The first pen pal I ever had was an invisible leprechaun.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Spade and she was very Irish. Though I honestly don't remember, I'm guessing she was first generation American and her parents has immigrated from Ireland. There are a lot of people I've known over the years who were proud of their ancestry, but I don't think there was anyone more proud of who she was and where she came from than Mrs. Spade. She spent loads of time telling us how things were different in Ireland and how the people there lived. She talked about their customs, their food, their music, the beautiful countryside... she lived and breathed Irish culture. It was who she was and it permeated most aspects of our lives with her.

Mrs. Spade created this mythology in our classroom. She invented a leprechaun named Malcolm who became her classroom mascot. She had worked out this whole back story about him, where he lived, what he wore, his brother's name, how he came to America, etc. He was very small and shy, which explained why he would never appear in person. But he loved children and sometime
s he would bring things to the classroom when we weren't there and leave them for us.

And here's the thing: we kids believed in him like we believed in Santa Claus. We never saw him, but we were often privy to his handiwork. Sometimes a small treat would appear in our desks. One day we'd come into the classroom and there'd be a cookie on each of our desks but all the chairs would be knocked over on their sides. Then we'd find a letter from Malcolm on the black board apologizing because he'd come in to leave treats for the class but his brother, the Loki of the family, knocked all the chairs over. He was always apologizing for his brother, it seemed.

Mrs. Spade had a station set up in the classroom where we could write notes to Malcolm and
she promised to deliver them after school every day. Because of Malcolm's shyness, you see, she was the only one he'd talk to. He was too embarrassed to meet us himself, but he loved to write and he'd answer any letter he received. So we'd write our notes and hand them over to her so she could take our notes to his secret tree (or is that the Keebler Elvers?) and deliver them. Then the next day, we'd get a note back from Malcolm in handwriting that looked suspiciously like Mrs. Spade's. I still have a few notes from Malcolm saved away. In one, I had apparently told him a story about my little brother running out the front door naked after a bath, because Malcolm sympathized with me and told me how his brother had done the same thing, but he'd stopped him before he got out the door.

Now I realize it was all an elaborate ruse to get us kids to practice our writing but I forgive her for it.

I loved Mrs. Spade... and not just because of Malcolm. She was the kind of first grade teacher everyone hopes for: creative and sweet, loves to be around children but cares most about whether they learn, able to keep discipline in a classroom but never lost her patience with any of us. The thing I think I remember most about her was that she was as proud of my Polish heritage for me as she was of her own Irish heritage for her. She was really the first person who taught me that concept of ancestry and to her, to be from somewhere meant something. I imagine that Mrs. Spade is now no longer with us, but I remember her fondly whenever I think about her.

This all came screeching back to me today as The Dormouse walked in the door after school. She threw her hands into air and did a few fist pumps.


Me: "What's up?"


"Really? What happened?"

It all came tumbling out of her mouth in one, breathless, stream of consciousness paragraph: "He knocked a few of our chairs and we had to pick them up. He pulled papers out and threw them all over the floor so we had to clean up the papers and figure out which paper belonged to which student. He pulled all the books off the shelf and left them all over the floor, so we had to pick up all the books and put them back on the shelves in the right order. He left green fingerprints all over my homework papers and he left a puddle of green pee on the floor! We had to find some floor cleaner and clean up the green pee. Then he opened up the window and jumped out, I guess, because the window was left open so we had to close the window."

I'm kinda glad I only got a cookie.