Teaching life's lessons

Ed Rood
Ed Rood

It’s odd how certain things stick with you. Especially something you would hardly expect to remember for more than a day.

A good example of that came a long, long time ago thanks to my high school English teacher. Her name was Margaret Wilson and she was what one might describe as the perfect example of a dedicated teacher.

Mrs. Wilson ... I remember her obviously tinted auburn hair always tied up in a bun. She carried her trademark handkerchief tucked in the left sleeve of her blouse. The back of her classroom looked like a jungle lined with a multitude of pots filled with a wide variety of plants and flowers. She often intermingled plant watering with class lecturing as she paced back and forth about the room.

Mrs. Wilson was a seasoned instructor. Although she could not always remember a student’s first name, she could recite from memory a multitude of verses from numerous English literature classics.

Her teaching technique seemed to center around two themes: diagraming sentences and preparing her students for the many pitfalls of life.

As I remember, I diagramed a sentence on my first day of my freshman English class and I diagramed one on the last day of my senior year.

Interspaced between all those years of sentence diagraming came a never-ending number of stories on life experiences she had picked up over the many years of her life.

Her husband, Lewis, had been a traveling salesman most of his working career. She had accompanied Lewis on many of his trips so she had plenty of traveling salesman stories ... but not the kind one might expect.

Although many of her stories were a little mundane, now and then she would recount a spicy little parable. Those stories would usually surface when a student would ask guidance for a problem he or she had recently experienced. No matter the problem, you could bet Mrs. Wilson had a tale or two that would offer a solution. 

I can’t remember what the problem was when the schoolmarm tossed this little gem at us. She told of a farmer who had three sons all preparing to venture out into the cold, cruel world. They had come to their father for advice before taking the big plunge.

The father thought for a minute and then led them back to a wood pile. He reached into the pile and pulled out three twigs and handed one to each of the boys.

He then asked them to break the sticks. The three young strong men broke their twigs with hardly any effort.

He then reached into the pile and pulled out three more twigs. This time he bound them together and asked the brothers to break the sticks.

Try as they might, none of the brothers could break the sticks. The father then said, “Such it is in life. As long as you three stick together you will be much stronger than if you are separated.” 

That was 62 years ago and I still remember her story. Yes, Mrs. Wilson was an English teacher but oh so much more. I can only hope you were fortunate enough to have had a Mrs. Wilson. And yes, I can still recite Canto 1 of The Stag Hunt from Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott.

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.