by Judith Minear
by Judith Minear
"Nothing moves me more-"
The note card had two elephants facing each other playfully. On the back was the name of an animal rights organization. Inside: pure gold.
English literature in high school has the potential to inflame young minds with the ability to find meaning in symbol. In the hands of an inspired teacher the flame can last a lifetime.
Browsing thru the Facebook site for my suburban Chicago high school, I grew restless with the announcements of reunions and deaths that had nothing to do with the class of '64. Boomers as a rule like to be connected almost as much as they crave recognition. I own these traits, perhaps I should not project them.
To the faceless unknowns on the high school Facebook group I inquired, "Does anyone know the whereabouts of Joyce M or Dona K in the class of '64?" Since they were both cheerleaders I expected some name recognition. Joyce's niece responded and made the connection.
An exchange of emails, photos and eventually phone numbers. Joyce looked much as I remembered her. While I hadn't actually given her much thought over the past 53 years, she thought of me every time she drove past my old house to see her now 97-year-old mother.
As we caught up we had no trouble filling in the missing years, including marriages as well as divorces and who was still around the neighborhood. To prove we hadn't lost our memories we supplied details of slumber parties and dances held in a repurposed building named the 'Morgue'. Then we struck pay dirt. Our English lit teacher was Mr Mabie.
Mr Mabie was a most unconventional English teacher. Collegiate studies were more his level of expertise, but he was stuck this year with naive high school students. That didn't stop him from showing us how to unpack a symbol. He demonstrated how the river is actually a character in 'Huck Finn'. He took us into the aims and imaginations of authors and helped us flush out some of the common themes of great literature. We read and memorized poetry.
"I read the entire summer reading list," Joyce recalled. We agreed out of our four years this teacher had made a lifelong impact.
A quick internet search. There he was in California at 87 years of age. His address for the taking. I wrote him a note to tell him that Joyce and I were singing his praises. I reminded him of his novel approach to discipline for the always unruly student: he would simply point to the door and say," Out!" I mentioned I had a rough first draft of a memoir. I thanked him for opening my eyes to words, symbols, meaning and my lifelong love of learning.
One week later the elephants, known for their long memory, arrived from California. The message on the card was terse but powerful.
"Nothing moves me more nor gives me greater pleasure than to learn that I've had a positive influence in the lives of my students. Thank you, Jack."