Random thoughts about stamps and life-changing school teachers

For the first time in a long while I bought a book of postage stamps. The guy behind the counter at the post office probably thought I was having a stroke when he told me the price and I had trouble articulating an incredulous and probably incoherent response. I grudgingly handed over a $10 bill and put the few pennies change in my pocket. I needed the stamps to respond to people from my past who saw my name in the Mid Valley Times and wrote to say hello and reminisce about how things used to be.
My first letter, maybe even in my best cursive, will be to Mrs. Mae Ewert of Dinuba. Mrs. Ewert’s late husband Albert was one of my favorite school teachers. Mrs. Whittington in the fifth grade and Mr. Ewert in junior high school get most of the credit for me being who and where I am today instead of who and where I might have been – in a gated community operated by the state or feds.
When we moved from Exeter to Dinuba I was several grades behind other kids my age and, I’m told, I had a bad attitude about school, teachers, other kids and just about everything else.
My first recollection of school, after migrating from Oklahoma, was at Linnel Farm Labor Camp in Tulare County. Many employees and volunteers at the camp talked about us Okie kids as though we weren’t capable of understanding them.
When we settled in Exeter for awhile my teachers acted like I was some kind of subspecies, not capable of understanding or learning. The California kids made fun of me because my shirts were cut and sewn from flour sacks and everything else was ill-fitting hand-me-downs from my older brother.
I guess I didn’t want to disappoint the teachers or kids, so I lived down to their expectations of me. On one Exeter report card I got 26 unsatisfactory marks on the attitude side of the card and the academic side wasn’t much better.
After one of the several sometimes bloody fights I got into at school, my mother told me the school thought it would be a good idea if I stayed home for awhile. And I did, for quite awhile.
Applying at home what I had heard but ignored at school I learned to read from cereal boxes and my father’s pulp western magazines.
I started Dinuba schools in the fourth grade. I was so far behind other kids my age that my voice had already changed, but I could read really well. I was almost immediately promoted to the fifth grade and Mrs. Whittington. She talked to me as though I was a real person. She told me what she expected of me academically and on the playground — no more fights. She held me accountable for living up to her expectations. No teacher had ever done that before.
When I made it to junior high school, thanks to the makeover started by Mrs. Whittington, Mr. Ewert raised the bar. He held me accountable for living up to a new set of even higher expectations.
I had stopped fighting — a good thing because I’m a little guy and I always got beat up. I started to get better grades and no longer thought of myself as a subspecies incapable of learning or functioning in a civilized society.
Thank you Mrs. Whittington and Mr. Ewert — for my very life.
Retired and sleeping in Dick Sheppard can be contacted by email at dicksheppard86@gmail.com.