Miss Staal was my teacher that year; single, or as you would then say, a spinster, she was one of three teachers who were all spinsters and best friends. They lived in the house right next to the school. After retirement and throughout the rest of their lives, they always lived in close proximity to each other and eventually ended up in the same assisted living community two blocks from the school.
I was a shy little kid then; often sick because of asthma, thick glasses because of bad eyesight, and forever falling over my own two feet. I started the school year off somewhere in the back of the class, trying to stay out of sight. It didn’t take long for Miss Staal to figure out I still couldn’t see the writing on the blackboard very clearly and I ended up right in front. Miss Staal had a reputation for being a stern teacher. You had to pay attention; we all had to behave and do our schoolwork, but once the lessons were done, there was time for storytelling. Since I had a tendency to dream the day away during school hours, I often ended up staying after classes were over. Going over lessons with Miss Staal I got the extra attention I needed, but there also was cleaning the blackboard, watering all the plants in the window sills and just talking. Soon enough, even if I didn’t have to stay after class, it became my responsibility to take care of the plants. I don’t quite remember all of them; there were some old fashioned begonias, spider plants and lots of succulents. They were mostly plants which can manage with the occasional lack of water when school was closed for vacations.
My favorite plant was Kalanchoe daigremontiana, also known as Maternity plant or Mother of thousands, which is a very apt name. A succulent with medium green leaves and purple stripes and blotches underneath, it produces tiny plantlets at the edge of each leaf. As the plantlets grow bigger, they also grow tiny roots and they will eventually fall off, ready to start growing wherever they fall. I remember taking a few plantlets off the mother plant and stuffing them in a coat pocket. Once home, they were planted in some soil and soon enough I had my very own mother plants ready to start producing more plants. Sometimes a mother plant got all leggy and sparse looking, but all you had to do was take a cutting, repot it and grow a new plant. Or you tossed the mother, but kept a baby to grow a new plant. From that time on, Kalanchoe daigremontiana became one of the plants I kept until 1981 when I left Holland and I gave away all of my plants to family and friends.
Throughout the years I kept in touch with my old teacher. I visited her when in Holland and she even got to meet The Spouse on several occasions. I would bring her flowers and she always bought my favorite pastry at every visit. In May 2012 she passed away, a few months short of her 96th birthday. Miss Staal was one of those teachers who instilled confidence and inspired you to do more and be better. It is something I still strive for today.