Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thank You, Mrs. Young

When I was in high school, I had this crazy teacher who used to ride her bike to school every morning. We were her first class. She came to us with helmet-smooshed hair. Ah, the fresh air. She loved it. She was sixty-something, seemed ancient to us. Once her helmet was off and she'd changed shoes, she would rub the cold out her palms, perch on her little stool, and off and away we went.

This was a humanities class. We studied everything from the druids to the Egyptians to the Renaissance to the Vietnam War. We read Chaucer, Voltaire, Shakespeare, Kafka, and Arthur Miller. We dressed at Canterbury characters and told our tales to a group of 1st graders. We studied art, listened to classical music, and learned the fundamentals of ancient Chinese architecture.

Of course, we were high school kids, so we also did our share of complaining. We hated Kafka, couldn't quit giggling over dung beetle. We had no sympathy for Willy Loman whatsoever. Miss Havisham was beyond pathetic in our view.

And, I'll tell the truth: we laughed at our teacher's helmet hair.

But we loved her. Gladys Young. She passed away while I was in college. My mother called me at the off-campus trailer I was living and read me the obituary. At the time, I was studying to be a teacher myself and was just beginning to realize what teachers like Mrs. Young had given me.

She couldn't get enough learning, and it wasn't just academic pursuits. That woman loved her bike, she loved sunshine and trees and color. In the spring, she headed up to the John C. Campbell Folk School in the mountains and learned how to spin and dye her own yarn. We heard about that trip all year, how excited she was.

I've kept that name, John C. Campbell Folk School, in my mind all these years, always hoping for a chance to go. I would love to learn how to throw pottery or how to knit something really amazing. Spend a week writing. Mostly, I just long to soak up the atmosphere, this place Mrs. Young loved so much, the music, the mountains, a week of being with people just like me: people who want to learn things, who appreciate craft for its own sake.

Finally, this spring, I'm going. I'll be leading a writing workshop, and I'm excited about that, but mostly, I'm just thrilled to visit one of Mrs. Young's favorite places. To visit the school where she was the student. To wander about the campus where she played.


Jessie Carty said...

oh congrats on leading a workshop up there! i've heard of that school and it sounds like a wonderful place to be :) what a great way to be able to remember your teacher as well!

ylime said...

I had this writing teacher once. She was petite, but filled with spunk. She once told me that I had a nice writing voice. I never understood exactly what she meant by that, but I am increasingly aware that in order to figure that out, I must continue to learn. I must never stop the pursuit of knowing myself more, understanding the environment I write in, or even the people I find myself surrounded by.

Hats off to Mrs. Woodring for never stifling my learning environment.

Susan Woodring said...

Jessie, I really can't wait. You should book a class sometime or pitch a class to the writer in resident, Nancy Simpson. I have to her blog, Living Above the Frost Line.

Susan Woodring said...

Ylime, Oh, you're making me tear up!

So nice to hear from you. I STILL miss our class.

Love you!!

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