It seems to me, that all of us have the privilege of knowing a few extraordinary individuals. Some are outrageous characters, some are incorrigible scoundrels, some are ordinary people, but all have the ability to elicit in us a strong emotion, either with their gifts… or lack of gifts, or by their quirky or different slant on life. It also seems to me that we are ripping off the rest of the human race by not sharing these characters, at least a description of them, with others.
He was much more than a teacher, in fact, the words “to teach” sometimes imply only the giving side of give-and-take. Bob Medley’s sixth grade classrooms always had both sides. He had a joy for experiencing life, and a talent for sharing his life experiences, with his students. He served them up, conversation style, as an accompaniment to our required lessons. His conversations with those of us lucky enough to occupy his classroom, allowed us insights into the world beyond those four walls, and beyond our short time between two summers with him. This is evidenced by the many former students with whom he had amazing long-lasting relationships over the years. I was one of those students.
Always take the opportunity to travel, and always take the time for conversation.
One of my aspirations, as early as 3rd grade, was hoping with all my might to be in Mr. Medley’s 6th grade class. His reputation was that significant. Despite the nickname Deadly Medley, he was always kind on his watch at Recess Duty, even to me, a clumsy, shy third grade girl who even then, noticed his hidden smirk and jovial eye rolling after he’d bellowed out for the third time to the school bullies “Searl, off the monkey bars!” or “Lindsey, stop chasing the girls!”
As the years steadily marched toward my 6th grade year, I often passed Mr. Medley’s darkened classroom on my way home after school. Sometimes I would press my forehead against the tinted windows and cup my hands around my eyes to peer in. Mostly, I remember the masks. 25 or so giant paper mache heads, molded on ‘punch ball’ balloons, painted and shellacked, hanging from the center beam of the room. Mr. Medley’s students’ trademark yearly art project, which he dutifully recorded for posterity on his 8 mm movie camera, as his students paraded their slightly scary selves annually around the school.
The shine of excitement, when I actually did finally take my place in his classroom, did rub off slightly, as I witnessed the business side of Deadly Medley. Gum chewing was certainly NOT allowed. An offense punishable by the dreaded assignment of “150 States!” This was the tedious task of writing, in Palmer Method longhand, each state, and its capital, three times on notebook paper, and turning it in the next day. If it was not turned in on time, the assignment doubled, and doubled again, until it was received, completed. There were times when, as a teacher, he must have been frustrated by the misbehavior and antics of 20 years of sixth graders. We saw, however, that he knew how to regain lost control, as well as how to dole out a punishment, when necessary, to fit the crime. Once, after catching one of his students spitting at someone, Mr. Medley made the perpetrator sit outside the classroom and spit into a bottle for the rest of the day.
We may not have known it at the time, but we learned things in Mr. Medley’s classroom that led us to the paths we are on today. He died peacefully, on a Sunday morning in 2005 at age 82. The pain of loss that gripped and shook me after learning of his death has now subsided, leaving in its wake the dry leaves of memory that float in and out of my conscious thoughts. One of the fondest was a visit from him soon after my marriage in 1976. I had invited him to the wedding, but he was working at Hearst Castle that summer so was unable to attend. He later called on me in my tiny apartment, bearing a gift and a message I still hold dear today. The gift was a china teapot – pretty, but otherwise ordinary in nature. He told me, as I opened it, that I might not see the value in a teapot, but this was his way of helping me start my new life with a habit of having tea and conversation with friends regularly. Conversation, he said, was the most precious gift a person could give. Those of us who maintained Bob Medley’s friendship received a precious gift indeed.