Missing Lynnette

I saw Lynnette the other day. I was sure it was her. She was wearing those stylish small-framed glasses &

the brown ones that went so well with her hair. She was her trim self but her hair looked glossier and longer than usual. There she was""on the corner of Main Street and First. They were wrong. Lynnette hadn't really died of metastasized cancer while we were in Niger.

I wanted to run up and hug her, shout "hello!" and tell her how much we all miss her""tell her how I tear up every time I walk by the photo Mark Sherbow has on the Blenders' door at Walker Elementary School.

But by then I was close enough to see the woman was a stranger.

It wasn't Lynnette because Lynnette was dead. She died a year ago this November. We were 7,000 miles away when I received an e-mail from our friend Nik telling us she had passed.

We didn't get to go to her memorial service. We said goodbye.

I only knew Lynnette for a year, but the first time I walked into her combined first and second grade class at Walker I knew I was in the presence of a very talented person. She was teaching math to the children and her enjoyment of the subject, her quiet confidence, and her ability to validate every child made me love her instantly.

My daughter changed schools the next day to be in Lynnette's class and I had the privilege of watching Hesperus perfect her reading, learn to add and subtract, and negotiate friendships with a master teacher.

When kids got rambunctious &

which was often with this spirited bunch &

Lynnette became still and quiet, a look of disapproval on her face. The children instantly stopped misbehaving. No one ever wanted to displease Lynnette. She never raised her voice or lost control. And she set high standards for the children, challenging them to work as hard as they could, and always finding ways for them to be successful.

If there were a Nobel Prize for elementary school teachers, Lynnette would have won one.

But did we tell her? Did she know how grateful we were to her? How much she taught our family?

I imagine her dying, her husband, three adult children, three sisters, and friends by her side, and I wish I could rewind the clock and talk to her. She was only 59 (and she looked 10 years younger). When I called her husband Mark yesterday, he told me the family moved in to their small house during her last weeks. He told me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer around the time they found out that the breast cancer Lynnette thought she'd beat five years ago was back. She knew she wanted to die at home. Hospice was there, and her sister, a nurse, administered pain medication. Mark told me cancer is a rough way to die. Lynnette was in a lot of pain. But every night they cooked such big dinners""for 12 or 15 people""that it was almost like a party. When she felt well enough she would join them. Towards the end she didn't leave her bedroom.

Wait Lynnette! We're not ready for you to die! Before you go, please let me tell you on behalf of the hundreds of lives you've touched in Ashland how much you've touched ours.

I walk past the woman with the small-framed brown glasses without a word. But when I pick up my now 8-year-old daughter from school I tell her how much I've been thinking about Lynnette.

"I know what you mean Mommy," Hesperus says quietly. "I keep wanting to call her third grade teacher Lynnette and then I remember, Lynnette's gone."

But she isn't really. There's a small part of her in my daughter, and in me, and in the thousand of other families in Ashland that she taught over the years.

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