Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A True Story

The best elementary teacher I had was Mr. Yoder, 6th grade. He was an institution, a legend. Students looked forward to being in his class. He was kind and firm. He was innovative. He loved teaching. He loved kids.

It was Mr. Yoder who opened my eyes to art. Every week he'd hang a print in the back of the classroom. Throughout the week, when we had some free time, we were to go spend time with the painting and fill out a questionnaire. Some of the questions required looking up information in the art books he kept beside the painting. But other questions were subjective: "How does this painting make you feel?" "Do you like it? Why or why not?" Then on Friday we'd talk about the painting. Heady stuff for a classroom full of framer's kids, illegal migrants and Russian immigrants.

(My favorite painting that year was Van Gogh's "Starry Night'. When I finally saw it for real at MoMa, many years later, I stood in front of it and cried, partly out of gratitude to Mr. Yoder).

Mr. Yoder also believed that Friday afternoons were worthless for teaching so after lunch, we'd play. Trix tops were big that year (anyone remember those?) We'd have races to see whose could spin the longest or travel the farthest. We'd do art projects. We listened to music. (You could bring in your own 45s to play. "Crimson and Clover". Over and over).

Every Monday we were given a creative writing assignment, due on Friday, when we'd read them aloud to the class. If I'm ever published, Mr. Yoder will get a dedication. Under his tutelage I realized how much I loved to write. He gave me so much encouragement, praising my work, urging me to keep it up.

He also never gave us homework on Wednesdays because he knew most of us attended one of two Mennonite churches in the area and he didn't want homework ot interfere with our attendance at Bible Study and choir practise.

He never yelled, laughed a lot and always had time to explain, listen, encourage.

I loved Mr. Yoder.

The next year he took the dramatic step of switching to 3rd grade. He was getting on in years and thought the younger kids would be easier on him. My sister, Martha Stewart, was in his class. Halfway through the school year, he was out golfing one day, laid down on the green and died of a heart attack.

He was the first person I'd ever lost. It was a shock. He was only 60. He had grown children, one who had gone to Canada to dodge the draft. (He could have claimed CO status because Mennonites are pacifists but he felt so strongly about the war in Viet Nam that he didn't want to take the easy way out). He couldn't come to the funeral, of course, but someone read a letter he'd written, praising his father.

One night, maybe a week or so later, I had a dream about Mr. Yoder. In the dream, he was standing outside of the gym. A pep rally was going on. My friend Sharon and I were trying to get in but he wouldn't let us because we hadn't been excused yet. We were laughing and joking with him, trying to inveigle our way past him but he wasn't having any of it. At one point I said, "Hey, you can't keep us out of there. You're dead".

He gave me a really funny look, a look that, in my dream, scared me. I woke up with a start. I looked at the foot of my bed, and Mr. Yoder was sitting there. He was looking out my window. He looked just like himself except that he was, well, ghostly white and transparent. I could see the wall on the other side of him.

Needless to say, I was freaked out. I was horrified to think he might try to address me. I closed my eyes tight and rolled over, casually, pretending I was still asleep. I'd just moved into this particular room, which had been inhabited by my brother and had wall paper coverd with medallions that featured Revolutionary War soldiers. I opened my eyes and looked hard at one of the soldiers and stayed that way until dawn. Once the light crept into my room I was sure Mr. Yoder would be gone and I could fall back asleep.

I didn't tell anyone about this experience, for the longest time. Usually, I'd only tell it if someone else told a ghost story first. I knew it was real, knew I hadn't been dreaming it, but who's going to believe me, right?

The only thing was, I could never figure out why he'd come to me. He didn't say anything (thank God), didn't look at me. He'd lived a pure and blameless life. My theory about ghosts was something on the lines of them having unfinished business and I couldn't make that fit with Mr. Yoder. It always bugged me a little that I couldn't figure that out.

Over 10 years ago I was sitting with my mom and sisters at Thanksgiving. We started talking about angels and telling angel stories. (There are a surprising lot of them in our family history). I didn't have any of my own but I finally decided that it was time to tell them about Mr. Yoder's visitation. I told the story, just as I've told it to you and Martha Stewart said, "Oh, you've told that to me before".

I was sure I hadn't because I could pretty much count on one hand the number of people to whom I'd told it so I said, "No, I'm sure I haven't".

"Sure you have," she said, "I remember you telling me how he was sitting on the end of your bed and how he looked...." Her face turned white and her eyes got big. "Oh!" she said, "It wasn't you! It was Betsy".

Betsy had been her best friend in third grade and Mr. Yoder was Betsy's godfather. And then I started to cry a little because I finally understood why Mr. Yoder had come to me. He was making the rounds of all the kids he'd loved the best, the ones he thought might have had the hardest time with his death. He was just checking in. Which was a very nice, if unsettling, thing for him to do.

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25 Comments:

Blogger jp opined...

No. Frakking. Way!

October 23, 2007 8:48 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Way!

October 23, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Sling opined...

Okay..That was like the coolest ghost story ever!..and I totally believe it 'cause you wouldn't lie about something like that...I would,..but you wouldn't.

October 23, 2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger Anne opined...

Wow. Gimme a sec for these tears to clear up.

