Here’s to You, Mrs. Wilson

Chelsea hadn’t called in several months. As usual, her first thought was to check through the obituaries.

No, that Mrs. Wilson wasn’t old enough. That one was too old, and had lived in Newark. And that wasn’t an obituary -but was the Excellence in Education Award winners from twenty years ago.

She’d contributed a quote for that: “In all my years of school, including high school and college, I’ve never learned as much as I did in Mrs. Wilson’s class.”

Chelsea was a better writer now. She was also a mother of six boys. In Mrs. Wilson’s class, however, she’d been a bit of a trouble-maker. She’d written her own spelling lists, vowed to read the entire classroom library, built skyscrapers of the hand-me-down Lego sets, and nearly kicked Stupid Sally in the face after first chucking sand in it. Sally had grabbed Chelsea’s foot during a biased slide game; everyone ganging up to remove her from the top.

Not all recesses ran that way. No -Mrs. Wilson spent those special times with only her class, teaching jacks and double-dutch and kickball.

Ah, kickball. Chelsea remembered. Mrs. Wilson, blue-veined, bumpy legs in socks and long shorts, out there running and kicking with the best. They’d even held a teachers v. students game. The score had been close.

“Well, hello.” Mrs. Wilson sounded much the same as she had thirty years before. “I’m always surprised when a call comes through. I’m in Arizona.” Nearly blind and still traveling.

Chelsea smiled, remembering other calls; answered from England, Yellowstone, Las Vegas, California. She had a postcard from Antarctica and another from Nepal.

Of course, Arizona was as far as Mrs. Wilson went these days. The rest of her year Mrs. Wilson passed in her one-bedroom apartment with Alexa and the television for company. Chelsea knew, because they’d had conversations where Mrs. Wilson spelled Alexa’s name when she referred to it. No sense activating the eavesdropping electronic wonder during a discussion that didn’t include it.

“I’ve had my baby,” Chelsea said. “He’s another dark-haired, dark-eyed model.”

“Oh, wonderful. And how old is he? How do his brothers like him?”

Of all the things to talk about: seeing the Himalayas in person, flying across the Atlantic near-annually, or achieving Mrs. Wilson’s life goal of standing on the southernmost continent on Earth -she only ever asked after people. Amazingly, Mrs. Wilson also remembered everyone.

“How if your brother doing? Is he finished with medical school? How are the triplets?” Give Mrs. Wilson any name and she’d remember. Give her a Christmas and she had gifts lined up based on interests. “I found these darling carved bears one year, and Gunner loves bears so I decided to get them for him and his brothers.” Gunner, naturally, was one of Mrs. Wilson’s growing collection of great-grandchildren and great-great nephews and nieces.

As they spoke, Chelsea pictured Mrs. Wilson. Today, the backdrop was a ranchhouse in the middle of a Sedona nowhere. Well -that would be the view if Mrs. Wilson hadn’t lost most of her vision. Ten acres rested barely within range of a cell phone call.

“We’ll be leaving soon,” Mrs. Wilson said. “I’m packed and will be back home by next week.”

Back home, Mrs. Wilson sat amongst her life. It was an apartment Chelsea loved visiting and pictured herself retiring to, when she could retire like Mrs. Wilson. A small couch and recliner huddled amongst myriad books, a bison skull, petrified wood, Moqui marbles, Indonesian masks, a silk-paper calendar, unique dice, a lovespoon, and hand-carved Mancala boards. It was a simple place for a simple life, one that revolved around teaching, family, and travel.

“That sounds good,” Chelsea told her former teacher. “Travel safely.”

“Take care of those boys.”

“I will. Goodbye.”

Chelsea held the cell phone in her hand, a device that hadn’t existed in her elementary years. How many more conversations would she have with Mrs. Wilson? How many more trips? How many visits?

She looked at her newborn son. Really, she knew, it was the conversations they’d already had that mattered. The real question was, what would the next thirty years look like for Chelsea and her growing family? Would she make it to Antarctica?

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©2021 Chel Owens