drove a 1955 Chevrolet and parked it in the same spot every day.
I cant remember a time when her car was not parked there.
If I had ever walked the four blocks from my house to Ross Avenue
Elementary and her car wasnt there, I think I would have
turned around and gone home to watch I Love Lucy on
our new television.
saved me from an imaginary brain tumor in the fifth grade and
taught me how to write cursive better than many teachers and most
adults in our little Central Texas town of Mexia. I spent many
nights out in the backyard catching lightning bugs and tracking
the constellations and stars she had so vividly described to me
in our science classes.
fifth grade year started out like a nightmare. I was assigned
to an old maid teacher who was harder than Chinese arithmetic.
In fact, she wore her hair pulled back in a bun so tightly that
I was scared she had come out of the hole I had dug in my back
yard. (My older brother had warned me that if I didnt quit
digging in the hole I would hit China.)
was one worried little fifth grader. There was no way I could
stay cooped up with that old bag for a whole year. I had to find
a way to get myself out of this old biddys class.
creative solution was to get a brain tumor. The first time the
biddy teacher asked me to go to the board and work an arithmetic
problem, I writhed in pain and begged to go to the nurses
office. No way was I going to get up there and let her make a
fool out of me.
several trips to her office, the nurse decided she had better
send a note to my parents expressing her concern about me having
those headaches so often. The plan is working, I thought.
Ill be happy to take this note home.
parents read it, but did not seem overly concerned. They said
that I would be okay and could take an aspirin whenever I felt
I needed one. But I knew the seed had been planted.
next few weeks were just as bad as I had expected them to be.
I was about ready to join the army at the age of ten, or run away
with the circus that
came to town once a year. I tried every trick in the book to keep
from going to school. I even spent one day hiding in the sewer
drain that ran from our school to the city park.
final straw came when I got to class one day, and the picture
of a hoot owl I had colored was hanging in the library for every
student in the school to see. I couldnt believe my eyes.
That old devil had posted it there just to ridicule me. She had
no mercy for my inability to draw or color.
Uncle Beency (Everett Gee Jackson) was a noted artist and California
impressionist, but I did not get any of those genes. I could not
keep those crayons between the lines. My hoot owl looked like
something worse than one colored in a pre-K class of Neanderthal
students drawing on a cave wall with their newly found charcoal.
was it! I had had it! I waited until the coast was clear, and
then I proceeded to run home. When I got there, I put on the best
show of my life. My mother really thought I was suffering unbearable
pain as I held a cold wash rag to my forehead and moaned in agony.
She called my dad and told him to come home right then.
my surprise, when my dad got to the house, he picked up the phone
and called my uncle in Houston. He was a doctor on staff at Hermann
Hospital. They decided that I should have a check up, and it should
be done by specialists in the Texas Medical Center.
was scared to death, but wouldnt admit a thing, as we loaded
up and headed to Hermann Hospital. What was going to happen? Was
this great plan about to blow up in my face?
we got to the hospital, I was immediately taken into this room
with computer-like machines and 3-D movie monitors. Then two doctors
came in and went to work. They shaved portions of my head and
brought out some electrical wiring attached to one of those machines.
I almost flipped out when they began attaching the other ends
of those wires to my head with something I thought was candle
was in that room for what seemed an eternity. The doctors would
walk over and adjust the wires, study the monitor, and step aside
to talk, so I could not hear their conversation.
they took the wax and wires off my head and told me to sit up
and wait in a chair until my parents came to get me. I did as
I was told, but I must admit I was feeling a great urge to break
and run. I just didnt know where to run.
my folks finally came to get me, all seemed well. They asked where
I wanted to go eat and if I wanted to go down Main Street to Playland
Park. Now, this park was a cool place for a country boy to go.
It was located next to where the Reliant Center sits today and
was full of rides and games for kids to enjoy. I jumped at the
chance, but I wondered why they were being so nice. Did I really
have a brain tumor or something wrong?
having a great afternoon enjoying myself in the big city, we started
home. As we got into the car, I waited for the bad news. There
were no good options. Those doctors had actually found something
wrong, or they knew I was pulling a scam.
on the way home, nothing was said about the headaches or the hospital.
I was nervous about my future, but I wasnt about to broach
the subject. I didnt have the guts to.
weekend passed without incident. I secretly wondered if I shouldnt
have another headache just to make it look good. That thought
quickly passed because I didnt see any need of opening up
another can of worms.
seemed fine until I got back to school on Monday morning. I reported
as usual to the dreaded class and was getting my books out when
I heard the principal call my name over the intercom and said
for me to report to his office immediately.
crap, what did he want? He only called for students when they
were in trouble. Other students had told me he had an electric
paddle and that kept the fear of God in all of us. I didnt
know what I had done, but I do know I was about to panic. Was
he going to use that electric paddle on me?
eased the door open to his office with one of those nervous childish
grins. Walt, he said with a coy smile, I want
you to get your books and report to Mrs. Withrows room.
She is going to be your new teacher.
heart began to pound and that grin quickly turned into a big smile.
I could not go get those books fast enough! I was happier than
Brer Rabbit after he had talked Brer Fox into throwing him into
the briar patch. I wasnt going to be stuck with that old
bag for a teacher any longer, and apparently I didnt have
a brain tumor either.
collected my books and reported to Mrs. Withrows room. I
cant remember anything but good things about school from
that point on in my life. I fell in love with this teacher. She
challenged me, but always in positive ways. Why, she even cured
my brain tumor.
was my teacher for two years after that. I can remember having
long discussions on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, studying
about the Russian Sputnik, dissecting frogs, and going on field
trips to farm tanks and woods full of interesting stuff.
Withrow became my hero. She never showed favorites in her class,
but I think that is because she loved us all the same. She had
complete control over us, and yet I never heard her raise her
I asked her about that later, she only said we were special. But
I think it was because we all stood in awe of this wonderful lady
and teacher. If any student had tried to disrespect her, he would
have regretted it. Somebody in our class, if not the entire class,
would have taken him out on the playground and pounded his nose
on the rocks and into the dirt.
days in Mrs. Withrows class impacted my life in so many
ways. This wonderful teacher refused to let me fail. She could
always find some way to help me understand my lesson. She helped
me succeed by giving me confidence. She would have never intentionally
embarrassed me or any other student. Heck, I never even had to
worry about any of my art work being publicly displayed.
other day I met a lady who had the opportunity to meet and visit
with Helen Keller, when Helen was eighty-one years old. She told
me the thing she remembered the most about her visit was the statement
this remarkable woman made to her: My whole life was changed
because I had one very special teacher.
I wonder if Mrs. Withrow taught Helen Keller, too?
B. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University
of Houston. He spent most of his professional life as a Chamber
of Commerce executive in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas. Walter
served as president of the Humble, Conroe, and Galveston Chambers
of Commerce, and later as Director of International and Domestic
Business for the Greater Houston Partnership.
Walter B. Jackson