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A Favorite Teacher


Sun, Sep 17th, 2000
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Monday, September, 2000

The sunlight is suddenly different. Insects seem to respect our peace and quiet at night a bit more than they did a few weeks ago. There is a scent of dust on sunny days and the air feels cooler and dryer than just days ago. Our kids went back to school today and the summer is over.

The start of school makes me think again of my teacher, Mrs. Grasskamp. She taught me for my first four years of school. She had been teaching a long time when I met her. She taught my older brothers before me and my younger brother after me. Our school was a one-room country school that my class had to share with only three other grades. Earlier times saw that small school contain eight grades at a time.

Mrs. Grasskamp was a tiny woman. When I think of her I am always looking down into her face. This may well have been the case as I was always tall for my age. Her stature was, to my knowledge, never a problem for her in the classroom. In a time when corporal punishment would not have been criticized and might have been encouraged by some parents, Mrs. Grasskamp would never have seen the need. She maintained a gentle control on the students under her care. When we stepped out of line, a quick word from her and a shake of her head brought us quickly back.

Mrs. Grasskamp was not a resident of our rural neighborhood and I never knew her well personally. She commuted thirty miles to work. That was very exotic to me because I knew she lived in a place that I had never been. She drove a blue Valiant and was never late. Once in a while, her husband dropped her off and picked her up, but he remained a mystery man, always waiting in the car and never coming into the school.

We treated Mrs. Grasskamp with respect because she demanded it and never gave us any reason to doubt it. If we were good, we were rewarded with more work. I always responded to that sort of backward approach, but then I think I would have done almost anything that Mrs. Grasskamp asked me to do. One of our work rewards was the task of burning wastepaper at the end of the day. Two boys (always boys, never girls) were assigned to collect the wastepaper at the end of the day and burn it outside in the burning barrel. This job usually fell to me, but one day my friend, Larry, was given the job. It took Larry a long time to burn the trash. School ended without Larry coming back into the classroom. I saw him in the coatroom, putting on his hat and going to the bus. A few minutes later, I sat with Larry in the back of the bus as he carefully tried to trim his singed hair with a pair of blunt scissors and a mirror he had borrowed from one of the girls. Evidently, Larry had performed the very unlikely mishap of scorching his eyebrows and hair while burning trash. He was trying to give himself a haircut rather than have Mrs. Grasskamp know what he had done.

Of course, Mrs. Grasskamp knew what had happened because Mrs. Grasskamp knew everything and could do anything. I remember and appreciate most what she did for me. In the depth of winter, when I was in the fourth grade, my mother died. After that, for a period of some time, I sank away to a place I dont remember. I dont recall what I was doing there or why, but I wasnt where I belonged. One afternoon, when the rest of the kids were reading silently, Mrs. Grasskamp called me out of the classroom and walked quietly with me to the kitchen area of the school where we could be alone. She leaned on the windowsill with the cold, gray March sky as the background. I stood facing her, looking down into her face as she tried to find the words she needed. She found them and reached down to wherever it was I had fallen and gently picked me up. I recall that she simply asked me to come back to life and to do that for her. She knew what I would do for her and I did it. I often think that it must have taken all the strength and love she could muster to do that for me. It was surely above and beyond her call of duty.

Mrs. Grasskamp could have left me alone or talked to my father about me, but I appreciate her for knowing what to do and having the strength to do it. I doubt that any of my teachers since could measure up to Mrs. Grasskamp simply because of that one thing she did for me, but I know that most teachers would try to do the same for any child in their care.

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