mr. crouch’s letter
somewhere out there, maybe you too have a mr. crouch.
my mr. crouch is the one teacher from high school i still carry in my heart. somehow i don’t think he’d be surprised to hear that, but i hope he hears it–once again–nonetheless.
mr. crouch, he with fat gold pinkie ring, and always buttoned navy blazer, he whose tassled loafers i can still hear click-clicking down the halls, coming round the corner on a twirl, brushing back that flop of hair that sometimes animated what he was saying.
oh, and he was animated, all right. sometimes shouted, sometimes dropped his voice down low in a practiced whisper that made you ache to hear the words.
when he shouted, most often it was this: “you north shore cream puffs!” he would yell and needle us, stir us up off our puffy bottoms, implore us to search deeper, think harder to come up with stellar answers to his probing questions.
he taught english, by the way. but he might have taught anything. it wasn’t what he taught but how he taught it that left the mark on me.
there was, there is, i am certain still, a twinkle in his eye. and i, one who sometimes twinkles too, have always been drawn to that like moth to light.
my papa had it too. it was the thing, the meter in my life, that told me i was onto something, or maybe not.
to turn up the light in mr. crouch’s eye–or in my papa’s too–was maybe what it feels like to be a baseball-loving boy when he hits one toward the wall.
and since the playing field in mr. crouch’s class–and at my dinner table–was words and more words, was story, was thesis, was ironic twist, it was a sandlot in which i loved to romp. even when i walked in unequipped. which, in the case of junior english, meant i walked in, more often than i wish, without reading a single word of whatever was assigned. (i was busy in those days taking care of friends.)
oh, that didn’t stop me though from writing mighty essays. i could go on and on about the plot of, say, “zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance,” without a clue of what it was. in fact, some of my best first fiction, i know, was unspooled at mr. crouch’s expense.
he suffered no fools, dear lou crouch did not.
ah, but when i was on, i was very on. and mr. crouch was the first one–besides my papa–who made me understand that rubbing words together made for sparks that made for flames that could light the darkest corners.
mr. crouch, cajoling, jabbing, loving all the while, made me want to live to write.
oh, i took time out, went the way of nursing for a while, the other thing i loved with all my heart. but then, when my papa died, writing found me once again.
once i started writing for chicago’s morning paper, i got the call from mr. crouch year after year. he asked me back to light a fire under the latest batch of cream puffs. for five years, i whirled in that high school, told mr. crouch and all his creamy kids, just how very much i’d learned sitting in those squishy little chairs. and how very much it mattered.
then, mr. crouch retired. and we lost touch. oh, once in a while i’d hear that he was somewhere southwest. but only recently did i get a call from the now retired head of the english department. he was clipping and sending a story with my byline down to mr. crouch. for grading, he told me.
but then, he told me lou was ill. and gave me his address.
i wrote to mr. crouch, told him once again just how very much he meant. and, by the way, i wrote, get a load of these really funny cream puff stories, collected by my north shore manchild.
(my favorite is the one about the kid at lunch eating what my then-fourth grader–newly moved to the leafy shore from the city–thought was fried chicken. my boy, naive to north shore menus, asked if he could have a bite of chicken. the kid across the lunch table looked up, and said, without a note of irony, “it’s not fried chicken, it’s breaded pheasant.”)
in yesterday’s mail, came mr. crouch’s reply. same old handsome cursive, letters big and bold and full of sweep, just like mr. crouch. but then, at the very end, came the sentence i’ll not forget:
“i shall treasure this letter the rest of my life–which may not be too long.”
he signed it, “with love, lou.”
now, for a girl who never got a chance to tell her other writing coach–her papa–how very much he taught her, how she lived to see the light bulb blink on back there behind his eyes, these words are achingly sweet.
it’s not every day you get the chance–before it’s too late–to tell someone who matters how very much they do.
and it’s not every day that someone tells you back, that you spoke the words in the nick of time.
when my papa died before i could make it through the blizzard to his bedside, i made a promise deep inside: i would not let another soul i loved leave me before i’d said what needed to be said.
i told mr. crouch.
and mr. crouch had time to write me back. his is the letter that i will treasure till the very end of time.
and dear lou, too. i will forever treasure you.
with love, one ordinary cream puff
do you have a mr. crouch? a teacher from long ago who stirred you to great things, who propelled you outside the boundaries of your ordinary self? do you have someone in your life who slipped away before you got to tell him or her just how much they mattered? is there someone still who needs to know?
p.s. the collected works of eudora welty are up there on mr. crouch’s letter, because i was told the one thing mr. crouch distinctly remembered about me was that i was the only one in the class who found the story, “why i live at the p.o.” hysterically funny. well, fact is, i had no recollection of a.) the story, b.) reading it, or c.) finding it so very funny. so i pulled it out and re-read it. it is funny. the one who told me the story said it was at that moment, back in junior english, that mr. crouch knew i was destined to be a writer. hmm. glad i found it funny. or else all of this i’d be lacking.
p.s.s. we gots us a snow day here. oh, lordy, there’s at least a foot of puffy white stuff out my window, and far as i can see. i tapped the dozing manchild on the shoulder to give him the very good news, that school was canceled, and oh i wish i’d had a picture of the smile that crossed his face. happy snow day if you got one too. any one for pancakes, the long slow snowy way?
I have a Mr. Couch, only he is Mr. Gislason, now of Minneola, Minnesota. He was my 4th grade teacher in 1963/64. He was the one who came into the classroom to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot. He was the teacher who let us “fail productively” so we learned from our mistakes. It is 44 years since that class, but a friend of mine, now an architect in California, just visited “Mr. G.” in the fall, and reports that all is well. About 10 years ago, when my daughter collected children’s books for her rural Mississippi Second Graders, Mr. Gislason sent two of his favorites.
On your other topic, of the story “Why I Live at the P.O.”. you should hire Linda Bubon, owner of Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago to perform it. That is one thing she did for a gathering I had once, and it was priceless!
On your P.S.–Yes, a terrifically pretty snow last night and now SLJ has her snowday–school is cancelled!
Friday, February 1, 2008 – 09:18 AM
oh carol, no snow day for me, i found my way to work and my MN driving roots got me to my office only one minute late! I will revel in the snow this weekend though.
Mr. Buytart was my English teacher and I can remember all of his rules,
“i before e, except after c”
“remember the principal is your pal.”
We would have limited vision if it weren’t for all of the wonderful English teachers in the world
Friday, February 1, 2008 – 10:14 AM
I had the same Mr. Crouch as you; he was a force and one of the more memorable teachers during my unremarkable years at DHS, but he didn’t change my life.
On another note, if you were at my house at 6:15 am this morning or in the near vicinity you would have heard my daugher flipping out about having to go to school. She was hoping to get out of taking a trig test, but dad said they were going. Of course, I am the one who has to pick her up so that she can get to ballet on time. Just a bit of tension in our house this morning.
Friday, February 1, 2008 – 11:03 AM
I think in many ways we can all recall a Mr. Crouch … someone who made such a mark on us that it scarred us for life (in the GOOD way).
bam, I love how you expressed the need to say what was in your heart before he left this life. I suspect that your dear papa (from all accounts a very wise man) knew … he knew.
Friday, February 1, 2008 – 05:19 PM
How great to read about you and Mr. Crouch. I’m a huge fan of his, and he totally laid the foundation for my years-later-decision to go the way of the artist. Mr. Crouch wouldn’t have remembered me, but I treasured every moment in his hallowed classroom. I was quiet in there, but not in my heart. To hear such an articulate, artistic man on the North Shore of Chicago my senior year in high school catapulted me into new realms of possibility. He woke me up, but it took me 6 years to figure out what to do with the fire he ignited. He was truly great. Singular. Bold. Free. I absorbed every drop.
Thank God I sat in his class.
To read of the impact he had on you touched my heart, and to see how you pursued and still pursue your dream is beautiful.
Thanks Miss Moth for showing me an old light that will always shine in our lives.
Friday, February 1, 2008 – 07:36 PM
Fun to see y’all here.
Well, I felt jealous then of everyone that had Mr. Crouch at DHS and I feel jealous again reading this. And teary. I never had the pleasure.
Saturday, February 2, 2008 – 12:48 AM
I did not have a Mr. Crouch, but it did get me thinking about teachers. I was not an “academic” kind of student – My grades from grade school and high school are pretty “all over the block”…don’t think any teacher ever got too excited about anything I did. The few teachers who did make a difference in my life were the ones that did not value me for my studies, but were loving and kind to me in a way that helped me become comfortable with my most unsure and imperfect self. They were the ones that encouraged without judgement and respected effort that did not necessarily result in immediate end product. They helped me understand and have faith that life was a long journey – not limited to my “permanent record”. These teachers were few and far between….Miss SIgworth in 3rd grade, Sr. Helena in high school come to mind. Somehow they both were able to communicate that I was valued even though I was not a “star”. I had the blessing of seeing both of them at later points in my life. Teachers are so often unaware of the power they have in a student’s life. A small comment can sear itself into a child/adolescents heart in just a second and it can be powerfully good or painful.
I did have teachers that cracked open the doors of new worlds to me in small moments of sparkling passion and enthusiasm, Mr. Crouch sounds like an exploding star of passion who could throw the door wide open and throw up the windows too boot. What a blessing that you have been able to connect and that the connecting grew out of love for your dad.
Saturday, February 2, 2008 – 10:48 AM
Ah, the long parade of teachers in our lives! I think of one who made me mad enough to argue back on another’s behalf, a formative experience for me.
One of my favorites though is from the novitiate, when one of the sisters in the house, a theologian, gave us a course. And like you say, bam, it’s not the content but the person.
I remember walking into the kitchen once, worried about something, and found her sweeping the floor, her back to me. “Catherine?” I said. She put down the broom, pulled out two chairs, sat down, gazed at me and then said, “What, hon?”
What a gift she was! Her world, her God, her love – so expansive and broad and inclusive, and so amused! I think that twinkle in the eye must be a trait of all the Mr. Crouch type teachers of the world. May every student, especially the young ones, be twinkled at often enough to blossom!
Saturday, February 2, 2008 – 02:50 PM
yes, i do suppose, i have been gifted by many many teachers, maybe the all important one has been grief. but what she showed me could not compare with what joy has told me. though- i do not believe i could have seen the virtue of the one without the other…
Monday, February 4, 2008 – 03:37 PM
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 – 10:18 PM
I have no Mr. Crouch. Many teachers have left their imprint upon me but their individual faces and names have merged and melded together for me over time. As I read your story, I realize that I too have likely merged with the other 100’s of kids my teachers taught. We have lost touch and have no record of how we have influenced each other. How wonderful for Mr. Crouch to see his influence shine each day through you and your writing.
Saturday, February 16, 2008 – 07:34 PM
BAM – this is a wonderful story – your father and Mr. Crouch both being honored by your work and your spirit.
Saturday, February 16, 2008 – 07:37 PM