Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old School Logic

Juanita Harvey was her name, and she was my sixth grade teacher, but if she taught school today, she’d be looking for work as an ex-teacher. She was a wonderful teacher, and you always knew where you stood academically because at the end of each six week period you were seated according to your grade average. Those who worked hard and made the grade were assigned seats to the right of class beginning with the student with the top average. Those not performing well enough were assigned accordingly in seats to the left. I got off the last row to the left once with a seventy-seven average and was ecstatic. Mr. Cochran, our principal, who was years ahead of his peers and one of the most admirable school administrators I’ve ever known, visited on occasion and always found twenty-five students “on task”. That’s a term we use today to signify students are busy with academic work and not using cell phones to twitter and text or verbally assaulting another student.

Mrs. Harvey was a large woman, dark hair and tall, but not over weight, big enough to intimidate us sixth graders physically and intelligent enough to let us know she knew a whole lot more than we did intellectually. When you entered her room there was something in the air that said, “Do your work, pay attention and learn, and you will survive”. It wasn’t a slogan on the wall somewhere; it was a feeling she projected the moment you came under her umbrella of influence. I came within a “U” of not making it to seventh grade but it was the best year of my educational life.

Because of this seating arrangement and the fact that she would “get on to you” when you didn’t perform to your capabilities, Mrs. Harvey would probably not be employed in today’s market. She would actually say in a loud voice, “I know you can do better than this!” After that a report card would go home with the appropriate number of “unsatisfactory” or U’s on it, and if it were I, there would be accounting to be done at home with two people who were convinced I was normal but perhaps distracted and in fact could do better and it was probably either their fault or mine if I didn’t. Today there’s a different philosophy out there that seems to be saying, “Mrs. Harvey, what’s your problem and why is my “disadvantaged” son unable to read?” No, Mrs. Harvey would not have survived because she believed the responsibility for the education of the child fell first on the parent and second on Mrs. Harvey. So she would have said, “Your son can’t read because you didn’t read to him, preferring instead to watch reality television and soaps. We have math, science, English, and geography, among other subjects to teach your sixth grade child which means reading is a ways down on the list. What have you been doing for twelve years?” Or perhaps in a last ditch effort to reach the parent she might have used the soaps and done it this way.

“You need to be more of a Guiding Light for your child so they can see the way in which The World Turns. Remember, they only have One Life to Live and you need to be there in their Search For Tomorrow. Set the proper example by becoming a reader yourself and develop a Love of Life, not just a love of reality television, you can pass on to your child. As The World Turns, The Days of Our Lives run out and so must your time as a parent. Today’s children are Young and Restless and require commitment and guidance from you, the parent, or they will soon find themselves in Another World, a world of constantly being behind The Bold and Beautiful people, who learned how to read, study, and pursue excellence.” Yes, that’s what Mrs. Harvey would have said as she packed her books, pencils, and paper and bid a fond farewell to parents who didn’t deserve her in the first place.

She Was There

I suppose we all have a special place, a place where, when we visit, life’s memories can be called up by the simple act of standing quietly for a moment and waiting…waiting to hear from people, pets and times that made us who we became. Maybe you’d call it home. I took a trip back to Knoxville, Tennessee, this past week and visited with an old friend I consider to be home. She just happens to be a house, but she’s still standing and still giving off that biblical look that seems to say, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” And although my loved ones were no longer there, she gave up her memories as I stood in the old driveway and looked up at windows that had peered out on eighty years of dreams lost and found, loved ones in a Normandy grave, marriages lasting sixty years, children gone too soon, and Papa Jack, an old Kentuckian and my grandfather. She was his house, built on a hill, and surrounded by hundred year oak trees with acorns and leaves in the fall and plenty of shade for summers. She gave shelter and love for many years to those who lived there, which is why, I suppose, she’s still standing. Two stories with an attic full of bedtime stories waiting to be read by loving aunts, a staircase that creaked and moaned and a grandfather clock chiming the hour to signal the arrival of various “ghosts” heard late in the night. She heard the news December seventh, 1941 when one of her “sons” realized his life would never be the same. She was there on November 22, 1963 when our country “grew up” and again on April fourth, 1968 when we realized we had not grown enough. She saw pets and people come and go, like old Chipper, the sweet, golden cocker spaniel, whose ears shared the food bowl each time he ate and my cousin's dog Spike, who roamed the woods out back until a car caught up with him on Sharp’s Ridge. She heard Santa's bells on Christmas Eve as he drove his sleigh through her woods, and always stopped whether we were naughty or nice. And she watched as Aunt Jo beat the batter of chocolate into homemade fudge. We had quite a visit as she reminded me of those Fatima cigarettes Papa Jack would smoke. They were, “the most powerful draw of tobacco made and would take your head clean off” (Dirty Harry). He lit those Fatimas with a bona fide, long stick, strike anywhere, sulfur match, the smell of which never left the house and in fact is probably still there today, floating high in the rafters. We listened to baseball on the front porch by radio and Papa Jack could make you think you were behind the dugout with a bag of peanuts. I swear it was as real as going to Turner Field and not near as pricey. I have no idea how many more times I’ll be seeing my old friend. No doubt she will out live me and when she goes a century of memories go with her. But in her brick and mortar will lay the bits and pieces of who I am today, a grateful son for all the people who lived in that old house. I’m grateful for the morning devotionals, the unconditional love and charity shown each day by those who lived there and Papa Jack, my grandfather. Most of us have a place, someplace really special, where we can stand and wait …wait for the memories to come... the memories that tell us who we are. Dorothy was right you know, “There’s no place like home.” I hope you’ve found yours.