My mother mentioned yesterday that June Cleave had died.
June — Mrs. Cleave to me — was a grade one teacher at Balaclava Elementary School which I attended for grades 2 and 3. She was never my teacher, but she taught all of my little brothers.
Which is not to say that she didn’t touch my life: I was in Ms. Abrams class in grade 2 and, one day, our art activity was to make “toothbrush paintings”: take an old toothbrush, dip it in paint, and spritz the paint onto paper making an interesting-looking patterns.
Except that, for me, the notion of mixing toothbrushes, clearly intended for brushing your teeth and painting, clearly nothing to do with brushing your teeth was anathema.
Feet may have been stamped.
And thus I was placed at a desk in the hall as punishment (that’s how schools rolled in the 1970s).
Mrs. Cleave, bless her heart, happened to walk by while I was in toothbrush prison, and she took a moment to ask what was happening, and spoke to me like a real person and acknowledged that yes, perhaps the notion of toothbrush painting might actually be distressing. She wasn’t a rebel, she didn’t try and bust me out nor break ranks with her fellow teacher, but she showed compassion when compassion was needed.
It was one of those seemingly-insignificant little moments that stick with you, and it’s an episode that I return to often in my idle moments: every interaction matters, and when you can extend a hand, you should.