I've known amazing people. Maria Nichols was head and shoulders above them all.
The best woman I have ever known wasn't much to look at: A tiny hunched over figure with gray frazzled hair and an arm swollen from cancer treatments. She wore thick polyester clothes and had a long face that drooped with age and experience. Her feet would be stuffed into colorless orthopedic shoes.
She wore glasses and when she wanted to make a point to the middle schoolers she taught she would stare through her glasses' thick lenses and slowly, deliberately, push them up her nose with her gnarled middle finger.
She wove amazing tales and prodded students to think and cursed us out in foreign languages while appealing to her sister, Minerva, the goddess, to knock some sense into us.
She also introduced me to pomegranates.
Mrs. Nichols, my mama Maria, taught my social studies class in 7th and 8th grade. (I don't think it was called social studies though. It was the gifted/talented class and I think they called it something else. D, if you're reading, do you remember?) She also let a handful of us eat lunch in her room. We were the social outcasts who would clutch our lunch trays looking for traps to avoid, but once she opened her room to us, it was like our own personal Lyceum. We would eat and talk and listen. And one day we were talking about Persephone, who was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds by Hades to make her return to the underworld. One of us mentioned we had never had a pomegranate, so Mama Maria brought one in sometime shortly after.
I thought of her earlier today as I cracked open a pomegranate. Whenever I see the pomegranate thread the infertility community uses as a symbol, I can't help but think that in another time she would have been a great and wild blogger.She was a true teacher - she didn't just recite facts and expect them recited back. She told stories and made us live them and make connections between them. She wanted us to experience life, not just know some version of it from a book.
My Mama Maria passed away when I was in my senior year of college. Everyone who knew her felt the loss deeply. She made so many feel as though they were her prize student, her special child.
She never said goodbye, she would just send me off with an Irish blessing, as she called me her Irish Colleen.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Only after "May the wind always be at your back" she would mutter "and not of ye'."