Our seventh-grade English teacher, Miss McHugh, was the youngest teacher we'd ever had at Public School 70. Her fluffy brown, shoulder-length hair cascaded around her face, like Charlie's Angels on TV. Her perfume, unlike the rose water that our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Bayt, wore, had a strong, bold scent. We knew whenever she had walked down the hall moments ahead of us.
She passed our achievement-test scores to us in class, instead of mailing them to our parents. That she thought we had the right to know how we scored before our parents did made us feel grown up.
Walking home for lunch in early October, my best friend, Nancy, and I talked about the things we loved about Miss McHugh: her bright blue eye shadow, her naturally dark eyelashes, and how she always touched our shoulders as she leaned over our desks to whisper encouraging words while we wrote poems and essays for her.
"I wonder what she does on the weekend," I said.
"Yeah, do you think she has a boyfriend?"
"Oh definitely," I said. "I mean she must, she's so beautiful."
One Saturday morning, Nancy and I decided we would call her on the phone to see if we could discover something about her. We desperately wanted a peek into her private, after-school life. We wanted some special information, a gift of knowing her a little better than our classmates did.
My parents were out, so we went into their bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. I moved a pile of clean laundry aside and pulled out the phone book.
When Nancy found her number, we clasped arms and screamed. I dialed, then held the phone between our ears. I could feel Nancy's hair on my cheek and hear her breathing softly. When Miss McHugh answered, I disguised my voice, deepening it to fool her.
"Speaking," she said quickly.
Nancy giggled. I put the phone down and pressed it into the bed. "Shhhh!"
Nancy covered her mouth with her hand, feigning seriousness.
"Who's this?" Miss McHugh said with interest.
I froze. We hadn't planned anything past this part. We couldn't give ourselves away; she'd think we were foolish little girls, not the mature junior high scholars we wanted her to believe we were.
We had to make up a name and had no time to discuss it.
"Betty!" I said.
"Oh?" she said, "Betty who?"
I could hear the amusement in her voice, and I knew we weren't annoying her.
Nancy looked at the newspaper on my mother's nightstand. She pointed to a large car advertisement.
"Benz!" I almost shouted. "Betty Benz!" More muffled giggling from Nancy.
"Oh, OK." She played along. "How are you doing, Betty Benz?"
I could hear the smile in her voice.
"What are you doing this weekend?" I asked. This was what we wanted to know.
"Well," she started, "I'm going to wash my car," I pictured her forest-green MG convertible roaring into the school parking lot every morning, "and I'm going to a movie tonight."
That last bit sent us over the edge with giddiness. Nancy and I looked at each other and opened our mouths in a mock scream. Was it a date, or just a friend? I wanted to ask, but suddenly was afraid that if I talked much more, she'd figure out who it was.
"Well, goodbye!" I blurted and slammed down the phone.
Nancy and I let out the screams we had been stifling and jumped around the room.
I hadn't thought about Miss McHugh in years. But recently, when Nancy and her husband and children visited my family for a long weekend, I dragged out our junior-high class photo to show Nancy's 11-year-old daughter what we looked like at her age.
When I turned over the class photo, I found again the place where my teacher had signed it almost 30 years ago.
"Dear Betty Benz, You've been great to know - have fun! Susie McHugh."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society