Old as my own mother
There is much I would remember
But elusive memories fade
As my inner lamp glows dimmer
All the pyrrhic dancers
That flicker on cave walls
Distract the slaves in chains
Until the dance dissolves
In frenzied dying blazes
Before the curtain falls
I've always thought of the summer of 1967 as my magical summer.
That was the summer I met two transformative people in my life, my husband, Bob Fowler, and my teacher, Mr. Countess.
My father was not one to permit intellectual idleness. Just because school was out for the summer never meant a vacation from learning. There were books to read and report on to my dad; mathematical games and card tricks to be mastered and then reinvented using different numbers of cards; and of course, always, more piano practice.
But 1967 was different. Instead of being schooled and tasked by Daddy at home, he sent me to summer school at our local high school. In my home town, junior high included 7th through 9th grades, so summer 1967 immediately preceeded my high school entrance. In retrospect, I suppose Daddy thought summer school would be a good way to ease me into my new high school life.
I enrolled in a class titled 'Humanities.' I doubt if I had any idea what 'humanities' meant. I don't remember how I selected that class either. Maybe I closed my eyes and dropped my finger in the catalog, or maybe Daddy made a suggestion. Regardless of how I came to occupy a seat in that class, it was my introduction to a teacher who forever changed my life.
Mr. Countess was a young man in his twenties. He was an idealist, passionate and knowledgeable about the arts and philosophy, and I suspect, a little bit of a rebel. The curriculum he presented certainly ignited the rebel in me.
What did we study? Well, I think we started off with the early Greeks, specifically Plato's cave analogy and the unforgettable drama "Oedipus the King" by Sophocles. Both had profound effects on me and I began questioning the nature of reality versus perception, and the role that fate or the gods play in all men's lives.
We read the American Transcendentalists, Thoreau and Emerson. To this day, Thoreau remains one of my favorite writers.
We did not stop at literature and philosophy. We looked at and discussed the works of Romantic and modern artists; Monet, Picasso, Kandinsky, and, of course, the very famous 'Scream' by Edvard Munch.
We listened to (and I learned to love) avant garde music, especially Gian Carlo Menotti's operetta "The Medium" and the poignant "Wozzek" by Alban Berg. As we discussed Menotti's "The Medium", we threaded our way through Marshall McLuhan's Understanding the Media: The Extension of Man and his very current phrase, 'The medium is the message.'
Mr. Countess stood on the stage and recited the verses of American poets, among them Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Don't Let that Horse Eat that Violin!) and Oak Ridge native George Scarbrough.
I have not had many transformative teachers in my life. In fact, I think I can count them on one hand: my father, my piano teacher, Mrs. Greer, Miss Picklesimer at Elm Grove Elementary School, and Mr. Countess.
Inspirational teachers are a gift, to be cherished as the most precious of treasures.
I thank all four of my inspirational teachers. I use and think about the things they taught me every day of my life. And what about those two little poems I started with here this morning? I'm very sure that both of them found their nascence when I first peered into Plato's cave some forty five years ago, guided by Mr. C.
I suppose it's true that the good die young. Mr. Countess did, way too young, and too many years ago.
Be Well and Good Luck,
copyright Martha Maria, 2012