Our young vagabond friend- so full of Godfrey, Hawken, had come full circle home to Winnipeg for the summer. Saving for Ireland, his next big adventure. I had received a packet of fragile drawings, and story from his old school mate, Dr “Twinkle” Wembley- Fadge, who had read excerpts from “The Collected Wisdom”, Hawken was still too shy to share this story- still working it out …I hope he will not mind my telling.
Yes, I went to school with Hawken, in Mrs Bentley’s 5th grade class, she made him sit front row, furthest from the door and where he could not see out a window. Kids worked on Hawken, Mrs Bentley did not intercede, he wore his fair hair long, faded flannel shirts, and Hawken oft shared with me the books he loved to read.
Mrs Bentley was an elderly, old school prairie teacher, she read us poetry, napped at her desk all morning. Every day in deepest winter, she had us draw a spring picture. She had two dresses, for spring yellow roses, the other red wool, in retrospect I wonder if she drank now and again , oft befuddled, wearing only one stocking, the only boy who did not guffaw at teacher’s farts was quiet Hawken.
Even then, his spring pictures were vivid in color and detail, he drew the brown revolting city slush at thaw, rush of Grey-lag geese over muddy fields, he drew the post office at Crocus Hill, drew a shiny new seed drill.
Mrs Bentley never hung Hawken’s art work on display, and though she did not pick favorites, dismissed as rubbish, the little boy’s dream to live out side one day.. “Doomed to social failure”, this young nipper said she, to his parents on visiting day.
Hawken worked on his spring picture, as all about him set to bicker. Father claimed- “It’s his name- Hawken for his uncle who left home at 17. Never called or wrote those 3 years in between, whacked him with the fry pan, did my aunt Marcia Mae, when he strolled in asking, “Whats for supper?, like he had never been away”.
Ma griped- “His hair is long because of you, swung him high and bonked his head, left a long scar, and Hawken only two”.
Grandma added- “He will knock out those expensive teeth, hopping a moving train”. “He will wash his flannel shirt, in a bus depot sink and put it back on damp again”. “I will wield the fry pan, should Hawken at 16, ask for a Volkswagen Van”.
Grandpa, (whom everyone ignored), thought, “I wish I’d had a teacher, such as Mrs Bentley, all you need to learn is found in art and poetry, history, myth and maths, courage and colors, how to work, love and get along with others”. A poem memorized you have forever, and perpetual spring too, in painting or picture” . .
Hawken read, over and again “Kon-Tiki”, he understood “Thoreau”, followed the sea path of the yacht “Dove”, and “Peace Pilgrims” epic journey..draw a spring picture, no mere tulips in a vase for Hawken, much to the dismay of Mrs Bentley. She loved poetry, set us verse to memorize- “Francisco Pizzaro”, “The Flower Fed Buffalo.”
“When your poem is set to memory, she said, draw a spring picture”. Closing her eyes, head on a book of sonnets she would snooze, until the final bell rang, or someone had to ask if they could wee. “Recite the poem first”- firm in this edict was Mrs Bentley.
Then came an early spring morning, cold and dark, snow on icy tar, and Mrs Bentley slipped, alighting book laden from her old car, fell hard. It was Hawken kneeling in the slush, holding teacher’s hand, flannel shirt for a comfort where she lay, talking softly, he never said of what, until help came, and took Mrs Bentley away …
“Our substitute held a math book up, asked how far along we were, “I told her, don’t bother, while we memorize “Fort Frontenac”, put your head down and nap, we will then be quiet and draw a spring picture”.
“The janitor cleared out the desk of Mrs Bentley, young Miss Avis, across the hall watched sadly. Lesson plans she never used, some faded valentines, ancient gift of cheap perfume from student long forgotten. They found last a thick, brown envelope, marked Hawken. All the spring pictures he thought she threw away, all the multi-colored skies and ducks and tractors she would not tack to the wall. Mrs Bentley, ever the mystery kept them all.
“I was only about ten, wrote Hawken, but I understood this thing, I knew that when in peace did Mrs Bentley pass- it would be, for her, into perpetual spring”