Sunday, November 1, 2009

To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever!

July 27, 2009

Dear Cathie, Jimmy, Richard,

How many mugs have we seen with that statement on them? Probably everyone who has ever taught has one on her/his desk or stashed somewhere in a box titled "Rewards for teaching". Most of us who have ever received one as a gift from a student think it was made specifically for us. However, I did receive one once which stated "She who must be obeyed" in bold print. Was that a good thing!!!!! Anyway, the original mug message has always carried a subtitle for me, one that says Caherine LeDuke (underlined)! I realize that I am not unique in my love for her, just as she loved us all, we ALL loved her in return.

I remember our 10th grade English class fondly, not because of any great strides that I made in my knowledge of great literary works or grammar achievement (not the fault of my teacher), but because I have always been a sucker for fitting quotes. I guess I'm a Reader's Digest kind of girl. I appreciate the written work that is short and to the point, unlike my own method of communicating. One day as I walked into Miss Catherine's class I spied the new daily quote written on the blackboard. Yes, blackboards really were black in those days. At that particular time in my life I thought that I would always get everything that life had to offer, as long as it didn't cost too much! That day's quote was: "The secret to happiness is not getting what you like, but liking what you get." Well, after considering it for most of the class period, I finally decided that it really didn't apply to me. So young, so innocent, so wet behind the ears. Life has taught me the truth of what Miss Catherine was trying to place in our hearts that day. Like Garth Brooks sings, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers." Thank you Miss Catherine for placing such great wisdom in my heart and helping me see treasures close by.

We were blessed each day of our high school careers to have had such caring and gifted teachers as both Mr. and Mrs. LeDuke. It is difficult to separate them in my memories of THS. I remember that Miss Catherine didn't stop with teaching when our English or American History class ended. She taught us LIFE 101 and we never thanked her enough for everything she did for us. When we needed anything, all we had to do was ask her. She gave so freely of her time and energy. Who of us will ever forget the Drama Club that she started and whet our appetites for more of Show Biz, beginning with one-act plays and following with the Senior Play. I can still see her sitting in the stands at all of the basketball and football games, usually after taking up the meager fee for attending those functions. She never missed one of our class reunions and remembered something special about each one of us. I can still see her smile as she worked at the Reelfoot Arts and Crafts Fair every fall and welcomed me back home. I can remember how she touched my life and made me want to be like her as a teacher. I don't think I was ever anywhere close, but I certainly tried.

There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone;
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.

Edwin Markham must have been a kindred spirit with Miss Catherine. I know that she has reaped so much love from all of the students she touched. She would certainly say that all she did was her job, but we all know better. She willingly gave us her life. I used to feel sorry that Jimmy, Richard, and Cathie had to go through high school with their parents being teachers. Now, I envy them. All of those special high school memories must have been even sweeter when they were able to share them with their friends and and their parents. I will never forget that day in chemistry class when Mr. James Neville bumped against his desk and the kitchen matches in his pocket caught his pants on fire!

After college and three years of marriage, I returned home to live with my parents while Bobby was sent on a remote assignment in Alaska. I joined the Woman's Club that Miss Catherine belonged to at the time. She insisted that I call her just Catherine. for some reason, I couldn't do it. I did stop calling her Mrs. LeDuke, however, but kept the "Miss" in front of Catherine. I think in her heart she understood and eventually dropped the subject. That was a precious year for me. I got to live with my parents as an adult and be friends with my teachers, as I had never dreamed possible before. However, you should have seen my mother when she got her first phone bill with all those calls from Alaska on it!

I retired last year after 23 years as a classroom teacher/college counselor. I took all that Miss Catherine taught me and passed it along to hundreds of other students. I see now what a unique and blessed school adventure we all had. Our parents never had to worry about what or how we were being taught because they knew the hands that guided us through Margaret Newton Elementary and on through High School. We knew if we got into trouble at school, we got into trouble at home. Nobody even thought the word "sue", much less threatened it. It was the 50's and life was good. I chose to be a teacher because of those who taught me, especially Miss Catherine. She just had that something special about her that was too good not to allow it to be passed on to more generations. I will always be in her debt, and pray that somewhere a student that I touched can say the same about me. It would be because of the excellent influence of Catherine LeDuke and not any grand venture on my part.

Touching Shoulders
There's a comforting thought at the close of the day,
When I'm weary and lonely and sad,
That sort of grips hold of my crusty old heart
And bids it be merry and glad.
It gets in my soul and it drives out the blues,
And finally thrills through and through.
It is just a sweet memory that chants the refrain;
"I'm glad I touch shoulders with you!"

Did you know you were brave, did you know you were strong?
Did you know there was one leaning hard?
Did you know that I waited and listened and prayed,
And was cheered by your simplest word?
Did you know that I longed for that smile on your face,
For the sound of your voice ringing true?
Did you know that I grew stronger and better because
I had merely touched shoulders with you?

I am glad that I live, that I battle and strive
For the place that I know I must fill;
I am thankful for sorrows, I'll meet with a grin
What fortune may send, good or ill.
I may not have wealth, I may not be great,
But I know I shall always be true,
For I have in my life that courage you gave
When once I rubbed shoulders with you.

So, Miss Catherine
, you helped me to build something good of my life, and I feel blessed to have had you in mine all these years. I do want you to know that you made a BIG difference to all of us who considered ourselves one of your kids. Our class of 1961 felt a strong bond with the LeDuke family because we had Jimmy in our class. I can't look at him now without seeing Mr. James Neville, or hear him laugh and not think of all those times when laughter was the most any of us had. You and Mr. James Neville added joy to our lives and we will be forever grateful for that. You could not imagine the impact you have had on so many other students you will never meet because of the way you touched those of us who followed your career path. I shared you with all of my classes because you are so much of what makes me ME. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being just YOU when I needed you most. You will forever be in my heart and in my prayers. May the Good Lord hold you in the hollow of His hand and keep you safe and happy. You are more special than you realize!!!

My love forever,

Elaine "Shug" Pierce Landrum

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