Life lessons, Teaching

The People Who Teach Us

I was in my mother’s room at the convalescent home recently when a woman’s voice behind a curtain said, “Is Joan Livingston here? There’s a man here who says he knows you and your mother.” Intrigued, I left my mother and in the hallway found a man wearing a mask (we all have to wear one there) who identified himself as Dennis Duval. He was my ninth-grade history teacher.

I gave the man a hug although I hadn’t seen him since my last day in that grade and I then moved onto our high school. That was a very long time ago.  

Mr. Duval, as I called him way back then, was visiting his brother who was also a resident of the home. On the sign-in sheet, he saw my mother’s name and my first name, so he put the clues together. He could have left it at that, but he decided to seek me out.

Like me, Mr. Duval grew up in North Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His father had a pharmacy in that part of our oceanside town. Mr. Duval was the youngest of ten kids, he told me.

I remembered Mr. Duval as an energetic, dark-haired teacher not long out of college who made history relevant to us kids. I was a member of the first ninth grade at what is now called Elizabeth Hastings Middle School. And as we spoke that day, I thought of the other great teachers I had. I even mentioned a few.

Mr. Mignault, who taught geography, lived in Boston and stayed in a motel in our town during the school days. It was my first exposure to the counter culture — he wanted us to understand the message behind “Puff the Magic Dragon” and told us those drills we were doing in case there was a nuclear bomb were useless. Unfortunately, he left us that year after a bad car accident.

Mrs. Lima, my freshman English teacher, recited Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream by heart. She stood in front of the class or sat on a student’s desk, holding a finger in the page but she didn’t look at the words. Decades later, my mother mailed me a box with clothing she bought at a tag sale, and at the bottom was a slim blue volume of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Yale Shakespeare version, 1923, edited by Willard H. Durham. The blue cloth is mottled with something white, perhaps from moisture. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive on the second page. I still have the book and fond memory.

Mr. Piche had a difficult time talking due to a past injury, but he brought American history alive. At the end of each lesson, he would say, “You know how I know? Because I was there.”

We brought up others like Mr. Hughes, who also taught history, and Mr. Cardoza, my math teacher.

I remember so many of the teachers I had during those three impressionable years. To be honest, a few were not among my favorites. But I would say I got a great education, and thank you Mr. Duval for reminding me.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Mrs. Lima’s copy of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

LINK TO A FABULOUS MYSTERY: I want to let Kindle readers know that during the month of June they can buy my friend Teresa Dovalpage’s latest mystery for $2.99. Death under the Perseids is the third in her Havana Mystery Series. (Teresa was born in Cuba.) I will tell you more about Teresa and her book it in my next post, but for those who can’t wait, here’s the link: