07 Apr Have you thanked your teachers today?
Villanova’s exciting NCAA championship sent waves of nostalgia across my mind.
I remain good friends with the star of our 1985 championship, Ed Pinckney. He and I had fun texting back and forth throughout this tournament, reminiscing about the proverbial good ol days. Seems like a lifetime ago, and yet, all I needed to do was load a daydream track and it was yesterday.
I decided to look up my two favorite professors from my days as an English Major at Villanova and I started with Professor Mitchell, an eccentric literary savant who resembled Bernie Sanders speaking with a William F Buckley-esque accent. I call the dialect American Lockjaw. Did that help? No? Ok, how about Thurston Howell the 3rd from Gilligan’s Island!
Professor Mitchell would walk around the 100 year old classroom with its 15 foot ceilings and fill every cubic inch of the room with rambling verbatim quotes of poetry, arms dancing as he sang out “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me”…..verse after verse after verse. He had no limit. He was a true genius, I have never seen anything like it. No notes, just walked around the room and performed like one of those famous British stage actors whose name always escapes you.
Flamboyant, sarcastic, hilarious. He would pounce on whoever he knew was passing notes or perhaps unprepared for class. We became good friends.
My other favorite teacher was Professor Wilkinson. He was chair of the English department, and the Felix to Mitchell’s Oscar: Impeccably dressed, genteel and measured , very proper. Mitchell wore yesterday’s shirt, askew, while Wilkinson wore a perfectly tied bow tie and tweed sport jacket.
If you were to pick Hollywood actors to play them Mitchell would be a cross between the mad scientist in Back to the Future , and Nathan Lane in Birdcage. Professor Wilkinson would be played by Sean Connery. (The James Bond version).
Looking back on it, their theatrical Queen’s English accents were probably acquired from decades speaking Shakespearean. Life was a stage for these two characters, whether in the hallway or reclining in their creaky office chairs that looked 50 years old, because they were. Mitchell would infuse his personal advice with insults that felt like compliments served up with a wry smile and a wink to his office mate: “Jeffrey. Does your girlfriend realize she will never be able to love you as much as you love yourself?” Ummm, no? I remember one time he scribbled across my paper: “prolixity prolixity! Thy name is Jeffrey!” Huh? What the firetruck is prolixity?
I loved being around those two teachers; they made life so rich. They could make you hear a song from the hissing noise of an old radiator. Their classes were always packed and there was always a crowd mewing about in their big double office.
I was so taken by the obituary attached. So many emotions, mostly gratitude, but a regrettable amount of regret.
I am sad that I never reached back and thanked Professor Mitchell for all that he taught me, and the way he informally, and perhaps unknowingly, mentored me outside the classroom. And our friendship…. I always meant to call him, or send him a note. Hence the sadness.
I was amazed to read how he had such a love for Emily Dickinson, I had forgotten his obsession. And then the light went on in my head! My love of Emily started in 1982; I never could recall who had introduced us. Talk about a gift!!
Imagine being responsible for introducing a person to an artist who goes on to entertain you and teach you and comfort you, for decades! Hence the gratitude.
And lastly, I was intrigued by his recovery from alcoholism. I was too sauced up in college to know Mitchell was in the program. But it makes sense…..of course he was an alcoholic, and of course he beat it! (I turn 21 this July 10th, of course).
What a life he lived. I encourage you to read the attached obituary. It’s never too late to say “thank you” to that favorite teacher. Well, actually, it can be too late, if you wait as long as I did.
Teachers so rarely get thanked , and yet so often get remembered. Professor Mitchell was the best teacher I ever had. And I never once told him. Imagine that! It could bring a tear to your eye; if you were a hopeless romantic English Major.
The only way I can right the wrong is to make sure my children thank their teachers. Not today. And maybe not tomorrow. But definitely not never.
I am going to go thank the Principal at Greenwich Catholic. She started a math club because she had heard some students weren’t feeling challenged, and she taught it herself, to 3 students after school. For a whole semester. Imagine that.
Have you thanked your teachers today?