Did you have an influential teacher in your life? One who went out of the way to help, offer a memorable life lesson, or deliver the kind of encouragement you needed at the right time? Most boomers answer to the affirmative.
For Mister Boomer, she was one of his seventh grade teachers, Miss Downey. She taught English, and her class was not Mr. B’s home room. While of a short, fireplug stature, she commanded attention and respect by being both a strict disciplinarian in the classroom, wielding an aluminum yardstick with all the finesse of the Marquis De Sade, but was never above having a good laugh, or talking about comic books or pop culture, either. Yet when a student would show a comic or cartoon in class, she was also quick to recommend James Thurber cartoons and stories.
She was unusual in her fashion sense in that she almost exclusively wore black dresses with flounced sleeves and touches of white lace, flat shoes and hair shorter than most women in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood. In that regard she very much fit into the Mod look coming out of London’s Carnaby Street around the same time, but muted as if viewed on a black and white television.
Though her presence was memorable in itself, like many of Mister Boomer’s teachers — it was the 1960s after all — what made her top-of-mind to this day was the vocabulary she taught the class. Each week, she would add a selection of words to the list. Her intent was more than providing a spelling challenge, as she discussed the meanings of the words for young minds to digest. Mister B and his classmates would dutifully take notes, knowing that they would be quizzed on these very words a week or two later. While there was nothing unusual about a seventh grade teacher providing a vocabulary list to her students, the words themselves are what echo through the canyons of Mister Boomer’s aging mind. Miss Downey had evidently decided it was time to inject real, multi-syllable words into her classroom of impressionable minds; words with the heft of literature behind them, words that would speak years later, when reading a paragraph and that flashlight bulb of recognition blinked for students a distant memory away.
Here is a sampling of words presented to Mister Boomer’s seventh grade class by Miss Downey, that Mister B has to admit, fifty-plus years later, find their way into his speaking and writing at an opportune regularity that seems beyond coincidence — which was one of her words:
Following her lead, Mister B found a genuine appreciation for James Thurber cartoons in the New Yorker magazine, and began his lifelong interest in science fiction, beginning with reading the novels of Jules Verne in her class. Mister Boomer sends a heartfelt “thank you” to Miss Downey, and all who teach. The juggernaut of time cannot erase the quintessence of her verisimilitude.
Did you have an influential teacher in your life, boomers?