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Inspiration from kindergarten teacher lives on

I can still remember that small house sitting high on a hilltop. As a child, it always reminded me of a gingerbread house straight from the illustrated pages of a story book. To get to the house, you drove up a driveway that was very steep.

Each day, my mother carefully followed the driveway in her car. As if climbing the bean stalk like Jack, we ultimately arrived at a special place at the back of the house and I was dropped off for a day of play. To me, it was a magical house that I couldn’t wait to visit.

Miss Betty’s Playhouse, as it was affectionately called, was where I attended kindergarten. Even though I was only 5 years old, I can still remember the basic set up of the room. There were three main tables. One was called the Papa Bear table. One was called the Mama Bear table. And the table you never wanted to ever sit at was the Baby Bear table. The Baby Bear table was where those who misbehaved had to sit.

Our playroom was an addition to the main house where Miss Betty lived. In my childlike mind, it seemed very large, but I’m sure if I were to visit it today it would be much smaller. Our perspective as children is very different than when we become adults. Much the same way as I thought my parent’s yard was HUGE as I cut the grass when, in fact, looking through my adult eyes, it was actually small.

I remember being greeted with a smile each morning by Miss Betty. She was a very pleasant and gentle woman. Her voice was soothing and she had the patience of Job. She was that magical kind of teacher who disguised learning by hiding it in fun.

I first learned to craft in that room under Miss Betty’s supervision. With the help of scissors, crayons and white paste, we transformed ordinary construction paper and poster board into extraordinary things. Our little imaginations were fertilized by Miss Betty. She convinced us we could build stone castles out of paper and turn green-colored construction paper into pastures filled with animals. With the help of a box of waxed color crayons, we were able to produce spectacular rainbows and magically turn cotton balls into fluffy clouds to fill our blue skies. At Miss Betty’s Playhouse, you could create anything your mind could imagine, and we left tired but looking forward to the next day. I have never forgotten Miss Betty, but I especially think of her at this time of year. In celebration of Easter one year, she treated us to these delicate edible bird’s nests filled with candy-covered chocolate eggs. All the other children in my class gobbled theirs up in a matter of seconds, especially those who sat at the Baby Bear table! All that was left were fragments of coconut and butter stained napkins.

That is, except for mine. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE sugar in any form, but I was so intrigued by these little nests that I had to show my mother when she picked me up. I carefully hid my coconut nest surrounded in napkins in my cubby hole. At the end of the day when my mother came, I ran to retrieve my little nest and showed it to her.

“Can you believe Miss Betty made this?” I screamed out of breath from the run. “I didn’t eat mine! I saved it to show you!” My mother smiled and so did Miss Betty. In fact, Miss Betty even shared the recipe with my mother. Mother jotted it down on the back of a used envelope from her purse. In our kitchen, we made them each and every Easter for years and years. I still have that frayed, stained envelope.

Time marched on. One year turned into twentysomething and my family and I were out eating one night when an older lady approached our table. “Do you know who I am?” she asked with a smile. I stared into her face trying to recall it, but my memory bank couldn’t produce an answer. “You look so familiar to me!” I said, with doubt in my voice. “Who are you?” I asked.

“Miss Betty, your kindergarten teacher!” she exclaimed. I was so taken back that I opened my mouth before I thought about it and said, “You’re still alive?” Just like my old yard seemed so large as I cut the grass, in my child’s mind I assumed Miss Betty was “old” way back then even though she wasn’t. Since I was knocking at middle age’s door myself, I couldn’t imagine she could possibly still be alive. I begged her forgiveness and we chatted and reminisced about my kindergarten days.

I received a call this past week. A mutual friend told me Miss Betty had passed away. I could not help but feel sad but soon my sadness turned to memories of the times I spent on top of that hill in her gingerbread house and I began to smile.

I thought it was ironic that Miss Betty passed away just as I was leafing through my cookbooks looking for Easter recipes. Yes, there on page 128 of my first cookbook was her recipe for Macaroon Bird Nests. This year, as I make them, they will be even more special to me. In my mind, I can still see her smiling face as she handed me that creative Easter treat so many years ago. Even though Miss Betty has now gone, the things she taught me will linger on.

Oh, if any of you want to create these special treats for Easter, the recipe is on my Web site, www.markballard.com under In The Kitchen section. You’ll find other ideas there as well. Go out and create some beautiful memories this Easter for your family and friends.

MORE FROM MARK

Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for spring.

Ÿ “The Mark Ballard Show” is on Cox On-Demand.

Ÿ Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon GA, 31208, fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.

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