Thank you, Mrs. Pigeon
The power of a laugh
She always wore a smile. A big one. She was a delightful, late 20-something bubbly spirit, and she was my fourth grade teacher.
Mrs. Pigeon always had something funny to say…that is, something funny to a 10-year old. But more than that, she made us feel like we mattered. In fact, she’s one of the reasons I’m earning a living as a writer today.
Let me set the stage…
I didn’t really know anything about “being” a writer. I knew I enjoyed writing, but in my urban jungle there were government workers and housekeepers and bartenders and school crossing guards. You know, “normal” working people. I don’t mean to slight anyone, but if you’re a writer, you understand the “normal” comment. (Remember the oh-so-helpful [not!] responses from family and friends when you told them you were going to become a writer? “Well, THAT’S different.” “When are you going to get a real job?” “Haven’t you ever heard of starving artists?” But that’s a whole ‘nother article.)
Anyway, I wrote my very first poem in Mrs. Pigeon’s fourth grade class. We were learning how to write poetry and our assignment was to complete a poem from the first two lines from a textbook. It read:
“Woodpecker sent a telegraph.
I heard that tapping sound…”
I thought real hard about my response. (I was so serious!) I wanted the poem to be both informative yet amusing. Naturally, it had to rhyme, because in fourth grade the concept of a poem that doesn’t rhyme is just plain dumb. (I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.)
The poem also had to make sense. It had to rise above the everyday 10-year-old’s jargon and strike a chord with its reader. (Yeah, I was that deep.) After pondering for the longest time (up to, like, 15 minutes), EUREKA! I struck gold!
I remember approaching my teacher’s desk.
“What if she thinks it’s stupid?” I asked myself. “No, she wouldn’t think that. She’s Mrs. Pigeon!”
Yet with a bit of trepidation, I held my head up and continued the long, methodical walk (rather reminiscent of Dead Man Walking). Whatever came next was bound to be my new life. With every step I grew more and more confident! I’d found my calling. After so many struggles: the knee scrapes from hitting the concrete in all those double-dutch jump rope attempts (I never could master it), the repeated paddle ball start-ups (and nearly losing BOTH eyes!), losing (again!) at jacks—all these were things at which I absolutely sucked! But this…ahhh, this one moment unleashed my true passion, the person I was destined to become.
I remember standing in front of Mrs. Pigeon’s desk as she read the poem to herself. I could see her lips moving.
“Come on, get to it, woman! You’re gonna love it!” I remember thinking to myself.
“Woodpecker sent a telegraph.
I heard that tapping sound.”
At long last. “Here it comes. Surely SHE’S going to get it!
“When he stopped he slipped
And fell upon the ground.”
(Okay, so it wasn’t Nikki Giovanni, but keep in mind I was only ten.)
Mrs. Pigeon’s response was classic! I still remember her tossing her head back, giving a very audible, enthusiastic wail of a laugh – and I believe there was an angelic chorus in the background. “I love it! Judith! I love it!” she exclaimed, her hearty laughter causing strife and envy throughout the sea of 10-year-olds.
Yes, finally, I did it! I found my calling! A star was born and it was ME!
This might sound a bit over the top, but that very brief moment remains with me even today, 35 years later. Mrs. Pigeon has no idea how her response completely changed my introverted world into one of endless possibilities.
She doesn’t know how I often think of her when I’ve reached a professional milestone in my writing career, how she set the tone for my future. She doesn’t know that I’m working from home as a full-time writer, and that I credit her and that one moment in time—however fleeting—with laying a blueprint for who I was to become.
I’ve held all types of jobs: actor, singer, construction worker, corrections officer, executive assistant, etc. But the point I have to make is that I’ve come back home to my roots. To the place I found at 10 years old in an unassuming elementary classroom in Harrisburg, PA, with a teacher named Mrs. Pigeon.
So, Mrs. Pigeon, thank you.
NOTE: This story was originally written 15 years ago. Since then I’ve dedicated my first children’s book, “Leroy and the Legend,” in part, to Mrs. Pigeon – who has her very own signed copy and now knows that my true calling came about as a result of hers. “I am covered in goosebumps,” she recently told me after I recalled that one moment in fourth grade and how it changed my course. Now a (retired) splendid teacher, I can call her dear friend. Yes, she got her “flowers” and she’s still here.