Miss Duffy was a giant.
Physically, she was diminutive; she dazzled with a shock of grey hair, meticulously placed bright red lipstick, and a limp from childhood polio. In the eyes of a fourth-grade boy, her presence was towering. Miss Duffy talked and laughed with a gravelly voice. She told incredible stories and crafted assignments of great creativity. Somehow this old woman still lived in a fourth-grade world. And I loved her.
That is, until one day when she assigned us to memorize Robert Frost’s immortal poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Now, understand, the poem is only four stanzas—sixteen brief lines—of easily apprehended English. But in the mind of a fourth-grader, it could just as well have been The Iliad. A few weeks hence, we were told, each of the twenty-three fourth graders at Jefferson Elementary School would stand by their L-shaped desk (one-by-one) and recite the poem without error.