the initials "J.W. + M.G." (for "Miss Green" -- teachers didn't have first names, did they?) etched on it. I was never much of an artist, but this was good work -- elegant without being ostentatious. I was confident that it communicated our mutual feelings. I anxiously awaited her response.

I didn't have to wait long. When the bell rang for afternoon recess, Miss Green asked me to remain in class. My friends looked at me sympathetically as they rushed for the door. They assumed I was in trouble, and probably couldn't understand why I was smiling. Nor could they have understood the pounding of my heart, the trembling of my hands or the heaviness of my breathing.

When the last of my classmates had left, Miss Green walked toward my desk slowly. Her eyes were focused on mine. There was earnestness there, and just a trace of . . . what was it? . . . passion? Suddenly I was afraid. I wasn't ready for this. She stood in front of me, her hands on her hips. She leaned toward me and slowly, deliberately placed something on my desk. It was my lunch ticket.

"Joe," she said firmly, pointing to my design. "this is inappropriate. You know that."

She was right, of course. The relationship never would have worked. Between the age thing and the Canadian thing, it didn't have a chance. I was grateful she found some silly, obscure rule about not drawing on lunch tickets to hide behind. It made it easier to put it behind us and move on.

Not too long ago, I bumped into her. She's a grandmother now, but still lovely. And there's still that incredible, passionate fire in her eyes. She introduced me to her husband. I could tell he didn't know about "us," poor fool. But I know. And deep in her heart, she knows, too.


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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and