An innocent compliment that could have been a disguised insult opened Lizbeth Perlow’s eyes. She was leaned over the desk, helping a student with her science. She stopped writing and turned to me to say, “You smell exactly like my grandmother. I think you wear the same perfume.”
Time stood still, giving Lizbeth a moment to assess the compliment. “You smell exactly like my grandmother.”
The poor child had no idea of the punch behind her statement. It meant so many things. Does that mean I am, gasp, “old?” Lizbeth thought. Had the day she feared come to fruition? Should she throw out the perfume and buy something more contemporary?
Lizbeth had lived for quite some time. She had a balanced tally of New Year’s, Valentines, and Fourth of July holidays spent with friends, family, and occasionally alone.
Earlier events in the day added evidence of changes in the teacher in the small town school.
Earlier in the day, she spoke sternly to a student. He replied, “Aww, we know your bark is worse than your bite.” Then he opened his locker and waved his quiet reading book at her as if to say, “Your secret is safe with me. We’ll let them think you scare us into working.” They both smiled and went about their day.
Not ten minutes later, another student weaseled his way into a lunch tutoring session by saying. “I do better when you read the questions to me.” What he meant to say was, “I like to eat your secret stash of Chips Ahoy when I’m studying.”
The older kids, who had dismissed her in their middle school years, had recently started to regard her with a curious glint in their eyes. Every time, Lizbeth looked down at her blouse to see if she spilled coffee. Her eyes fell on the necklace the sweet girl from her writing class had made in the woodshop class.
The pause in time translated the glint she hadn’t quite translated.
By secondary school student standards, Lizbeth Perlow was old. The fine lines around the eyes, her love of bright lipstick, and the overabundance of hard candies in her purse: all were characteristics of someone who cared. Or better worded, had the gift of issuing a soft word or offering a sweet treat when life dealt a bitter blow. She had surrendered the trappings of youth to embrace the patience appointed by time. It was a fair exchange, she decided.
Time resumed, and the girl said, “I hope that didn’t offend you.” She tilted her head in an air of recollection. “I like the smell.”
Lizbeth said, “You just made my heart smile.”
And this is where this week’s small-town story ends, with a reminder that time, like the rushing of a river, moves swiftly, smoothing the stone’s jagged edges. In other words, what lies ahead of us isn’t as worrisome as we thought it would be.
Categories: Small Town Stories