Where are you, Mrs. Odom?
If I took to the rooftop and let cry “my barbaric yawp,” I bet you’d hear me.
I’m looking for a chance to tell how you lit my writing fire, good Lord, 36 years ago.
Junior year, Berkner High School, Richardson, Texas.
You know how classics land on high school teens. Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” is snicker-inducing. Not immediately cool.
But there I was, feeling like a writer, caught up in the joy you flung at us, writing about that “yawp,” the “body electric” and how Whitman will “filter and fibre” my blood.
I had found my anthem. I remember the comment you wrote in the margin of my reckless essay.
I think you like him. I do too!
She’s the first teacher I’m thinking of as I take up the idea from Marilyn Mecham of Lincoln, Neb., that has been spreading ever since 56-year-old Raytown businessman Kevin Perz contacted her out of the blue earlier this year.
Turns out Perz had quietly been seeking out and contacting some of his favorite teachers from long ago who had made a difference in his life, one of them Mecham.
We all can join in this wave of gratitude, Mecham said. And I think she’s right.
So I’m looking for Mrs. Odom. And I’m looking for Mrs. Miller, too, my sophomore year English teacher.
I was a diligent writer in high school, but in the same way I tried to be diligent in math and social studies.
“Talk to me after class,” Mrs. Miller told me, always a mystifying message when a teacher offers no clues why.
“Are you keeping a journal?” she asked me. “You should be writing every day.”
My two influential teachers didn’t launch me on a direct path. I would head for college as a pre-med student majoring in biology and wander a bit.
But I did start writing that day, Mrs. Miller.
And I rode your zest for literature and storytelling, Mrs. Odom, and found my own.
It’s not easy, this search. Step 1 was finding someone in my old district who could at least fill in their first names. (No one knows their teachers’ first names.)
Billie Jean Odom. Cathy Miller.
It has been a long time. I should have started this sooner. But I hear them talking to me, through Whitman.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.
Previous quiz answer
Last time in this space, KU professor Steven Obenhaus gave us a basketball math problem: Find the sharpest angle the ball can travel through the hoop and hit nothing but net.
He didn’t provide the answer at the time. The point was that asking the right questions is more important. Now that we all had time to think about it, he has provided a visual answer that is worth checking out. Go to http://bit.ly/1FFf6PL.
(32 degrees is the short answer, but that feels like cheating.)