October 23, 2007 10:13 AM  
Blogger Buck opined...

Brrrr! You know how I feel about Bigfoot, yet I'm coming out there to the Pacific NW to see you. Now I find out that there's a ghost that visits you? I am SO cancelling my plane reservation.

That was a wonderful story. And like Sling, I totally believe you. I'll tell you mine when I get out there. It's not as poignant as yours, as it involves a foot fungus.

October 23, 2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger rosemary opined...

Sniff, snork....I have had 2 sort-of-visits both invloving my dad. I never told my mom and of course she has remained silent since the day she died. I never really had any adult role models. You are blessed with this man, Lorraine.

October 23, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger greeny opined...

That was wonderful for you to share. I didn't expect it to have that ending. What a fantastic person to have had in your life.

October 23, 2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger jp opined...

No. Way.

October 23, 2007 12:10 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

No, I wouldn't, Sling.

Here's a hanky, Anne.

Buck, he only came the one time and I actually made a deal with the universe to not be visited like that again and since then the only time I've encountered the dead is in my dreams. So you're safe. Plus, we don't have enough woods right around here for Bigfoot's taste.

Blessed indeed, Rosie. I think of him nearly every day, that's how big an impact he had.

He was one of the great ones, Greeny.

JP: Totally way.

October 23, 2007 12:19 PM  
Blogger Anne opined...

Thanks, that's better.

October 23, 2007 12:22 PM  
Blogger Auld Hat opined...

My parents visited me after they died. First mom, then dad a year later. I freaked out both times.
This, however, was awesome!

October 23, 2007 12:25 PM  
Blogger TWISI opined...

Lorraine,

thank you so much for sharing that beautiful story.

October 23, 2007 12:42 PM  
Blogger Monica opined...

Oh dammit, i'm crying. oh crap... and i'm at work. my sister has had several similar experiences and i'm the only one who ever believed her. my favorite teacher was my 6th grade teacher too. he died when i was an 8th grader. i can't believe how much your story is making me cry.

October 23, 2007 2:08 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Good, Anne. Now have a cuppa tea.

Well, sure, Hat. Awesome now. At the time "freaky" is a good word.

You're welcome, Twisi.

Geez, Monica, I just get Anne all calmed down and then you start in. Here, I've got another hanky. Tell the co-workers it's allergies.

October 23, 2007 2:26 PM  
Blogger Citymouse opined...

oh..now im going to cry

October 23, 2007 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Syd opined...

A lovely little ghost story! (I don't have any.) (Although I did have a few dreams featuring my late mom...usually she'd be doing some housework or yard work that I'd let slide, so I figured it was a hint...)

October 23, 2007 10:54 PM  
Blogger Suzanne opined...

The only thing George remembers about Mr. Yoder is that he ran a betting pool on the World Series one year before he died.

October 23, 2007 11:00 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Anne, would you hand a hanky to Mouse, please? I've gotta make cocktails.

That's pretty funny, Syd!

Oh golly, Suz! Yes! He did that every year - totally forgot about that!

October 24, 2007 7:10 AM  
Blogger Red7Eric opined...

WOW, that's so cool.

October 24, 2007 7:16 AM  
Blogger Kimberly Ann opined...

That is an amazing story and so beautiful I'm gonna cry.

October 24, 2007 8:23 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

What's more cool, Red, is I haven't been visited by any other ghosts. That would be creepy.

Not you too, KA. Geez, somebody keep an eye on the cocktail shaker, I gotta run out for some more hankies.

October 24, 2007 8:29 AM  
Blogger Anne opined...

I have a fresh hanky for Mouse, and I made tea, too, is peach ok? Anybody else, the pot is pretty big? Sugar?

October 24, 2007 9:10 AM  
Blogger more cowbell opined...

That was really a great story. I was pretty much glued to it. Teachers can be such a strong influence - for good and bad. Everyone should have a Mr. Yoder. Except for the ghost part.

The ghost part's actually not so surprising. Yoda, Mr. Yoder ... the Force ... think about it.

October 25, 2007 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous opined...

Ahh Mr. Yoder. What a short but wonderful partial year of school 3rd grade was for me. I too loved Mr. Yoder.There was always something new he taught more them just "See Spot, see Spot run." My fondest memory is when he showed us sand dollar he had brought back from a trip to the beach. He said, "Did you know that God put doves inside of this sand dollar?" Of couse in unison we all said "no there's not". He gently broke open the sand dollar explaining the sigificance of the dove and it's symbol of peace in the bible.(Remember this was in the days when people weren't afraid to hear the name of God spoken correctly in th public school). He then placed the little stoney looking doves in ishand for all of us to see. He then opened the window tossing them out to set them free to bring peace. At recess we all ran out to the play ground to pick them up to be out own. There were no little doves. I don't know what he did with them, where they went, but it will forever be a lovely memory of a man firm in faith in Christ and his openness of it. I so look forward to heaven when I can ask him where those liitle doves flew too. Thanks for stirring the memory back, Sis.
"Martha"

October 25, 2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

He was just the best, wasn't he, Martha? We were so blessed to have had him as a part of our lives. I want to know what happened to those peace doves, too! What a sweet story. Just like him.

October 25, 2007 9:52 AM  

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