By Lois Perch Villemaire
I was in 4th grade in 1957. School, classmates, and family were my world. That year, I especially remember Miss Harvey and Bobby Carlin.
Our teacher, Miss Harvey had shocking red hair. She was popular and everyone wished to be in her class. Each winter at the holiday assembly, Miss Harvey sang Oh Holy Night, harmonizing with the music teacher. On stage, they were a contrasting pair – one tall with red hair and the other, short with black hair. I looked forward to hearing their blending voices.
Miss Harvey created an opera club, inspiring a group of nine-year-olds to absorb her passion for opera. One masterpiece at a time, she explained the storyline and played the music until we knew it well. We learned terms like aria, libretto, and mezzo-soprano. The highlight was a trip downtown to a real production. We were thrilled to experience the characters of Carmen coming alive in costume and performing familiar songs with the rich sound of the orchestra.
My other 4th grade memory – Bobby Carlin threw up in class. He was a friendly boy, chubby with dark hair. Throwing up at school was awful but not unusual. The janitor rolled a bucket filled with soapy water and a wet mop into the classroom as we lined up for recess. Afterwards, we returned to the strong smell of cleaning products, the windows partly open. Bobby waited in the nurse’s office for his mother to take him home. He remained absent all week and then all month.
They said he went into the hospital. In art class, we made get well cards and waited for news about when he would be coming back. His desk was unoccupied, the chair pushed in. Bobby never returned to school. He had a brain tumor and passed away. Miss Harvey notified our parents so that the unimaginable news could be explained at home.
In the spring, his mother and father came to school for the planting of a tree next to the playground in Bobby’s memory. I remember them standing silently together holding hands, heads bowed. How heartbroken they must have been, surrounded by a circle of children, none of them Bobby.
In the 1980’s my Mom and I were at a social event and I saw her talking with a woman I didn’t recognize. She motioned me over.
“This is Mrs. Carlin, Bobby’s mother.”
“Oh hello, Mrs. Carlin, it’s nice to see you again.”
“Do you remember him? Bobby?” she asked.
I was surprised.
“Of course I do. We were in Miss Harvey’s 4th grade class together.”
Mrs. Carlin’s voice softened. “It makes me happy to be with someone who remembers him.
He had such a short life.”
There was a bit more conversation that revolved around her son. I noticed her hopeful expression as she consumed the sweet memories with shining eyes and a melancholy smile.
Miss Harvey had explained that many operas end tragically in death.
Lois Perch Villemaire lives in Annapolis, MD. She searches life experiences for inspiration in writing flash pieces. Her work has appeared in The Drabble, Potato Soup Journal, 101 Words, and coming soon in 42 Stories Anthology. She blogs for annapolisdiscovered.com.