I recently went online searching for the obituary of a colleague. As I scrolled through the list, a name caught my eye: Delores Jane Brunson. I stopped because I knew of only one Delores Jane Brunson.
I clicked on the link and her face appeared, the face I first met 37 years ago as a second-grader at Fairfield Elementary School.
Ms. Brunson was the first person to greet me that first day of school in September 1975. She was a tall, commanding woman who had no problem coming down to a child's level to be face to face. Her smile was warm and friendly, and she made it a point to hug each child coming through her door after checking her list of students, welcoming each as if that child alone was the key to the best second-grade class ever.
I went in nervous. My home life was more akin to Oliver Twist than Richie Rich, complete with domestic violence and poverty. My only friends were books, for two reasons: In books I could go anywhere and be anyone I wanted, and books accepted me, no qualifying needed.
I had been writing since age 5 and loved to create stories. I could do my school work fast — and correctly — with the motivation to get back to my writing, with my journal on my knees under my desk. Three classmates, the mean girls who liked to torment me, wasted no time bringing this to Ms. Brunson's attention one afternoon.
"Ms. Brunson! Ms. Brunson! Glynis Boyd is writing and you said to pay attention," their voices chimed out in unison.
Ms. Brunson turned from the board.
"Is this true, Miss Boyd?" she asked.
"Yesssss ma'am." I wanted to find a way to redeem myself, to say something that would make disobeying a class rule acceptable, but I could not. All I could envision was being reprimanded, but even worse, cut off from that magical way she had that made me consider the possibility, daily, that maybe I was someone special.
Ms. Brunson asked me to put away my writing, as well as remain in my seat when the bell rang. She spoke clearly and turned back to her work, not even looking to see if I complied. I sat through the rest of the day miserable, certain my life was over. After all, up until then, there had been nothing good to come my way. Why would this be different?
The bell rang and the students ran out, to the bus, to waiting parents, to anywhere they had to go that didn't include having their entire worlds come to an end.
After the last student left, Ms. Brunson quietly closed the door and came to sit at the desk next to mine. She turned it a bit so we would face each other, and she asked if she could see my journal.
I hesitated. I wanted to say no, but when I looked at her, something told me it was OK to share my writing.
I handed her my journal, a bunch of primer paper held together with tape. She read for a bit, sometimes nodding. Once, she laughed out loud.
I figured this would be a good time to apologize.
She stopped reading to look at me.
She gently placed my journal on my desk and took my hand. The gesture was so kind and unexpected I could feel tears forming in my eyes.
"You are a gifted writer, Miss Boyd."
Her words caused the tears to fall and my throat contracted. At that moment, all I could hear was that I was a writer. Not that I was dirty, not that I was useless … but that I had a gift.
"Glynis, you have something not many people have. And that, my dear, is an imagination that will allow you to create endlessly."
She reached into her pocket and produced a tissue for me. Her smile was warm and easy, and I knew it was all for me.
"Hmmmmm," she paused as she thought. "How about 10 minutes every day at the beginning of class for you, where you can write as much as you need to, and the rest of the time for the work we need to do to get you to third grade?"
Ms. Brunson and I agreed to the writing time.
The mean girls did their best to figure out why I was happy the next day, but they never did. As the year went by, I found I had more moments of happiness and my dreams began to take the form of goals. At my desk in Ms. Brunson's class, I wrote my first play, and after producing it for the class, Ms. Brunson supported me in launching a full-scale production for the school.
As I stood on stage months later, taking a bow to the applause as writer and director, with my schoolmates standing and clapping — even the mean girls — I caught Ms. Brunson's eye in the crowd, and although there was no way we could speak, we knew.
I was on my way.