PROVO — Cindy Davis had only one birthday wish this year — to thank her beloved third-grade teacher for rescuing her at a difficult time in her life.
"She really came at a pivotal time for me," Davis explained. "I was pretty alone and isolated. I feel like she really saved me in so many ways."
Nearly 40 years after she sat in Margaret Foote's classroom at Granite Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Davis got the chance.
Davis remembered she shares the same birthday week as her beloved teacher and decided to surprise her with a special cake designed by Pete Tidwell, owner of the Mighty Baker in Provo. Each layer of the cake represented the influence Miss Foote had on her students.
"The bottom tier is going to have some of those crayons along the bottom with some of the characteristics and things that describe your teacher," said Tidwell. Words like "caring," "rescuer," "lovely" and "empowering" are written on the crayons.
The third grade was full of difficult transitions for Davis. Her mother had recently remarried and the family moved to a new neighborhood and school. Davis said she had few friends besides Foote.
"She was the reason I wanted to get up in the morning and go to school every day," Davis recalled.
Foote was also the reason Davis herself became a teacher, then a principal and now she trains future teachers at Utah Valley University.
"The one thing we can always do is try to be a bright spot for everyone that we interact with. That's what I experienced in Miss Foote's class and that's what I wanted to try to create with my own students," Davis said.
On the day of the big surprise, Davis had a few jitters but was mostly excited.
"I've been nervous for a week and a half, but now, today, now that we're just right almost on the doorstep, I'm just so excited, and I hope, I just want her to know she was a great teacher," Davis said getting emotional last week.
Then the two meet at the door of Foote's home.
"All through my career, I've thought about you," Davis told her. "So I've tried to pay it forward."
There were a lot of happy tears during the reunion. "For decades, I've wanted to thank you. Happy birthday," Davis said.
"Oh you don't know what this means to me," Foote said in tears. "As a teacher, this is everything. This is what we want — that we've made some kind of impression."
Like all teachers, Foote said she faced plenty of hard days in the classroom.
"Somehow you'd succeed in a small way and that made up for everything else," she said. "All the hard days, and all the time we put in."
And for one of her students to return to say thank you, it was a special moment.
"I'm just so proud of her, just so proud of her," Foote said of Davis.
"I'll tell you. This really made my decade, for sure, and beyond," Foote added with a smile.
Now the two plan on keeping in teach and having birthday lunches every year.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc