The Jaunty Jonquil, The Naughty Narcissus

For some reason, I seem to have the most elementary school memories from second grade. I remember each grade distinctly, and the main events from each year, but collectively the most numerous come culled from the second grade class at McNulty School, helmed by one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Loomis. I remember the folders we got at the start of the year, and if we had a good week of work, she’d give us a sticker to place on the front of the folder. The students with the most stickers at the end of the year got rewarded by getting first pick at a pile of gifts she brought in. (This may have marked the start of my competitive scholastic nature.)

I remember the time we sat around drawing something on the floor, neatly staying within the lines until I messed something up, then letting out an audible “Whoopsie-daisy!” before I even knew what I was saying. For the record, not even second graders say ‘Whoopsie-daisy’ – especially not second-grade boys. But instead of being ashamed or embarrassed, I laughed along with everyone else – we were too young to know real shame, too young to have it mean more than a silly slip-up of language, too young to hate, really.

I remember the doily-festooned brown paper bags we used as Valentine’s Day card receptacles, and how thrilled I felt to watch it fill and get heavier day by day, threatening to fall from its scotch-tape-secured post at the edge of my desk. I remember trying to discern between the collective love of the class and the selective love of a few close friends, but mostly just feeling warm and happy to be part of something.

And I remember a girl named Amanda, who had long stringy hair that she often kept in two pig tails framing her face – a face that was usually stained with something at the edge of her mouth, or unnaturally pink in the cheeks, like she’d been outside on a winter day for too long. She was one of those unremarkable kids in my world – we spoke occasionally, but weren’t friends. I sat next to her at the long lunch table a few times, but she was fidgety, spinning around in her seat, or leaving the edge of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich spilling off its plastic wrap and directly onto the lunch table. (Gross.)

We would never be closer than that. Yet there was one thing that Amanda had that I didn’t. I remember watching her walk down the hill to school one day, so far back that she would surely be late again, and in her hand she held what looked like a few magic wands. Daffodils. It was early spring, and the day was gray and cloudy, but from this mist emerged the girl I’d never much noticed before, holding a small bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Loomis. It was a moment of beauty, and all I could do was watch. They were wrapped in damp paper towels, their green stems so fresh, tinged with the slightest tint of silver , and almost as beautiful as the colors that blossomed on their ends ~ yellow like the purest sun, cream like the thickest egg nog, and orange like the sweetest piece of citrus. Amanda sat down like she had done nothing at all, when she had really changed the world – my little world – full of judgment and criticism and class – all cut through by a simple act of generosity, of goodness, of sharing.

I watched as the daffodils bloomed for the rest of the week, studying how they opened, stealing a sniff when I thought no one was looking, and generally enjoying the preview of spring. Maybe she stole them from a neighbor’s yard, maybe her Mom sent them in, thinking her daughter needed whatever help she could get in the sticker department, or maybe she just felt like Mrs. Loomis would like a few flowers. I’ll never know, but for that one dismal morning in second grade a little girl touched a little boy with a bouquet of daffodils, and he’s never forgotten it.

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