Thinking About Elementary School Today

Readers of The Wrong Calamity often comment on the horrible meeting between Mr. Dalton, my sixthgrade teacher, and my mother. This wonderful teacher is very much on my mind today, and I want to share with you what he did after that meeting. This part isn’t in the book.

Mr. Dalton had a weekend side gig, mowing the huge fields that surrounded our school, and he invited me to join him. He’d previously asked me how I liked living in Indiana, and I’d been embarrassed to tell him the truth. “I like it,” I’d told him. “We have a new car, and I get to play with my Indiana cousins.” 

But there was something about sitting next to him, high up on the tractor, the rhythmic upandbackupandback of the mowing, the gentle vibration of the seat, the warm sun on my knees . . . I told him all about the shock of our running away without my father, about missing my grandmother, about my father not searching for me. I don’t remember what he said, or if he said anything at all. What I do remember is how safe I felt, telling him the truth. Up and down the fields we went, my secrets secure in the noise of the tractor and his quiet compassion.

For years, I wanted to thank him, but I couldn’t find him. A profile of him in a newspaper was the closest I got, but then the trail went cold. Now I learned he died in 2015. This photo from his obituary is of a much older Robert Dalton, but I see in his face the kindness and wisdom of this 29-year-old elementary school teacher and the comfort it gave me. Rest in peace, Mr. Dalton.

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