As promised I will begin sharing some of the responses we received when we asked for "Memories of Catherine and James Neville". I intend to relay these letters in their entirety with little or no editing of the content but I'm not sure if I should identify the writers.
I'll think on that.
This first letter I am sharing was one of the first responses received in mid July only a few days after we made our "request". In some future posting I will print that "Request for Memories" in its entirety in hopes of encouraging others of you to send me your thoughts. But for now I just want to mention that in the body of the text of that request I made the statement that "I could get a bottle of glue and some blank scrap books and start pasting away the many notes, letters, and other memorabilia I have found at Mother's house as a way to display and honor her life". As you will soon find out this first letter writer had a beautiful response to that idea.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 12:15
Dear Jimmy, Cathie, and Richard,
How I welcome the opportunity to write about your mom, my teacher. Do you think I never think about her? I do. Even my family who never met her, knows her. I speak of her often. How was I to know that this assertive little lady whose patience was so tested, with my 9th and 10th grade Spanish classes in a tiny high school in a quiet corner of Tennessee, would impact my life in such a manner? She was my Spanish I and Spanish II teacher.
In class she was very professional, coaching us to roll our r's. To me she was amazing! And where did she come from? Had she been wrong about anything she taught us, we'd have no way of knowing. We were small country town Tennessee kids who had never seen a Mexican, never heard a word of Spanish except in an old western (And how many of those did we have on our t.v.'s that only picked up 2 stations, not at the same time without turning the aerial, and neither of which were even in our state!) The technology in her classroom was as intriguing to us at that time as it would be later when we would see our first cell phone! The spiral cords hanging from the ceiling with the bulky soft vinyl padded earphones/headsets that would play our lessons and encourage us to repeat what we would hear.
The kids in the class were a cross-section of studious brainiacs that you just knew were destined for political careers. Then there were those of us who were just sure we would need this foreign language as we dreamed of international travels. She fueled those dreams and made them seem so attainable (a pretty far stretch for a kid of a widow who struggled to make it in a rural farming community) and those who just needed a grade/credit that thought they would skate through the ole lady's easy class. Some of these kids were in for a surprise! She wasn't easy. She was at the top of her game. We had a class clown, an older boy from a couple of grades higher, and he had met his match with Mrs. LeDuke! She would point that crooked finger (I am sure from arthritis) at him and set him straight right quick! Funny I remember her hands so well, but the crooked index finger would draw you attention to them. They were the same hands as my grandmother and aunts' hands that showed wear from picking vegetables, and shelling peas and hard work, and the crooked finger seemed to be designed to flip through papers for ease of grading with the red ink pen. The students learned to be certain the crooked finger was pointing at them before they answered.
She was fun, she kept it exciting with the top students of her class attending Spanish tournaments at larger schools where we would compete with our knowledge. And the annual Spanish banquet was a night of fiesta and entertainment in full costume for every student. This was as close to any international festivities most of us would ever see. We would form committees and plan for months for this momentous occasion, just as school year after school year of students had done before us. Every detail was ruled on under the watchful eye of Mrs. LeDuke.
I remember a classmate and I getting special permission from a reluctant Mrs. LeDuke to play and sing with our guitars and sing a Tennessee/Spanish translation of the current 1970's Carly Simon song "Anticipation". The Translation, the musicality and the singing was a flop. But only we and Mrs. LeDuke knew how horrible it really was, as it was well received by the banquet-goers. We were "Stars".
And where did I get this ability to get up in front of a group of our peers and perform? Mrs. LeDuke! She was our drama teacher. Drama, I didn't even know what it was. To me it seemed it was a group of the popular kids, the outgoing vivacious people without inhibition who would entertain us as a student body with plays and performances to make us dream to be like the people on the stage and make us laugh or make us think with the mystery, intrigue and humor performed on the stage in our cafetorium. I aspired to be one of these people but I was quiet and all too shy. At the prodding of friends, the graduating class had left openings in the Drama Club that needed to be filled. I couldn't do this, could I? It was my nightmare fulfilled! But I did.
It was this little club under the direction of Mrs. LeDuke, that gave me wings. I had new found confidence in myself. I was free. I performed in plays on stage and I loved it! I was so proud of myself! To this very day, I know I owe as much to Mrs. LeDuke and that drama club for making me who I became, than any other youthful event I ever experienced. I was out of my shell.
Writing this comes so easy to me, as you are not the first person I have spoken these words to. My friends, my family, my young sons have heard them as I encouraged them to participate and be all they can be. When I explain my childhood of acute shyness, it all ended with Mrs. LeDuke and the Drama Club. She truly did inspire me.
I guess you could say I grew up to have my dreams fulfilled. You must remember my love of animals. I know my neighbors, the Tiptons and the Rogers in Tiptonville do. Our backyard was home to pet raccoons, a fox, rabbits, a monkey, a pony, ducks, chickens, cats and numerous dogs, even a sick whooping crane. I now ranch American Quarter Horses in Texas. With the help of my Spanish, learned in Tennessee, taught to me by an Irish Lady, I can communicate with clients in their language. It gets me a smile every time, but they appreciate my inhibition to let loose with the attempt to speak with them in their language with a Tennessee/Texas drawl. I have visited ranches in Mexico and have exported over 100 horses to that country.
In 1976, my junior year, I had Chemistry under Mr. LeDuke. He was a quiet, deep voiced man with dark laughing eyes. We were an academically inclined class of students in his class. Why else would you be there? It wasn't a required class, as you only needed two Sciences to have required credits to graduate. Biology I and II covered that. Some students were practically geniuses. Some of us struggled with the depth of the content. The big atomic chart in the front of the class, black lab tables in the back, formulas written on the chalk board gave the classroom a serious air. Everything seemed to revolve around something called the Avogadro number. He taught us that this was the most important thing to know. I have never needed it, but I do remember it..just in case. It was the glory days of Saturday Night Live. Mr. LeDuke told us he ailed of stomach ulcers and kept a large bottle of Maalox in the top drawer of his filing cabinet. He would jokingly tell us we were making him hit the bottle as he would walk over during class and take a swig. He called us "people" not students, pupils or class. It made you feel like you were mature, with a responsibility to learn. He had told us: "People, 'I don't know' is not an appropriate response." He didn't want us to speak those words in his class. I remember a group of about 4 or 5 of us had written the words "I don't know" on the back of our spiral notebooks. When we didn't know the answers, we would just flip and hold up our notebooks with this sign on the back. This would usually send him back to the filing cabinet for another swig.
No glue necessary, they are stuck in our hearts.
Terri Lynn (Poole) Lay