Moon River

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Gunderson, was tall and gawky with unflattering glasses, and a dramatic bent.

Each day after lunch she instructed us to put away our books, lay our heads on our desk tops, and rest. During this enforced siesta she played “Getting to Know You,” and “Moon River,” on the battered piano in the back of our classroom. As her bony fingers caressed the keys (hands fluttering in understated Liberace style), her trembly voice sang (what was to us) the embarrassing lyrics.

I always had the impression she was attempting to serenade us, win us over to liking her. The truth is, she was not the kind of teacher one could seriously hate, nor adore, as everything about her personality was bland, a bit off somehow: her forced curly hair a bit too short, her skirts too sensible to inspire envy in the girls or innocent lust in the boys. Her voice was “nice” in that grown uppy way all kids hate and, therefore, was not to be trusted.

With my cheek pressed against the cold surface of my pencil marred desk top, the smell of eraser strong in my nostrils and dully comforting, my mind fell into a kind of stupor known to restive school children everywhere, while Mrs. Gunderson trilled on about the magic of Moon River.

I wanted Moon River to be true, wanted something like its plaintive melody and sentimental lyrics to grace my hard little life, turning it magically into something insipidly sweet. I would have given anything in the world were that possible. The truth was, my life was anything but sweet. Daily I fought battles unseen to the human eye, battles I couldn’t brag about or, for that matter, had any hope of winning.

Mrs. Gunderson meant well, but her songs were of no help to me whatsoever. Rather than encouraging me to believe I had a future, there was something mocking about them which rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t “after the same rainbow’s end” the song spoke of; there was doubtless no rainbow in my world and I was realistic enough to know it.

Occasionally I hear snippets of these songs on the radio, or a TV commercial, and at once I’m back in third grade with cheekbone pressed to desk top, fighting the urge to fall asleep and wishing with every fiber of my being that Mrs. Gunderson would simply read to us every day after lunch like other teachers did.

Moon River


Happy Valley, United States

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  • Leon A.  Walker
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