Monday, March 18, 2019

A Present for Miss Mabley

                                           A Present for Miss Mabley
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

            Camille looked out the window at the apple tree blossoming in the nearby field. Though she was supposed to be memorizing a poem, she was distracted.
The younger children at the front of the one room schoolhouse were fidgeting in their seats, anxious to go outside. The teacher, Miss Mabley, reviewed Latin exercises with three of the older students who would soon graduate. 
Camille sighed. The breeze coming in the open window was inviting. It had been a long Maine winter and a muddy spring. Finally, the earth was coming alive and the small town bustled with activity.  Ships arrived in port with sugar and molasses from the West Indies. They were soon loaded with Maine lumber and granite and sailing back to the islands.
Camille whispered to her best friend, Harriet.  “What do you think Miss Mabley is going to tell us?”  That morning, Miss Mabley told the class she would make an announcement at the end of the day.
Nathan overheard Camille’s question. “She’s not coming back next year. That’s what Father said.”
 Camille made a face. Because his father ran the town’s general store, Nathan thought his Dad knew everything. “I don’t listen to gossip,” Camille scoffed.
Nathan shrugged. “You’ll see.”
Secretly, Camille worried Nathan might be right.  Everyone liked Miss Mabley. She’d taught at Willow School for five years and no one would want her to leave Edgeport.
Anxious as everyone was to leave at the end of the day, even the rowdiest quieted when Miss Mabley stood to make her announcement.
She looked at the class. “I want all of you to know I will not be returning to Willow School in the fall.”
Camille took a deep breath. Nathan was right!
Miss Mabley continued.  “My brother Ashton and his wife are moving west to Wyoming. They’ve invited me to come with them.”
“But that’s dangerous!” Camille blurted.
Miss Mabley smiled. “I’d like to think it will be a wonderful adventure.”
“But what will you do there?” Harriet asked.
“I’ll teach, like I do here.  The people of Laramie have already built the schoolhouse.”
“What does Wyoming look like?” one of the smaller children asked.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll write letters to tell you about it. I know there’s a fort and people travelling west to Oregon stop at the fort for supplies. I don’t think there’s a forest like Maine’s. And, there’s no ocean.”  Miss Mabley looked sad for a moment. “I’m going to miss the ocean. And of course, all of you.”
Camille and Harriet walked home feeling sad. “Let’s have a party for her,” said Harriet.  “We can give her presents she can take west.”
For the next few days at recess everyone whispered about the party and what they planned to bring Miss Mabley.  Nathan was giving her five yards of dress cotton from his father’s store. Harriet embroidered six handkerchiefs. All the children had quickly thought of gifts —a balsam pillow. Tin of matches. Writing paper. Candles. Homemade soap. A straw hat. 
“What are you bringing Camille?”
Camille shook her head. “I don’t know.” She wanted to give Miss Mabley something special that was different from everyone else’s gift, but she didn’t have any idea what that might be.
Every day the party grew closer and Camille still didn’t know what to bring Miss Mabley.
The afternoon before the party, Camille walked along the water and listened to the ocean, thinking. She loved the scent of salt air and the sound of waves. She couldn’t imagine leaving the ocean behind and perhaps never seeing it again. With that, she knew exactly what to give Miss Mabley.
            The next day, Miss Mabley unwrapped a beautiful golden conch shell from Camille. Its underside was shiny pink.
           “When Uncle Scully sailed back from the West Indies, he brought the shell for me,” said Camille. “But I want you to have it. You can hear the ocean when you hold it to your ear.”
            Miss Mabley lifted the shell to her ear. She heard the ocean and smiled. Maine and the ocean would never be far away.

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       Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
        Published March 16, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

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