I taught in the Air Force for eight years, and in civilian schools for another 22, and retired in 1998 after 30 years in a classroom. That’s not an unusual number, however; many civilian teachers spend their working lives in a classroom, and retire after 35 to 40 years.
However, my years in a classroom were quite different from those of many other teachers. Except for the hours spent with my beloved wife, Loretta, especially those spent up here after retirement, happy hours spent working to change a little two-story house in Pine into Lolly’s dream retirement home, my hours spent in the classroom were some of the most relaxed and quietly creative ones of my entire life.
Why? Well, I’ve asked myself that question many times, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize the answer: The answer is because of the genes I inherited from my mother, and — more importantly, I think — the example that she set for her four sons, of whom three out of four turned out as much like her as it is possible for sons to be like their mother.
Yes, Bill, Charlie, and I turned out very much like Mom. We were all imbued with the same attitude toward life that I saw in Mom from the very first day I was old enough to understand that people are not all alike.
What was Mom like? To put it simply, she accepted life as it was, and just got on with it without complaint; but at the same time she was determined to settle for nothing less than the best she could do in anything she did.
Daddy’s salary took a large cut when the Great Depression struck, so he and Mom lost the home they were paying on, including the refrigerator, washer, and gas range that were part of it; but nothing seemed to faze Mom. Settling for an old used icebox, a pair of deep washtubs, and an old coal stove, she kept an immaculately clean house, doing the washing by hand on a scrub board in one deep tub-like sink, rinsing them by hand in the other one, wringing them out by hand, carrying them up to the clotheslines at the top of the yard, and hanging them out to dry, even on winter days which froze them solid.
Never in my life did I ever hear Mom grumble about the grim changes in her life, not even when daddy died just three years later and left her with four boys to raise. She never even so much as complained about the fact that the furnace for our rental was broken and we had to heat the house with the coal stove in the kitchen and a single carry around kerosene heater in the living room.
And guess what? All day long, as she worked, she sang. I can still hear her singing now. What a happy house that was!
Bill, Charlie, and I grew up with that role model before us, and copied it throughout our lives. Frank, next oldest after Bill, was no slouch when it came to quality work, but he was more like Daddy, who was competitive and ambitious. The result? Frank began his working career after World War II as a route salesman for Proctor and Gamble, and ended up as a multimillionaire vice president in the same company.
By contrast, Bill, Charlie, and I emulated Mom, focusing on doing a job well for its own sake, not for promotion or financial rewards.
Next week: Happy is as happy does.