Almost thirty of my friends on Facebook are former students. The majority of them I have not seen since they graduated. They are all dear to me in one way or another, but for today’s post, I have chosen to write about only three of them. They just happen to be the three with whom I’ve been in touch the most recently. If I know myself, I’ll wind up writing about everyone before my blogging days are over. You’ve heard the expression “Let the buyer beware”; there’s another one—“Let the reader beware”—and I’m invoking the latter today. Why? Because this is one terribly long post. Consider yourself warned!
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True confession—I have a MySpace place, but I much prefer Facebook. MySpace is too hard for me. I don’t know why. Maybe the reason is that I haven’t really tried to learn how to use it and haven’t given it a chance. One thing I didn’t like had nothing to do with my learning ability: I didn’t like the query as to my mood for the day. Silly, huh?
Ordinarily, I don’t think of myself as having moods, so I don’t want to choose a mood for the day. I’m certainly not a moody person, but I don’t guess being in a mood necessarily means being moody. Today, for sure . . . I’m in a mood. And what mood would that be, Mrs. Young? Nostalgic, that’s what. And why do you address yourself as “Mrs. Young,” to be pronounced “MizYoung” or better yet, something like “Mizzhung.” Because my nostalgia is caused by former students, and these young people are the ones who, for the most part, pronounced my name that way. For thirty-two years, I was MizYoung to a host of teenagers, mostly at Woodham High School in Pensacola, Florida.
Thanks to Facebook, I have been reunited with many of these youngsters, some of whom are between the ages of 40 and 50. To me, they’re still young. Three of them are rooted so firmly in my mind and heart today that I’m impelled to write about them. If they read this, they don’t need to worry about my telling any deep, dark secrets. I doubt if I knew any back when I saw each of them every school day during their senior year, and even if I knew secrets back in 1986, 1979, and 1977, I wouldn’t remember them now. You know the elderly and their memories! And so to my Thursday nostalgia . . .
I’ll begin with the young man most recently my student, Todd Cathey, who was in my Advanced Placement English class in 1985-86. Todd found me on Facebook earlier this year, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since, especially during the past couple of days. If any of you who are reading this are now teachers or were teachers in the past, you’ll understand when I say that teachers grab firmly to any compliments that they receive. When I engage in this action, savoring every positive word aimed in my direction, I feel really guilty for not going back to my teachers to let them know what an impact they had on my life. This is what Todd wrote on the “25 Things” questionnaire on Facebook, and I immediately got the big head:
High school was so intellectually unchallenging for me that I missed half of my senior year from sheer ennui. AP English was the saving grace - and I'm not saying that just because Sandy Young is one of my friends on Facebook!
How I do love a big head!
Two other reasons for Todd’s being on my mind today are his being an author and his connection to my boy. He pointed me to a Web site called gather.com, where I was able to see his Web-published pieces. I thoroughly enjoyed a story/memoir titled “It Was Always Tommy.” I’d love to teach that story! And then Todd mentioned Jay and how he found out about my boy’s death from Todd Laws, the drummer in Velvet Melon at that time, in a chance meeting at the airport . . . how shocked he was—as were we all. This is what he told me about Jay: “He'll forever be that vibrant young man, singing and playing his heart out and reaching for the stars.” Thank you, Todd Cathey. You have made my heart sing today. I hadn’t forgotten you through the years, but I hadn’t thought of you for a while at the time that you found me on Facebook; however, I can assure you that you won’t be far away from my thoughts now.
The nostalgia for the next student has been building for weeks. One Saturday evening just before I went to bed, I had two Facebook friend requests from former students from the Class of 1979. In case you need math help . . . that’s 30 years ago! Robert Sims and Candy Bellamy Carter found me, and I was ecstatic. I could hardly sleep that night. I’ve been in touch with both of them a lot during these weeks: with Robert mainly because of their Class Reunion this summer; with Candy because of so many things. Today, I want to talk about Candy. Robert will come in another post, I’m sure.
Candy Bellamy . . . what a beautiful, smart, friendly young lady in my Honors English class from August 1978 to May 1979. I remember her as an excellent English student and one of the few students through the years (few in comparison to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of young people that I taught) who actually wanted to get to know her teacher. Candy and I became friends. I’m sure that I, along with others during that year, was a bit disappointed that Candy wouldn’t go to The University of South Alabama the next year because she would marry Arthur Carter even before graduation since he was going into the Air Force and wouldn’t be back in the Pensacola area. Adults shouldn’t be criticized for being doubtful about young people getting married this young because the track record for them isn’t all that good. We didn’t need to worry. The marriage of Candy and Arthur was meant to be, and none of us should have been overly concerned. They are still happily married and will be celebrating their 30th anniversary by spending five weeks in Europe this summer. And by the way, Candy told me that she still uses the pie plate that I gave her as a wedding plate. A pie plate! It must have been a good one. I just hope it was pretty, too.
Early in their married life, they were stationed in Germany; Candy tried to keep up with me while she was there, but I was a pitiful correspondent. Just think . . . I could have been keeping up with Candy through all of these thirty years instead of just re-connecting lately if I had just answered her letters. