Thursday, October 22, 2009

No glue necessary, they are stuck in our hearts.

WOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wasn't that a great letter from Terri.

I read this letter to Mother as soon as it arrived and her response was: "Well that teacher sounded like a pretty nice person". As with most all the letters we received, Mother was quite amazed that she was the subject being discussed. Her doctors tell us that she does not have Alzheimer's. So we don't expect her to forget how to use a fork or how to turn on the television or even how to use her camera (which she uses still but less frequently). Her problem is simply dementia.

Fortunately for us and all those she meets at Lakeview on Sunday after Church or those who come calling at her home, Mother still has ingrained within her personality the graciousness that she seems to have been born with. She smiles brightly and greets us all usually with questions about who we are and how do we know her. Then she proceeds to talk to us with the same interest as that teacher we all remember standing at the front of the class room; only occasionally does she stop and ask us again: "Now who are you again? Oh that's right, you're Jimmy. And how is Joan doing."

Richard's wife is Joan. My wife is Marty, but we have come to ignore this miscue just as I learned 50 years ago that when she called me Richard I would answer without correcting her, and Richard would do the same. Our wives have come to realize that they need not feel slighted. At least she remembers their names. Richard and I are not so sure either of us was ever clearly labeled in her memory bank. After all she called me Henry during most of my formative years and Richard was Billy-Dick. We don't really care. She can call me Joe........she can call me Moe..........just as long as she still calls me.

Imagine me describing her condition as "simply having dementia" as if it were akin to having a bad cough or arthritic knees or a crooked finger. Now speaking of that crooked finger I feel I need to share with you the rather "un-romantic" version of how that finger came to be crooked. It was not due to arthritis or hard work shelling peas or caused by a fight with James Neville concerning him eating crackers in bed. Nope. A frozen block of hamburger meat and the careless stroke of a kitchen knife get all the credit.

By the way, I bet I was 30 years old before I learned that oatmeal was not a natural ingredient in meatloaf. In my days as a Stouffer's Restaurant Manager I was exposed to the recipes being used by the dietitians and cooks. I kept trying to explain to them that My Mother taught me to put in equal parts of meat and oatmeal to make hamburgers and meatloaf. I have been kicked out of some of the finest kitchens in the industry....... But I digress.

Fortunately for all of us growing up on LeDuke Street Dr. Smythe's Clinic was just across the street. Our family practically wore a path to his back door during the 40's and 50's. And Mother, with a towel wrapped around a dangling index finger, followed that path quickly that faithful morning in 1957.

Dr. Smithe saved the finger but did not have the technique nor the equipment necessary to give her normal use of her now "crooked finger". Over the years she has grown accustomed to it and we hardly ever noticed it. That is unless we were playing Canasta or Bridge which was often at our house. To watch her shuffle cards was quite a sight. I know that had Mother known the effect that her crooked finger would have on her students as described by Terri, she would have performed that hamburger-meat surgery years earlier.

Terri described how much the Drama Club meant to the development of her self confidence. In my day we didn't have a formal drama club. We had the annual senior play, oratory contests, and book reports given orally in front of the class. The effect was the same. All of us exposed to Mother's teaching recall how consistently and constantly she stress speaking clearly and distinctly when you were in front of a group. How often have we heard her say: "Speak up, your audience cannot hear you. Okay now we can hear you, but we can't understand you." She always emphasized that this concept applied to all "life" situations, not just the stage.

I recall several years ago I was called upon to speak at my good friend Johnny Vaughn's funeral. When I approached the podium at the appointed time I noticed that a whole line of flowers had been placed at the front of the pulpit area with the effect that I could not make eye contact with any of the family members sitting in the front 2 or 3 pews. Without hesitation and before I started speaking, I left the podium and went down and laid all those flowers on the floor.

I knew several in the audience thought I had lost my mind or forgotten my purpose, so when I returned to the dais, I explained that my Mother was present in the back of the crowd somewhere and that if I had returned home after the funeral and told her of my unhappiness at not being able to speak directly to the family, she would have said: "So why didn't you do something about it right then?". So I told those attending that I was just trying to avoid that discussion.

The funeral was attended by many of Mother's students who all completely understood my actions. I even expected Johnny to raise up, look back at me, and say: "Way to go, Jimmy."

The truth is that Mother's presence that day did not cause me to move those flowers. My presence in Mother's classrooms, classrooms that went beyond those made up of four walls with a blackboard in the front, and the self-confidence she taught all of us was all I needed to leave the podium that afternoon. And when I spoke the painful words I had prepared for that occasion, I did so clearly and distinctly.

I tell this story not to pat myself on my back, but rather to reinforce what Terri was stating in her letter. That many of us without ever knowing it was happening were learning so much more from both my parent-teachers than how to conjugate a verb or what the periodic number of a particular element was. These life lessons were available to every student that came in contact with either of them, even after they retired from the class rooms and labs.

And weren't we, in that small rural community extra lucky to have had not only those two, but a whole building full of the same caliber of teacher. I defy any student coming from the era that Terri and I refer to to name even one teacher that did not fit the mold we would hope all teachers aspire to fit into..................... Even though some of us still do not know how to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.

Yes, Terri is right. I need buy no glue for they are truly stuck in all our hearts.

Jimmy LeDuke

1 comment:

  1. ok, I've officially figured out how to to follow your blog now. Love how my, "ahem," older father was able to figure out how to blog days faster than it took me to figure out how to follow said blog.....oh well. Love the stories about Bubba, keep 'em coming. Also love that I will always be connected to Bubba via our "hamburger" incident story - though mine also involved a knife and frozen hamburger meat, it ended with the nurse who lived next door in Baltimore coming over and cleaning out my wound for me. No stitches and no crooked finger, just a tiny scar on my ring finger.