Dear Old Mrs. Crabtree


Don’t know if you remember me or not. After all, I was just one of countless kids you taught. It’s been over 55 years since I sat in your third-grade classroom, but I still remember you. I remember you to this very day. And how could I not? I write about you, and all those kids from Flamingo Street who were also in your classroom, most every week.

I know that that may come as a surprise to you: my growing up to become a writer, considering how illegible my handwriting was in your class.

But now, I use a computer rather than a #2 pencil. And unlike when I turned in my papers to you, now I don’t have to stand next to whoever reads what I’ve written to decipher my scribbling. In your class, my scribbling almost passed as hieroglyphics … almost.

But it certainly didn’t pass as legible handwriting.

So, for all those papers I rushed to write because I forgot the homework assignment the night before, or intentionally wrote illegibly to mask the fact I had no clue as to the correct answer, or you spent extra time trying to read in order to give me a fair chance at a good grade I really didn’t deserve, I have something to say to you that’s long overdue.

I’m sorry.

Do you remember me, Old Mrs. Crabtree? I was the kid who asked you to repeat the directions you had just given the rest of the class. I did that every day all day long. By the end of the school year, you sent home a letter to my parents suggesting that it may be a good idea to get my hearing checked. I know now you did this because you were concerned about my health.

Looking back, I appreciate that kind gesture. And just so you know, my parents did get my hearing checked that summer. After all of the tests, I could hear just fine at the audiologist. And I could hear just fine in your classroom.

I just wasn’t paying attention when you were talking. So, for making you constantly repeat all those directions needlessly — and needlessly worrying about me — I have something to say to you.

I’m sorry.

Do you remember where I sat in your room, Old Mrs. Crabtree? Third row over from the door and third desk back from the front of the room. It was the perfect placement for a desk, not too close to the front or back of the room, so you would never call on me for an answer. And yet, I still talked, but not because I knew the answer to any question you’d asked.

I complained.

Every day I complained about my small desk. This went on for an entire month until you gave in and replaced it with a much larger one. When it arrived, my desk was the largest in the entire room, second only to yours. You never really knew why I nagged you so much until finally getting my way, but here is why.

On the first day of third grade while walking down to your room, I noticed how large the student desks were in the fifth-grade classrooms, and I wanted one so I would look big like a fifth grader.

I didn’t look big. I just looked silly in that huge desk. My feet didn’t even touch the floor. For asking you so many times for that desk and for frustrating you so much that you finally gave in, I have something to say to you that’s long overdue.

I’m sorry.

For all those times you had to stop teaching to ask me to stop tapping my pencil on my desk as I tried to play it like a drum. For those times you had to walk back, tap me on the shoulder to wake me up so I wouldn’t miss the lesson. For those times you interrupted the lesson to correct my behavior or pulled me out into the hallway to talk to me in private so as not to embarrass me in front of everyone else, I have something to say to you.

I’m sorry.

I now know how disruptive I was in your classroom and how an impossible task it must have been to try and teach me, much less all the other kids who lived on Flamingo Street lucky enough to have you as their teacher.

So, after being retired for the last ten years, it may surprise you to learn what job I will start on Monday: substitute teacher at our local elementary school. And I just learned what my first teaching assignment will be.

Third grade.

I wonder. After all these years, are you still teaching? Could it be that I’ll be your substitute? If it is, I’ll make sure when you come in the next morning, everything on your desk is in perfect order, just like you left it — unlike all those times you came back to your room only to find someone had moved everything on your desk.

You never found out who did that the year I was in your class. It was me, and for that, I have something to say to you.

I’m sorry.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]