Many people have made a positive impact on my life, but few as much as a handful of teachers. I don’t remember college professor’s names particularly, but there are several teachers I recall fondly from grades 1-12. In those preteen and teenage years, the whole world was unfolding before me and I was witnessing it with new eyes for the first time.
The year I was eleven I was in 6th grade taught by a young guy. Mr. Farr was only in his late 20’s and we all thought he was so cool. Always in a good mood, played guitar and piano and just seemed to always enjoy us kids. To this day he is still one of my heroes. The opportunity to visit him and his wife to say thank you came about a dozen years after I graduated high school. During that time together I showed him I wore my watch “upside down” just like him. To this day the watch on my left arm has the face on the inside of my wrist and the clasp on the outside. This is my habit and my tribute to a great teacher who I loved like an uncle.
In Junior High I was very interested in science and Mrs. Levi taught that class and encouraged me to enter a regional science fair. When the actual competition came around at a college about 50 miles from where I lived, she was the one who drove me there. I remember her having more interest than my family did in my effort. I was surprised (and so was my family!) to win the Zoology category and to this day that achievement is one of my proudest as a kid. Without Mrs. Levi it would never have happened.
And there was the teacher who had much to do with the waking my romantic soul. Miss Annie Maude Upchurch was not far from retirement when she taught the English classes of my high school years. She was a very strict teacher, but also one respected by students and known generally as a kind woman. Miss Upchurch was something of a local legend and had taught my Mother when she went through the same school. Most in town knew her story like one would know the background of a famous star.
What was known: Miss Upchurch took care of a sister whose health was somewhat frail and weak. The two of them traveled to New York City for a week each year to get their annual dose of Broadway. But what was most known is she never married, but wore an engagement right on her left hand. Her husband-to-be had lost his life in Word War II and she had never moved on beyond him.
The story seemed to usually be told in a sad way by the adults, but for us teenagers hers was a true tragically romantic story we found inspiration in. MIss Upchurch’s life seemed to be of the bittersweet type found in some of the literature she had us read. It was her love of poetry from which the roots of my love of rhyming words sprouted.
From Miss Upchurch’s class I learned about “The Road Not Taken” By Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Then there was the beautiful poetry by the guy with the funny name. Algernon Swinburne in a poem called “The Match” wrote:
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf,
Our lives would grow together
In sad or singing weather
Blown fields or floweful closes,
Green pleasure or gray grief;
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf
And it was Miss Upchurch who introduced me to Elizabeth Barrett Browning whose work I fell in love with then and carry that sentiment with me toward her work still today. My bookshelves have at least a dozen antique books of her work and several newer ones. Even after my personal experiences of the joy and disappointment of love I still swoon over the mystery and hope Mrs. Browning expressed in “Sonnets from the Portuguese”:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
All my teachers have my sincere gratitude. Without them it would be impossible for me to be able to express myself here. Among them all there was that special one who taught me about the beauty of words, how to find the feeling behind poetry, and how to harvest the wisdom found in stories. Thank you Miss Upchurch. Rest in Peace.
A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others. Author Unknown