In the fall of 1973, a nervous little girl named Lori Showen held tight to her mom and dad as they walked to their neighborhood school for the first time.
Kindergarten held no magic lure for this 5-year-old accustomed to having things her own way. She was scared.
And then she met her teacher: Polly Parrott.
Miss Parrott, besides having a cool name, comforted Lori and made her laugh. She was so pretty and wore nice dresses. Lori liked that. She liked learning and playing with the other children. This kindergarten stuff was fun.
When June rolled around, Lori learned another lesson. It made her sad.
Everything changes. She would be moving on to the first grade, away from the teacher who had taken the place of her mother for several hours each day.
Would she ever see Miss Parrott again?
• • •
Sure enough, when summer ended and Lori returned to J.E. Robins Elementary School in Charleston, W.Va., Polly Parrott was gone. She had married her college sweetheart and moved to Ohio to teach sixth grade.
Lori got through first grade, but she didn't like it. Her teacher wasn't as nice as Miss Parrott.
Years passed and Lori's parents bought a house in the suburbs. She graduated from Sissonville High School in 1985 and took a secretarial job with a company that provided laboratory equipment for mining companies. Meantime, she studied business at West Virginia State College.
When she turned 19, her parents announced they were moving to Orlando. Lori had just broken up with her boyfriend and thought Florida sounded pretty good. She got a job at the Orlando Sentinel, taught aerobics and met a guy at the gym named Michael Phillips.
She didn't know it at the time, but her relationship with Michael would one day lead to a remarkable reunion, reaffirming the cliche: "It's a small world.''
• • •
Michael and Lori moved to Clearwater and Lori found work at the St. Petersburg Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times. In 19 years, she became the person greeting the public at bureaus in Clearwater, Palm Harbor and most recently Port Richey. She coordinated legal advertising and computer needs, ordered supplies and just about anything else to keep things running smoothly. Any time a new employee joined the company in one of those offices, Lori would work with Human Resources to make sure all the paperwork was in order. In the last eight years, she often dealt over the phone with Polly Hill.
On Dec. 15, Lori called Polly about her own standing. She and Michael had finally tied the knot the day before and she had questions about changing her name to Lori Showen Phillips. She wanted to make sure everything was okay before they left on a trip.
"Where you going?'' Hill asked.
"West Virginia, to visit my 94-year-old grandmother.''
"Oh, that's so sweet. Where in West Virginia?''
"I lived in Charleston a long time ago, on the south side. I don't really remember a lot because I was only there a year. I was a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Robbins Elementary.''
"Really? I went to J.E. Robbins. My kindergarten teacher was Polly Parrott.''
"That's me! That's me! I'm Polly Parrott!''
• • •
Last week, Lori drove over to her dad's house in Kissimmee and found an old scrapbook. She had saved the class picture from 1973. Miss Parrott stood behind her children in her red checkered dress, white belt and long brown hair. So young, so pretty, Lori thought. She made a copy for her teacher and drove to St. Pete for a tear-filled reunion.
She learned that Miss Parrott had been Polly Hill for 38 years and had raised three children with her husband, Brenin, a banker.
The two women who had talked so many times on the phone hugged and stared at each other. This time, they promised, they'll stay in touch.