Back in my childhood, by this time in the summer, my thoughts would have still been on the tight Wiffle Ball pennant race raging, played out each day by my mates and me in the Grindrods’ backyard off Latham Avenue. Surely I wasn’t thinking about what wouldn’t commence until the day after Labor Day within the sandstone walls of St. Charles Elementary.
However, over time, the school calendar has encroached upon the summer, robbing it of most of August. During my own teaching career that began in 1973, I would be in full school-preparatory mode by now.
Several schools have already begun planning for the new school year, with others soon to follow. School has changed dramatically since mid-March when the virus started sowing its seeds of destruction. Schools will be using a variety of approaches this year with one goal in mind, to provide the absolute best education for students while at the same time maintaining as safe an environment as possible.
Despite my stepping away from my last classroom some 15 years ago, I do have some connectivity to schools through my younger daughter, Katie, an educator in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, as well as my niece, Jessie Whittaker, and nephew’s wife, Quinn Whittaker, instructors at Shawnee and Elida, respectively. They’d all agree their jobs became much more difficult after in-school education abruptly came to a halt last March.
As a great lover of history, it’s not unusual for me to get pretty excited when I come across a classic old movie on my beloved TCM, such as Pride of the Yankees or High Noon, starring Gary Cooper, or am given some old newspapers or magazines to peruse. That’s why I was pretty happy when I found an old Look magazine dated July 18, 1961, on the top shelf of an upstairs closet, an issue, to be honest, I’d forgotten I had.
As I thumbed through the pages looking at the ads for those wonderful old cars that so many now bring to classic-car shows and the content of the articles and the feature for which the publication was most known, as the magazine’s name suggested before its final issue on Oct. 19, 1971, the many photos, I came upon one story heavy on photos and light on copy, entitled “Gary Cooper’s Last Trip Home.”
Cooper, the legendary Hollywood actor that gave so many wonderful cinematic performances over the past three decades, had died of cancer at just 60 years old a couple months earlier. Shortly before his death, he made a final trip home to where it all started, the high country of Montana.
Of course, such a trip must have been so very bittersweet, realizing he was saying his final goodbyes to a myriad of wonderful childhood memories long before Hollywood would claim him as her own. I’m guessing he knew he was also in the process of saying goodbye to life itself.
The photos showed a range of images of what must have been an idyllic childhood in this setting. There was a photo showing Cooper’s gazing at Yellowstone Falls; another of Cooper’s looking up at the second-floor bedroom in which his brother, Arthur, and he slept in his family’s home; and another of Cooper’s walking toward the Montana River on his family’s 600-acre cattle ranch, surely plenty of room long ago for Arthur and him to explore both on horseback and on foot.
However, the two photos that interested me the most were those that showed the 6-foot-2, two-time Academy Award winner for best actor with a diminutive lady that would have needed at least three more inches of verticality just to get to Cooper’s shoulders. Her name was Miss Ida W. Davis, and she was Cooper’s favorite teacher and, no doubt, many other students she impacted as well in an unfathomable 47-year career in education.
Cooper’s quotes in the captions said of Davis, his high school English and math teacher, that it was she who inspired him so very much, who got him to join the debate team and who urged him to go to college. In his words, “She kept me from being a bum.”
That’s the power of a great teacher, the ones whose influences are remembered decades later, even unto the end of one’s mortal life. I had such a teacher in Miss Virginia Moore at Lima Central Catholic, who taught me English and history and inspired me in similar ways as Miss Ida Davis inspired Cooper. I’m guessing so many of those reading my scribbles this week have a teacher in mind who stood before them, school day in and school day out, and inspired them so very much so very many years ago.
Here’s hoping that this year, rather than teachers using the poor substitutes for in-class instruction such as Zoom, Screencastify, Schoolology or Google Classroom, that they can stand before their students far more days than not and, perhaps, become Gary Cooper’s Miss Ida Davis and my Miss Virginia Moore.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.