Just about everyone has had teachers that they always remember with a certain fondness, mentors who have left a lasting positive impression upon their paths. For me, there have been three, and the odds of this are pretty amazing considering the amount of time I actually ever did spend in class. There was, first, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Blood, who is likely with the angels now, as she seemed pretty seasoned even back then (and that was quite a few decades ago!) Vera Blood was a great old gal and a wonderful teacher who brightened my childhood and always encouraged creativity, curiosity and culture. But from there on through grade school, junior high and beyond, I was none too impressed with any of the instructors or, for that matter, the entire school system. I became bored, angry and rebellious; a potentially disasterous combination.
By the time I got to my freshman year in high school, I really did not want any part of the score, academically, socially or otherwise, and on the few occasions that I actually did attend, always made my ragged opinions really clear. (Bear in mind, this was at a time when a rebel child would stand in the middle of the Dean’s office and say, “I’m not going to this fucking school” and then, storming out, cut to go get stoned–candyland manuvers compared to what is happening in some schools these days.) I pretty much kept everybody at bay, but there was one teacher who dared venture beyond the perimeter of my personal land mine and take a chance. Her name was T. Gae Rusk (McRoberts), and she was my ninth grade English teacher; she was very young herself, an intern fresh out of school. I first met her the day I threw a pencil hard against her chalkboard while proclaiming that I ain’t doing no stupid assignment. She looked at me with stunned eyes and a ghostly white face; and anyone from that point on would have rightly closed the door on such a temperamental little bitch! But she did just the opposite: took it as her personal challenge to cut through my BS, reaching out and putting herself out there again and again. She taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned: to be kind in the face of adversity. She knew all about killing ’em with kindness. Within a few weeks of the little pencil rocket incident, she not only had me doing the work, but had befriended me as well; and between classes we would sometimes sit together on the floor in the back of the library and share one another’s poetry. At the year’s end, she gave me a booklet of the ancient excerpts of Lao Tsu, marking her favorite passages with stars. I have miraculously managed to hold onto that book all these years: a little treasure trove of golden wisdom and wit which I eagerly consumed in my adolescence, and which is singing to me even louder here in mid-life. Miss Rusk and I kept in touch for a few years after we both left the area, and I would get letters from her out of places like El Salvador and Kathmandu. Then somewhere along the line our correspondence faded and we drifted; but I’ve always remembered her and the impact she left upon my life during one of its more difficult phases.
And this brings me to the third absolutely dynamo teacher–last but not least–the teach of all “teaches”. I landed in the Monterey, CA area in the early 1980’s and decided to take some classes at the local campus, Monterey Peninsula College. I had no particular goal in mind; just wanted to do some stuff I found interesting and exercise the old cranium muscle a bit. This, of course, included every English course I could get my hands on, and this is how I met Mr. William Minor or, as he likes to be called, Bill. Mr. Minor taught every kind of humanities-based English class you could think of, from various creative writing courses to humor, culture, poetry, translations and beyond. There is nothing I could say about this guy that would even come close to describing what a truly awesome teacher he was: deep, vibrant, animated and quite talented in his own right. He taught at the University of Hawaii and Wisconsin State University-Whitewater before settling into Monterey Peninsula College in the early 70’s, which nicely accomodated his long-time love affair with the Monterey Peninsula. His classes were an experience I have long cherished; for not only is Mr. Minor an ace teacher, but a truly gifted novelist, essayist, memoir author, poet, artist, musician, passionate student of Greek and Japanese culture–I’m sure I’m not aware of all that he has accomplished, he’s the kind of guy who just lives to create, and never stopped evolving. He taught from the heart, from his own fire within. And Mr. Minor’s classes were never hum drum, always original. He kept things lively with unseen twists and turns. He liked Rock n Roll and included many lyrics alongside the more traditional old masters; showcasing them as the modern classics in poetry. He was definately a hipster, a real cool cat who came up in the world within a family of deep musical roots. He also took special interest in his students, took the time to nuture each of their special abilities and made them feel like their’s was a truly inimitable style. I still have my old assignments on prehistoric binder paper, all dog-eared, yellow and tattered but glowing with those magical red letters telling me how fantastic and original my ideas were–that I was really going somewhere and he hoped that he’d be around to see it. I’ve held onto those crumpled papers as rare treasures, certificates of a soul’s authenticity; like evidence I could really be somebody if I tried. That’s the kind of impression this teacher left on me.
On the last day of what I believe was my last class of Mr. Minor’s, I was a bit late. I scooted into the classroom in high gear only to find an empty room and a note on the chalkboard which read: “Judi–We’ve all gone to Round Table, meet us down there for pizza and beer”…Which he sprung for, that’s the kinda guy he was. And I’ve had the pleasure of remaining in touch with him on occasion through the years. Bill Minor retired from his teaching gig at Monterey Peninsula in the mid 90’s. But since then his interests, passions, talents and civic projects just keep expanding and multiplying; it has always amazed me what a wellspring of life-force and creativity he has always been. That dude just keeps on going, running circles around the everready bunny! And, hey, before I beat this thing to death with more words which barely come close to describing what a super person and artist he is, why don’t you hop on over to his website at www.bminor.org for a taste of what he is about, and see for your self. It will be worth the trip. Cool, daddy-o!