With one exam day left (Monday) and grades due by noon Tuesday, I am working to keep my head above water (supply any of the cliche metaphors--light at the end of the tunnel, etc.). I realize that I have quite a few books to review, so I'll start Tuesday or Wednesday playing catch up. Today I am going a different direction here.
In the past few months, I have lost three former teachers that were mentors and friends to me. Flora Hopper was my fifth and sixth grade teacher, after she retired from teaching high school Latin. I'm not sure what prompted the move. She told me in one of the many letters we exchanged after I became a teacher myself and thought to thank her for her influence, that she sat down with her husband every night after supper to learn just enough of the "New Math" in vogue that year that she could teach us. I remember so many things I learned in her class (none of it new math, by the way). We began each day with the pledge of allegiance first in English then in Latin (Videm meam obligo vexillo....). My poem "Verbum Sapiente Sat Est" is about her too. I remember that she gave us the freedom to be creative and collaborative long before either was academically fashionable.
Axel Wilhelm Swang was the Business Department Chair at Lipscomb during my tenure there as an accounting major. I remember so many of his jokes that reinforced what he was teaching. I know the number he had to forget in basic training. I'll never forget his wedding anniversary (Halloween). I know the correct answer was often "It depends." I remember that the person with the class number 13 would be called on more often than anyone else. In the years after graduation, my husband and I often visited Dr. Swang and his wife. They held the department Homecoming tea at their home until the school made other plans. (Note that Homecoming has just about dwindled away from former graduates since then.) His warmth when we returned meant so much to us. I don't know if I can ride past his home on Tyne Blvd. without a twinge of sorrow and nostalgia. The accounting degree didn't take with me, but I learned so many life lessons from him.
Dr. Bill Foster influenced me more than I can begin to describe. While Mrs. Hopper and Dr. Swang lived to a ripe old age, Dr. Foster was much to young to go (in my humble opinion.) He served as English department chair when I returned for my real career, and he ended up hiring me as an adjunct faculty member after I graduated, as I took one more class to get in my 18 hours. I took him for every class I could--linguistics, folklore, grammar. I missed out on his Shakespeare class, and even though I had a great professor, I know I missed something special there too.
I never could call him Bill, even when we worked together. I saw him last when I happened to be in town when the UNA storytelling festival was held. I was thrilled to see one of my favorites, Donald Davis. In the weeks that followed, I got a (handwritten) note from Dr. Foster, who had attended the funeral service for Alabama's best-known storyteller, Kathryn Windham Tucker, officiated by Davis.
This week, I responded to an unusual request from a poet friend on facebook. She needed someone to diagram an 84-word sentence, cast in legalese. It took me a couple of days, and the final draft took three long sheet of paper. I had learned from the best. In Dr. Foster's class, if I remember correctly, our final exam was a Faulkner sentence. I wish I had the chance to tell him I am still using what I learned from him-- every day.