Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"T" On His Teachers

I'm not sure how many here on the forum are aware of just how much I value Brock's friendship and guidance. However, I believe there are enough here that are aware of such that might find this post slightly interesting.
About three days ago, Brock and I were talking after he was kind enough to post a recount of my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Finch.............may God rest her soul, cause only He could. Anyway, I asked Brock to remind me to recount my top three favorite all-time teachers, and I use the word teacher in a white man's connotation, meaning "educator". I make this distinction to separate the difference between those who influenced me in the red world.

The teacher who comes in at #3 on my list would be Miss Bass, although she was actually Mrs. Bass. I believe the "Miss Bass" was a carry-over that went hand-in-hand with her very strong Virginia accent. Miss Bass was my first grade teacher. She was also my little brother John's first grade teacher. The funny thing is, she was our mama's fourth grade teacher. Twenty three years separated when she taught my mom to when she taught my brother. Miss Bass was 67 years old when she taught me. Today you would be hard pressed to find a teacher that made 20 years of a career. Miss Bass made 50 years of teaching young people, as my brother's class was the year that she retired.

In her room at Cherry Street Grade School, Miss Bass had two photographs on the was George Washington, the other was Marse Robert (there is a theme developing here. You will have to read farther to discover the theme.)

Miss Bass was the consummate Southern lady, by that I mean quiet spoken, gentle to a fault, but if you were stupid enough to disrespect her, she was the first to march you to the principal's office for a paddling. (What happened to paddling in school?)

My fondest memory of Miss Bass was the lessons taught, and the little plays and skits that she would produce for the entire school population to view. These always started with the American Revolution, and ended with the War of Northern Aggression.

In the classroom, Miss Bass made it crystal clear that that war of 61-65 was totally avoidable. She referred to it as "Mr. Lincoln's War", and each time today when I see 'Mr. Lincoln's War' in print, I cannot help but think most fondly of a lady from Virginia who made learning interesting.

Selecting teacher #2 has posed a great challenge.
I am faced with trying to resolve the influence of a teacher that I had for the fifth and sixth grades, or for one that I was only privileged to study under for one semester my senior year in high school. I have just at this moment made that decision.

Mr. Earl Holtz was a giant of a man in stature. I believe him to be the largest teddy bear God ever created. When I first walked into his class in the fifth grade at Cherry Street Grade School, I freaked at his stature; that fear went away when I heard the first word he uttered. A kinder voice, for a male, I've never heard.

Being raised Southern, despite being born above the line, I walked up to his desk, extended my hand, and introduced myself. He graciously took my hand, and said "Mr. Warren, is it your intention to merely pass this grade, or would you like to really learn?" Thinking for some 20-30 seconds before answering, I replied, "Mr. Holtz, I am here to learn." He assigned me the first desk in front of his (remember when you lifted up the top of your desk and it has a hole in them for an ink jar? And they had 40 years of names carved into them? That was my desk for two years.) And inquiring minds might wonder...........did I scratch MY name into that desk? And the answer would be.........YES, I did, with my caramel-color handled Barlow.

Back to the story....Mr. Holtz was the only teacher at Cherry School that taught fifth and sixth grades simultaneously. I feel totally blessed in this, as it is the closest thing, except when I taught on the reservation, to a one room school. Hopefully someone on this forum actually attended a one room school, and would be kind enough to recount that experience. I found it marvelous.

Fifth grade always received the daily instruction first. I should interject this occurred just after Mr. Holtz lead us in the Lord's Prayer......and what happened to that? Oh yeah, some atheist got her way. I digress.

Mr. Holtz was seen as somewhat an outsider in my hometown. If memory serves me correct, he came from Maryland. He was teaching high school, at the time that my mother was a freshman. I know this because I have seen photos in her freshman yearbook........he was her coach on the rifle team (and what the hell happened with that?). Tell me what is wrong with schooling young adults in the safety and skills of marksmanship............totally unheard of today. Proudly, I was also on the rifle club team through high school. Again, I digress.

