10/27/2008

Miss Taylor – Her Story


This is a continuation of a series I started at the outset of this blog. It is dedicated to the people who left an impression on me in some way. I think the first in this series was about Mr. Mullane, who I met at a local nursing home in the earlier part of this decade.

Miss Taylor was my seventh grade English teacher. She never married, hence the “Miss” I used instead of Ms. Miss Taylor would never have gone for that Ms stuff anyway. She was all about teaching. It was her one passion in life. I knew I was going to be in trouble the first day of class with Miss Taylor. She told all of us if we were not able to write complete sentences before that day, we would by the end of the first week. If we didn’t know how to dissect sentences, we would by the end of the first month. If we didn’t know proper punctuation, we would by the end of the first quarter. If not, we would fail her class. I was in trouble…big trouble.

I did not understand the importance of proper grammar…or spelling for that matter. I mean, I planned on becoming an astronaut anyway. So, what the hell was the big deal? I was 12 years of age and already knew it all. Miss Taylor let me know that first week I didn’t know anything. I soon became her mission in life, her sole purpose for living, I sometimes thought. That first month, I stayed after school because of poor work more than the previous six years combined. I became as much a fixture in Miss Taylor’s classroom as the desks and blackboards. She took me aside one afternoon and asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I told her, quite matter-of-factly, I wanted to be an astronaut, go to the moon and become a national hero. She looked at me with an expression that only now I can understand. She went on and on to me how I would never sniff the inside of a “spaceship” or any other type of aircraft without a good education. I still didn’t get it. When I failed to turn in my homework assignments, I got the paddle. She could swing that thing pretty good for a woman who probably weighed 100lbs soaking wet.

I must have written “i before e except after c” about `100,000 times that school year. I was probably the only kid on earth who put in as many hours at school as their father did at work. Miss Taylor did not let up on me. She told me once (after one of my many encounters with her wooden paddle), she “saw something in me.” Again, that flew right over my head. I still have trouble understanding what she meant by that statement. Whatever it was, she was damned and determined to bring it out of me. She told me she didn’t want to see me six years from now covered in soot from one of Mobile’s paper mills. I asked her if working at one would help me become an astronaut. It was the only time I ever saw Miss Taylor laugh. She rarely smiled for reasons that I still don’t understand. But, she laughed a good five minutes after that innocent question I posed to her. She even let me out of school early that day.

I went from an “F” student in grammar and literature to an “A” student in the 7th grade. I soon became a voracious reader and I even took pride in my grammar. It was all due to the interest of one school teacher. I would like to say Miss Taylor’s interest led to my becoming the writer she said she saw in me. Vietnam took care of that for me. But, I owe the value of an education strictly to her and, of course, my mother.

We moved away before I could enter the 8th grade. Miss Taylor told me at the end of my 7th grade school year she looked forward to having me back in her English class. Unbelievably, I was looking forward to it also. I never saw Miss Taylor again. But, I thought of her often. One day, back in 1997 I think, I was skimming through the newspaper obituaries. I saw an announcement of burial services for a Miss Ellen Taylor, a teacher of 41 years at my former high school. I didn’t recognize the picture they had of her. But, it was Miss Taylor. I was in the office of the federal agency of which I was the department director when I read that obit. I didn’t become an astronaut. I didn’t go to the moon. I didn’t become a national hero. But, I hoped, in some small way, I lived up to Miss Taylor’s expectations of me. In tribute to her, I wrote one line of “i before e except after c” on my procurement tablet that day.

Thanks Miss Taylor.

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