THE BEST VIEW: Smiling faces

by Norma Best Boucher

At first, I was embarrassed when I couldn’t remember this teacher’s name, but then I realized that teachers’ names are not written on their students’ foreheads, but what they do for their students is indelibly written on their minds.

I was going through adolescence. I hated the world, and I was sure the world hated me. My arms and legs were too long for my already too skinny body, and my hair, which had always been worn in tight side braids, was now long and stringy. I even bit my fingernails. I was too self-absorbed to notice that every other young girl looked and felt the same as I.

I sat in a corner back seat in class and saw everyone and everything that went on in the room. No one ever saw me, except, of course, when I took that long walk to the front of the room. I just knew everyone was staring at me. I did anything to avoid that walk.

I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be special. I wanted to do something that no one else could do, and I wanted to do it well. The only individual things we ever did in class to be recognized were spelling bees, reading aloud, and playing the flash card math game. All of us could spell and read, and all the math game ever did was to prove to me and to the rest of the class that I was a math dunce.

One day, hope sprang eternal. Our class had been chosen to do a special project, and the teacher needed volunteers. Up went my hand when suddenly I heard the words “mural” and “pastels.”

Oh, no, just my luck. The only thing I did worse than math flash cards was art.

I quickly lowered my hand but not fast enough. The next words I heard were, “and Norma can be the flower girl.”

Oh, God, why me?

The mural was to have three sections. The first was to be a picture of the Waterville Savings Bank, where the mural would ultimately hang. The second section was to be a busy city street, drawn in perspective. The third was to be a friendly neighborhood setting with houses and children playing.

My job was simple, or so it seemed. All I had to do was make multi-colored dots in four rectangular flower boxes.

I worked on those boxes for what seemed forever. Every spare minute I had, I worked on those flowers, but they always looked like multi-colored dots in rectangular boxes. I erased and erased and erased again.

One day, I must have looked especially depressed. She had given me the easiest job on the entire mural, and I couldn’t even do that right. Finally, the teacher approached me.

Maybe she remembered being a young girl with long, skinny limbs, stringy hair, and bitten nails herself, or maybe she knew that the next year I would start to fill out and begin to like myself and the world. She gave me her “we can do this together” smile and asked me what my favorite flowers were.

That was easy. I liked red roses because my father gave them to my mother every year for their anniversary. I liked the pink bleeding hearts that were in front of my best friend’s house. I liked the lavender lilacs we picked on Memorial Day, even though they made me sneeze, and the lemon-colored marigolds in our neighbor’s garden that I could see from my bedroom window. Best of all, though, I liked the purple and blue pansies because they had smiling black faces.

Draw those,” she said.

“Every time you make a dot,” she explained, “remember you’re drawing red roses, pink bleeding hearts, lavender lilacs, lemon-colored marigolds, and purple and blue pansies with smiling black faces.”

That was it. When I drew dots, they looked like dots, so all I had to do was draw flowers, and they’d look like flowers.

When each student finished his/her job on the mural, the teacher always made a point of interrupting the class for the students to recognize each artist.

I remember as if it were yesterday. When I finished my window boxes, the teacher said, “Everyone, look. Norma has finished her flowers. Aren’t they the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen?”

At last, I was somebody.

I literally floated through the remaining days of school in anticipation of the unveiling of the mural at the Waterville Savings Bank. I rushed my parents to the bank with such excitement they must have thought I was a young Van Gogh. When I showed them what I had done, they looked at each other with questioning expressions: “All this hullabaloo for that?”

All they saw were multi-colored dots in boxes.

I looked at their puzzled faces, and I knew they didn’t understand. I saw four flower boxes filled with red roses, pink bleeding hearts, lavender lilacs, lemon-colored marigolds, and purple and blue pansies with smiling black faces.

They didn’t know – they couldn’t know – but somehow that didn’t matter. What was really important was that I knew…and she knew.

Norma Best Boucher taught English at Lawrence High School, in Fairfield, and Winslow High School. She is a freelance writer.


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3 replies
  1. Gary K Clair
    Gary K Clair says:

    I knew Norma when she was not a famous writer! I lost touch with her in 1965. My mother sent me some of her writings from the newspaper. Mother remembered how fondly I spoke of Norma in high school. I do not recall crossing paths with a nicer, down to earth, person throughout our school years.
    Gary Clair


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