For some odd reason I think the room was in a lower level of the school… windows bordered the hallway… weak winter sun, typical German low light, fell through the slats. The beige of the walls, floors, and furniture was typical mid-70s elementary school. If my memory is any sort of guide, which is a poor substitute for facts, I would say that the film was shown on a sheet… that cannot be true. Is it possible that a Department of Defense School System primary school would not have screen to show films? I do distinctly remember sitting on the carpeted floor… probably beige too, why break a perfectly boring routine. It had to be cool outside, Germany’s falls, winters, and springs are notoriously cool. Grey weather with a constant chance of drizzle or snowfall caused one to be in boots… either rain or snow ones. I hope I wasn’t wearing corduroys… I detest corduroys, what 2nd grade kid wants to make swishing sounds as they walked down the hallway. Picturing myself in a striped collarless shirt and simple pants seems more pleasing to me… let’s pretend that is what I am wearing. My cowlick… proudly displayed at the beginning of my hairline… springs forth… probably greasy, what 2nd grader wants to bathe regularly.
Up to this point the memories are partial facts, partial fantasy… the memories are a collection of images that are concocted from old school photos and what I think I remember. I do remember that the film was about the climbing of Mount Everest… the largest mountain in the world that straddles the border between China and Nepal… lands of dragons, Sherpas, and mystical snow apparitions… magical places marked on maps but so distant from my elementary life. Mount Everest towers at 25,771 feet.1 This film about the climbing of Everest may have been in black and white, but in my mind it was in vivid color. This film is the first time that I realized there were distant yet beautiful places in the world.2 This film placed a desire in my heart to see the world, this film made me realize that the world was a wonderful place. I don’t remember my 2nd grade teacher who showed us this film… but I want to thank her for showing it. I wish I could tell her that this film meant a lot to me… it put the wanderlust in my heart… and in 2011 I flew over the Tien Shan (Kazakhstan, China, and Kyrgyzstan) and Pamir (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) mountains… the smaller (average height of 22,000 feet) chains that are connected to the Himalayas and Mount Everest… as the Russian-made prop plane barely flew over the peaks of these majestic peaks… I thought of that film and my 2nd grade teacher.
The truth about aging is that looking back is akin to trying to discern oncoming traffic during a foggy drive. You look and see what you think are approaching lights and what may be a telephone pole… or it may be a tree… what you know is that there are things there and your knowledge of what is traditionally there on the road is what assists you in the travel. I can barely remember being in school… college isn’t even easily remembered. Remembering what courses I took in college is an easy feat compared to thinking about your 3rd grade teacher… her name was Mrs. Ball and she was a former nun. These things are only known to me because my Mom either confirmed it or told it to me. I don’t remember anything else about elementary school… I’m convinced that they were pleasant educational experiences… I’m convinced that these educational experiences were foundational in my development as a decent person.
Rattling off teacher’s names is a task that I am not up to. I had a junior high social studies teacher that wore a Zippy the Pin Head t-shirt. I had a high school history teacher that wore cowboy boots, another one wore ties and had us read horribly bad literature… actually it wasn’t horribly bad, but in high school I didn’t want to admit I had a love for reading and writing. The written word is not an easy mistress when you are more worried about fitting in… I failed at that… words and the smooth ease they run together to build paragraphs, pages, and books… they build dreams. I had another high school english teacher that nodded her head and slightly smiled when I got busted for writing an unofficial school newspaper… it ended with the first edition… seems school authorities don’t appreciate poorly written crap disguised as cutting edge journalism. The Convertible Outcry sucked… but the foray into turning ideas into printed word was awesome. No teacher ever felt the need to curtail my desire to explore, question, and expound.
Before I inaccurately give the impression of being something of a stellar student, I must confess that I was average at best. I talked to much in class on stupid shit… just like I do as a 41 year-old man… I fidgeted in my seat… just like I do here in my office. I had streak of questioning authority that resulted in episodes such as the unofficial school newspaper event. I barely got my homework done… wasting energy on uninteresting things makes life horrible… in my secondary education years, homework was uninteresting and a task that left me sweating, bored, and slightly angry. I probably graduated high school with a high C… maybe a low B if I am feeling generous to myself. Good enough to go to college but not good enough to go anywhere prestigious or receive some free money. I passed… there was no fear of failing… but I wasn’t breaking any records. Teachers saw that I completed enough to pass… some probably saw something in me… enough of them provided input to allow the boy who talked too much to scrape through and find himself.
Today I write for a living… and I dream of writing even more. I dream of returning to the magical places on the Earth that I have already visited… I dream of going to new places. I pay taxes… seriously, I am a contributing member of society. Interestingly, I even participate in the educational process of others by being an adjunct professor who teaches a graduate course at a local university… a university that would have never allowed me to attend as an undergraduate in 1988. Teachers provided a lot of this… teachers showed me stuff I don’t remember, but that shit is buried in my brain and bubbles forth when needed. I don’t remember most of them… but I know they taught me stuff.
To the teachers in my life… the ones who put up with my shit… the ones who I can’t remember… the ones who laughed at my free spirit and still got me to get back on tasks… to the ones who assigned books or school work that I detested… to the ones who attempted to teach me math (I still suck at it)… I want to say thank you. You did the best you could and now I am doing the best I can.
1. Two years ago I hiked Mount Huron in the Colorado Rockies. Mount Huron is 14,005 feet high, one of the 54 mountains in Colorado that rises above 14,000. At 13,000 feet I lost a significant portion of my ability to breathe, the last 1000 feet took ages… I can barely imagine what breathing at 25,771 feet is like.
2. This may sound odd considering I was living in Germany at the time… but Germany and Europe didn’t seem distant or odd.