The day I looked up from baseball to find my teacher’s hospital room
This would have happened in the late 1950s, just after my fifth grade year at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School, in Tulsa, Oklahoma . I loved it there–the school, my friends, the town, the ranches surrounding our suburban subdivision–it was just the ideal place for a boy to grow up.
Carnegie was a “pilot school,” one set up to try out new educational initiatives, and most of them really worked for the students there. For example, from the second grade on, we changed classes. The classes of children stayed together throughout the day, but we moved from room to room and from teacher to teacher. The advantage to us was that when we were in, say, Science class, we had a Science teacher, not some nice lady who really wished she understood Science a little better. The Art teacher, for example, was actually able to get me to produce some attractive works–something that never happened before or since–just by providing the materials and environment that put success within the students’ grasp. It still is a great school, apparently–all these years later.
Anyway, at Carnegie, most of the basic skills were taught in our “homeroom” classes. My fifth-grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Erwin, was the nicest teacher I think I ever had. She was great at her subject areas, but she also was one of those people who exudes a calm, heartfelt love for her students. We all responded instinctively to that. No one ever took advantage of her, either; that would have been the worst thing someone could have done, and we all knew it.
Mrs. Erwin became ill toward the end of the school year, and had to be hospitalized at St. Francis Hospital. The hospital is situated just south of LaFortune Park, is still there as are the baseball fields where I once played, still there, still within sight of the hospital. I remember very clearly the afternoon when I, standing in the pink-orange afternoon light, looked up at the hospital from my position in the outfield and tried to sense which room Mrs. Erwin might have been in. I wondered if she were well enough to look out her window to see me looking up at her. Long minutes passed with me in this reverie, and the feelings and visions have never left me.
One should note: The life of the Little League outfielder can be full of such reveries, baseball being played largely by the infielders.
I never knew any of the details of Mrs. Erwin’s illness or eventual fate. We kids were “protected” from that sort of thing, which is ironic because we were the generation that went through the useless-yet-terrifying “duck and cover” drills as a part of our school experience. Bit odd, that. The same people who wouldn’t reveal the health status of one of the most beloved people any of us had ever known saw nothing wrong with scaring us witless with these silly drills and their dour warnings about not looking at the flash if an atomic bomb were dropped near us.
Even in the fifth grade, we knew that any atomic flash we ever saw would be the last thing we ever saw. We didn’t know, though, what happened to Mrs. Erwin and that warmth and love she showed to each of us. That was the sort of dichotomy that characterized the 50s, along with oh, so many others.