When I was in first grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Booth. She was an outrageously hip product of the early ‘70s – very hippie-esque, with long flowing skirts and sandals, uber-cool Afro-styled hair, and enormous hoop earrings. Most days she wore some kind of beaded necklace or bracelet that always made me think of macramé.
Mrs. Booth took the entire first grade on a field trip once, to a local beachside community. To be honest, I can’t remember the original purpose of the field trip. There must have been some sort of educational relevancy. (… Or … I don’t know, maybe not. This was the ‘70s, afterall.) But mostly I remember running across the sand with 25 other first graders, squealing with delight when the Pacific hit our toes, and our shoes becoming a tangled mess of 50 mismatched sneakers back on the beach with the adults. I held hands with a girl named Robin, who was my bus partner, and drank soda for the first time out of a can with a straw. I remember there being something to do with a firefighting boat that patrolled the harbor – I think we got a little tour of how it worked, or something. But that was neither here nor there — the real highlight of the trip, at least in my mind, was Mrs. Booth’s sailboat, which she lived on.
Long before the day of law suits and fine-print permission slips, I guess it was okay for teachers to be a little more personal about field trips, and I remember Mrs. Booth letting us all funnel single-file into her boat. As if she weren’t cool enough with her macramé necklaces, Mrs. Booth’s groovy quotient rose another 10 points with that boat. Because it was her house. We 7-year-olds couldn’t get over it. She lived on the sailboat (it was probably all of 20 feet) with her groovy husband, who also looked like a hippie, and their pet parrot. There were dark-wood cabinets for a kitchen, and there was a little wooden table where they ate. Their bed was in the back, sunken as if it were on the floor, and she said the harbor rocked them to sleep every night. I couldn’t imagine a more romantic life.
When first grade ended, I remember crying. I really loved Mrs. Booth. We all did. On the last day of school, she wrote little poems to each of the kids, rhyming their name with a cute little diddy – Heidi, Heidi keeps her desk tidy – etc. Sometimes she used last names, and sometimes she had to bury the name to come up with a better rhyming word. But I totally remember mine: She said mine was easy: Laurie, Laurie, tell me a story.
I don’t know if it was the fact that I admired Mrs. Booth so much, or thought she was so wise with those macramé bracelets, or if I already knew I wanted to be a writer somehow, but I remember beaming with delight when she said my rhyme aloud to the class. I remember the class clapping. I remember walking up to receive the little paper necklace with the tin-foil star she’d typed it on. And I remember it feeling right. It felt like she’d just put me on my road in life.