In two years of Mr. Holtz's lessons, I remember most clearly two things: #1, him saying most adamantly that the war for Southern independence (his words not mine) was constitutionally appropriate and that "that war" was avoidable and was most definitely a war over tariffs, not slavery (find me an educator today who will make that statement....I want to shake his/her hand). #2 most memorable influence was when Mr. Holtz showed us, on 16mm film, the Nuremberg Trials. That was a lesson I have never forgotten, and it laid the groundwork for my love of learning of anything WWII related. I stayed in contact with Mr. Holtz, working on his farm on occasion, up until his death. I could not force myself to attend his funeral. I loved him that much. I have regretted not attending his final services ever since.

"The finest teacher I ever had" was Ronald Berkshire, a mere pencil of a man, an overwhelmingly strict military disciplinarian, who has just recently passed over the river.

Mr.Berkshire taught me, in one semester, more history than I had learned from grade one through eleven combined. I must also say that in four years of university, I never had a professor that was so well-versed in history, as was Mr. Berkshire.

I believe it was in 1939 that he left the United States and became a fighter pilot for the RAF. I believe he received his flight training in Canada. I know that he met and married his first wife in England during WWII. On a personal note, I played music with his eldest child, who is still living, and I dated his middle child, now deceased for nearly two years, and my little brother dated his youngest daughter.

Mr. Berkshire never used film, maps, overhead projectors, or a pointer stick. He merely painted pictures in words. That is a trait, that has been on several occasions, applied to me. I believe those that have said such do me great honor, but an honor of which I am not worthy.

I wish that I could say that my fondest memories of lessons taught by Ron were of the war of 61-65. In all truth, I cannot make that statement; in fact, I believe we spent one day on the so-called Civil War. The reason behind that, and I can hear his voice at this moment saying, "there wasn't a damn thing civil about that war, the term civil war had no application in regards to that conflict". To loosely quote that day's lesson, simply would be to say 'it was a war of greed, waged by the Northern industrialized sector of New England; to which the Midwest fell in line like dominoes'. I believe he was right in not only his take on the war, but for not wasting any more time on the subject.

Ron Berkshire could tell you stories, first-hand accounts, of being in an underpowered, over weighted Spit Fire, and having two or three Messerschmidt's on your backside. When he taught our class about WWII, everyone, excepting the two farm boys who had worked all night, and the one cheerleader who had spent all night with the football team, lived what he taught. Though we were too young, and lucky enough to have missed it, we lived it through him. That is a teacher. That is a real educator.

Pam, Mayme and I moved to Lawrence County, Illannoy, in 1995. I believe that it was in the first week we lived here, that Pam asked "can you find me a real newspaper in this one cow town?" offense intended to the local papers published here, just a "city girl's" way of asking for a national paper. I left our home on Refinery Row, the baddest neighborhood there was in town, and made my way to Ada Lee's (great name, ain't it?) Candy Shop and Newsstand. I walked in the door on a Saturday morning, saw about 6-10 people sitting at vintage ice cream tables having coffee, smoking cigars and cigarettes (and what happened with that?) and reading the national papers which I had gone to find. Among those sitting was Mr. Ron Berkshire. I went to the counter, purchased a Wall Street Journal and an Evansville Courier, and on my way out stopped at the table where Ron was sitting and said "Mr. Berkshire, do you find yourself residing in Lawrence County, too?". He looked up, smiled, and said "Gentlemen, may I introduce you to Mr. Terry Warren, the finest history student I ever had the privilege to teach".

As I previously noted, Mr. Berkshire is now gone, as well as his first wife and daughter Gina. Mayme is privileged at her work, to see Mr. Berkshire's son, Allan, almost daily. I believe they have become friends, generations apart, yet Mayme is bright enough to know when she is in the presence of genius; though it pales (no disrespect Allan) to his father's.

This is undoubtedly the longest post I have ever put forth on this forum. I will not, however, apologize for its length. To do so would be an injustice to three human beings who most definitely shaped the positive side of this old half-breed. So to Miss Bass, Mr. Holtz and Mr. Berkshire, I send my highest regards, as well as the strongest salute I can muster at age 60. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for giving me the best shot at making something of myself, that a person of minority, from the wrong side of the tracks in a small town, in the land of ape, could hope for.

Warmest Confederate Regards to anyone who took the time to read this far.

Brock, I kept my word. I hope neither you nor anyone else was bored.


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