By Richard E. Peck
Miss Ryan was an older woman, at least 25, and all the boys in our two-room country school loved her.
She taught grades 5-through-8, before busing, and teachers’ aides, and computers, and audiovisual this‑and‑that. Reading, arithmetic, science, current events — she taught them all. A half-dozen different subjects to each of four grades. Her students ranged in age from one 9-year-old fifth grader to the Grubey twins, 16 years old, stuck in school until their 17th birthday, inmates of K-8, thanks to state law.
Miss Ryan umpired our softball games, bandaged scraped knees, and wore nylon stockings every day, with the seams always and miraculously straight. She was a paragon.
And a mystery. Each morning she parked her blue Packard behind the school, carried her briefcase into the building, and the wind never mussed her hair. Each evening she climbed back into the Packard to drive off. Five days a week, Miss Ryan lived in our classroom. On weekends she lived in the Packard until Monday morning.
She loved holiday programs at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and especially May Day. She had us do May Day stuff nobody except Grandma ever heard of.
“Flowers take the pink streamers,” she’s say. “Leaves take the white.” She rehearsed our bumbling, staggering dance around the Maypole — duck under one streamer, hands raised over the next — till we learned the intricacies of the weave.
Boys were Leaves (in green paper hats); girls were Flowers, each wearing a bright‑colored sash over her white blouse. All April, recess meant the embarrassment of holding hands and tripping clumsily around a wooden Maypole some strange workman erected in the schoolyard. By late April the rehearsals grew serious. On May Day our parents would come to the festivities.
Each of us learned a poem or song. Frankie Ogawa snickered when I had to recite “Go Lovely Rose” — until Miss Ryan gave him “Love is So Sweet in the Springtime.” It was an old-timey May Day, like May Days long past.
But this year, the poems Miss Ryan gave us were all mushy. She hummed all the time, happy humming, and told us what to do, rather than joining in. She spent too much time smiling at everyone, even the workman who hung around, smirking stupidly at our embarrassment.
Mom said, “Miss Ryan’s happy the school year is about done, is all.”
I didn’t believe it. Something was in the air.
May Day arrived, sunny and Norman Rockwell perfect. Fathers off work wore white shirts and ties; mothers wore pastel. We picnicked, ran races, wove a flawless Maypole dance, to our parents’ delight, then dashed for bikes or the family car.
But I’d forgotten my lunch pail, in my desk. So Dad turned the car around and drove back to the nearly empty schoolyard. The workman’s rusty old Honda was parked beside the familiar blue Packard. I jumped from our car to dash into the school.
And into the shock of my life. The workman was kissing Miss Ryan! And not on the cheek like your aunt. A movie kiss!
She was kissing him back!
Flaming red, I snatched up my lunch pail, stumbled over a stupid desk and found my way blindly back to the car. Miss Ryan, kissing some old man I didn’t know!
Saturday I told Frankie.
“She never!” he said. “Miss Ryan?” But I knew what I’d seen.
Monday morning, Miss Ryan no longer looked like a teacher. She was only a regular person. And plain. The girls ooohed over her new diamond ring. And she said she wouldn’t be coming back in the fall. They all giggled. Miss Ryan, too.
May Day, Frankie and I decided, is a dumb holiday. All that dancing and poetry just confuses people.
- Richard E. Peck is a part-time Kaua‘i resident and a retired president of three universities. He has written numerous books, plays, columns and TV shows, and his work can be seen at www.richardepeck.com.