We all exchanged puzzled looks after the headmaster closed the door and warned us to behave. After a long line of substitutes, our new teacher was scheduled to arrive, but no one had yet seen her. Nine-year-olds can only be good for so long, so chatter quickly filled the classroom as we prepared for our latest victim. Then the classroom door burst open with an ear-splitting warning: “Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!”
A little woman with a beehive hairdo circled our desks like a weeble-wobble. “Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!” she chimed, inspecting desks and snatching up contraband as she sped by. Her little legs rolled and fluttered as she listed her rules, careening around the room, locking eyes with each of us individually. Without hesitation, she scooped up slimy spitballs, chewed gum, and other articles of mischief, and after aggressively scratching Ms. Babbit on the blackboard, she quickly nestled behind the teacher desk. “Any questions, children?” she asked, somehow maintaining eye-contact with each of us without even moving her head (like one of those museum paintings). No one made a peep.
Each day started the same: “Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!” Her beehive hairdo dipped slightly in the middle, just at the peak, and wiggled constantly as she fastidiously checked papers or fiddled with the old locket round her neck. She occasionally paused to rub her red little nose, and her squeaky sneezes made us giggle. “Allergies,” she insisted, “now children, not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!”
She either sat perfectly still, wiggling her nose and furtively scanning the room, or she reeled energetically through our classroom, jibbing and jabbing unpredictably between desks as if evading hounds. Her bunny-eared bouffant appeared to lay back during extreme bursts of speed, but as abruptly as she hopped up, she nested, glancing about as she graded papers and fiddled with her jewelry. “Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!”
The similarities were too tempting for third-graders, and Ms. Babbit soon became Ms. Rabbit. Our overactive imaginations eventually overran our childish inhibitions. Restrained smiles and muffled giggles soon developed into open sport. Bunny-ears popped-up behind her back, and then the competitions began. Our record was eighteen times in one day: Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep! But overall, it was all just harmless third-grade silliness . . . until the Easter party.
Everyone knows that the combination of egg-hunts, sweets, and spring fever creates the most volatile classroom situation imaginable, but even Ms. Babbit was in good spirits as she burst in that morning like a waiter, carrying a covered tray overhead. As the day progressed, however, we grew restless. After the egg hunt, we were the ones hopping and bouncing around like feral bunnies as she passed out cake and punch. Ms. Babbit’s patience finally collapsed. “Not a chirp, not a pip, not a peep!” she bellowed, and somehow, in the confusion, she tripped, falling front-first across a student’s desk. She quickly stood to reveal her Easter dress covered in cake and jelly beans. Colorful punch dripped and seeped everywhere. We erupted in laughter and a chorus of Ms. Rabbit!
Our teacher collapsed to the floor, cupping her face in her hands as she sobbed. Shame slowly silenced us all, and she eventually stood. No longer a ball of energy, she limped slowly to the corner of the room and retrieved her secret Easter treats. Sniffling occasionally, she placed a golden-brown meringue puffball with candy eyes in each of our hands. “My little chicks,” she said softly without any eye contact. We all noticed that her little locket had popped open during the fall and hanged crooked on its delicate chain. Etched on one side, Just Born, with a faded picture of a tiny infant on the other. She never noticed the dangling locket, even as she returned to the safety of her desk. Our teacher did not fidget or bustle that Good Friday. We ate the sweet, puffy treats in silence, sniffling occasionally.
Ms. Babbit brought us her little chicks every Friday after that, for “every Friday can be a Good Friday!” She eventually told us about little Rodda in the locket. “Just born,” she told us, “right after Mr. Babbit went to war.” Rodda soon died in her crib and Mr. Babbit in battle. “They met as angels,” she reassured us. “Now not a peep, children.”
We never forgot our beloved Ms. Babbit or the fluffy chicks that shared the fleeting sweetness and joy as pure as little Rodda. One of our classmates grew up to be a confectioner, but instead of meringue, he made his little peeps with exotic marshmallow so they were always fresh and Just Born! Later came the bright colors and the bunnies, from which children always promptly bite off the ears, not out of orneriness but to reveal the warm, soft, and loving people beneath the labels and masks we place upon them. Or, so goes the wholly unauthorized story of Peeps, the official candy of spring, rebirth, and second chances.
Tom Deighan is Superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. He may be reached at email@example.com