Friday, January 6, 2012

A Teacher’s Influence may Last Forever

Amaryllis in candy cane stripes
(original photo)

You may have read about my grandfather in my biography, but to know the man was to love him. He had more granddaughters than grandsons and he made each one of us feel important.

For decades, he was a sixth grade teacher who had an influence on the entire community and on the cities and towns wherever he taught. When he died, his funeral was crowded with former students and teachers who knew him well and remembered him fondly.

As our grandfather, he made us feel special, and we wanted to please him. He admired his granddaughter's shiny bouncy ringlets. We would quicken our steps when he was nearby so our curls would bob even harder.

Hibiscus Glory - oil on canvas

Grandpa helped us practice perfect posture by placing books on our heads as we walked to keep our spines straight and strong. Even now when I catch a glimpse of myself with shoulders slumped, grandpa whispers in my ear reminding me to pull my shoulders back and stand up straight.

His love of the dance made winter days indoors a fest of delight, at least for most of us. We learned “The Hokey Pokey,” the “Grand Right and Left” and any other music that not only stressed rhythm but self control and coordination. He helped prepare dance festivals for schools and churches that were performed on a nearby football field. “Peter Cotton Tail” was one I remember, and dancing the Maypole with hundreds of dancers and poles scattered across the field with a myriad of bright costumes and multi-colored streamers.

Blending In" -- Acrylic on canvas

Having a male teacher who enjoyed dancing kept the boys in line. Some of them even enjoyed the experience. When it came to biology, grandfather’s first love, the boys witnessed his tough side. He loved spiders and snakes and made them a part of our curriculum. We handled them, learned how vital they were to the ecosystem, and lost our fear as we got to know and understand them better.

Acrylic under painting -- work-in-progress

One Fall we gathered monarch caterpillars from the milkweed plants outside our school yard and placed them in glass canning jars. We fed them and watched each of them form a chrysalis. When Spring arrived, we observed their struggle to break out and dry off their fragile wet wings. Grandfather allowed the butterflies to flutter freely about our classroom, but most of them flew to the windows bouncing against the glass until they grew tired.

Finally, they settled on the window ledge letting us approach them if we wanted to and curiously crawling up our hands and arms with their tickly prickly feet. During recess, we fed them sugar water from jar lids. I’ll never forget the wonder of watching an orange and black butterfly sit on my palm and unroll its long proboscis to drink the life-giving water.

"Moody Blues" -- oil on canvas

When the time came for their release, we opened up the windows and our butterflies flew to freedom. We yearned to bring them back as they fluttered upward tinting the sky with orange. We would never be the same.