English Teachers

I should know better than to try and win a debate over something that occurred almost fifty years ago. Especially when that debate is with the Valedictorian of my high school senior class. I’m pretty sure she was. She should have been. She was smarter than me then, and as far as I can tell that has not changed.

I was the kid who struggled my way through high school. I made my share of Ds in things like English and Chemistry and World History. The only thing I excelled at was math and playing chess with Bruce Berry during Spanish class. Yep, I was a dweeb. I was on the chess team. I played tennis. On days the real men wore letter jackets to school, I wore a flannel shirt.

So, in my senior year, when the school offered a dual enrollment program for seniors with enough credits, I jumped off the deep end and signed up. English and Calculus. This was a chance to jump ahead on the college train. Earn a few credits and get the ball rolling.

Why am I telling you this?

I got a message from Miss Valedictorian the other day. “Didn’t you take some of those classes that Gordon Jr. College offered when we were seniors?”

This question came as a lob from way out in left field. Outta nowhere. I hadn’t thought about what classes I took since about 1974. That’s what men do. We get it in, get it done and then we forget about it. We move on.

I typed into my phone. “Yes. I took Physics and Calculus for sure.” At the moment I couldn’t remember if I had taken the English. My skills with the English language would seem to indicate that I did not take no English classes, and if I did, they did not do me much gooder.

I disagreed with one statement. “I’m pretty sure the program was based out of Clayton Jr. College, not Gordon.”

The response was quick. “Nope. It was Gordon.”

People who are confident and who know stuff usually get straight to the point. There was no debate. No question of who was right.

The whole time, I’m wondering why we are having this conversation. Why does she want to know about classes we took nearly 50 years ago? But since we’re in it, I forge ahead. Another miscalculation on my part.

“The guy who taught us calculus and physics was a big heavy-set guy from Clayton Jr.”

“That was Mr. Rodriquez. He was from Gordon.” She’s holding her ground.

Most men don’t like being wrong. It’s been a long time, but whenever I have talked about those classes from 1973-74, I have always said that it was a program set up through Clayton. Gordon was never part of the conversation. I attended Gordon during 10th grade. It was a military school, and they had a high school division. A lot of us from Henry County went to Gordon that year. I should know if those classes we took back at HCHS came from Gordon or from Clayton.

“Okay.” As I’m pecking away at my phone, I’m beginning to doubt myself. “I remember that guy, but I’d just about bet that he was from Clayton.”

You see, the thing about thinking you’re right and wondering if you might be wrong is a little like staring at a photo of yourself. You think, “I know that’s me, but I don’t really look like that.” Pictures don’t lie. But in this conversation, I’m thinking, “No way I could be this confused.”

My phone dings. She shoots back, “How much you want to bet?”

Not only has the gauntlet been thrown, the double-dog-dare-you has been issued. How much you wanna bet? This sounds a little too self-assured. We’re not face to face, so I can’t tell if she blinked, or if one eye twitched.

But I’m a conservative man when it comes to bets. In other words, I’m no big roller. “How ‘bout lunch on the 29th when I come to Hampton?”

She says, “Okay, I’m wagering my house.”

Now I may have made a few Ds in high school, but I can tell when somethings up. I’m thinking the deck has already been stacked against me. It wasn’t until after the bet was laid down that she reveals that she’s been keeping up with the English teacher FROM 1974.

Who does that?

The little dots on my phone are dancing, so I know she’s writing something. “I’ll ask the English teacher to tell us for certain if it was Gordon or Clayton. I just sent her a message.”

What? I would have no earthly idea how to message any teacher from my past. It’s not like Mr. Binkney and Mr. Haas and I ever had anything in common other than whether or not I got my work turned in on time. I ran from high school without ever looking over my shoulder.

Yet my friend who jumped a grade in school, who took accelerated classes and who married the guy with the coolest hair in school is messaging a teacher. I’m dumfounded.

You know how this ends up. I lose, big time. Mrs. English teacher messaged back right away. “It was through Gordon.”

I was never Valedictorian material.

Men remember events. The womenfolk remember the event, what day of the week it was, who was sitting behind them and in front, what color dress the teacher was wearing, what we had for lunch, and exactly what grade they got on the final exam.

This all came up because of a really strange circumstance. My friend says to me about our English teacher, “She was just asking me if you were in our class because she just bought a copy of your book.”

Wait? My brain went into neutral. The squirrel got off the wheel.

Obviously, I have no lasting impression of my teacher nor her of me. No surprise there. I probably hid in the back of the room trying not to make eye contact. Hoping not to get called upon.

For the rest of the day, I kept wondering about how in the world this teacher from nearly 50 years ago came across the book. If she had asked me to write 500 words about any subject, I would have broken out in a cold sweat. I’d stay up late at night, crushed notebook paper scattered on the floor around my bed. Asking me to write 500 words was like asking me to conquer the cure for cancer. I couldn’t do it.

Back before the book went to print, I sent the manuscript to an old professor of mine. I was pretty confident his edits would be quick and painless. I had gone through each page myself. Scrutinized every line. There couldn’t possibly be much left to correct.

Wrong. I got back 19 legal notebook pages of scribbled comments with page references, paragraph numbers and line notes. It was humbling.

Now, my classmate is telling me my old English teacher is reading my book. I bet she still owns a red pen. Probably got one sitting on the nightstand where she reads.

Just perfect!

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