My latest book, HALLEY,
Awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon
“Mr. Watson” was not the kindest, most handsome, or the best teacher I had at East Side School in Dalton, Georgia. He had a sarcastic way about him sometimes. One of my vivid memories is the time I was marching in from recess with the rest of the class and slammed my shoulder against the classroom door frame. “We are really going to have to widen these doorways,” he said to a teacher across the hall, and laughed. I was mortified.
But Mr. Watson was the teacher who told all 40 kids in our class every day that they mattered. He told us we could do anything we wanted, if we got our education. In fact, he would list possibilities: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, airline pilot, engineer, scientist or whatever else we dreamed of. Of course, for a roomful of kids whose parents almost all worked 8-5 at the mills, except during lay-offs when nobody worked, this seemed unlikely. But, still, there comes a time you begin to think just maybe it is possible.
Mr. Watson told us one other thing that was important. “While you’re getting an education, make sure you learn at least one skill that involves using your hands. It will make your life more satisfying, and it might help you make a living.” Mr. Watson’s skill was bricklaying. He had paid his way through college with it, and even as a teacher he took summer construction jobs to add to his income. He had done all the brick work on the house he and his wife lived in. It was near Mill Creek, so I saw it often on our long bus ride to and from school. Then, when my family mainly lived in small, rundown places, his house looked fancy and large.
Time passed. Even though my mother couldn’t see the sense of it, I went on to high school, instead of dropping out and working at the mill as she wanted. Often I wondered myself about the sense of it. There were problems in our family. It seemed like Mama had been sick forever. For two years my sister and I took day about, missing school to stay home with her. Some days my only relief was to head for the woods. On our most recent move we found a house just beyond Mill Creek. The woods behind our house were my refuge.
One afternoon, just after several days of rain, I was walking through the woods to the creek bank. I was deep in thought. It was getting harder and harder to stay caught up with school work. I hardly had any clothes to wear and every few days I was having to hand stitch the soles of my shoes to keep them attached. I had untreated cavities in two molars. Maybe Mama was right about finding a mill job. I came to the old bridge, which had been closed to traffic for at least ten years. I stepped on it and took several strides before I realized a man was on the bridge. He was leaning over looking at the water. As I retreated, he looked up.
Mr. Watson! I hadn’t seem him in several years, but it was him.
“You still in school?” he demanded.
I nodded, still backing up. “Yes sir,”
“Good. Get your education.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, turning. “I will.”
On the way home, I thought–hard. Getting more schooling might or might not take me to a place I wanted to be, but it almost had to be a better place than where I was now. Mr Watson had laid one more brick to decision process. Though I sometimes wavered, I became more and more sure that I needed all the education I could get.
Sometimes the best teacher is the one who tells you what you need to hear.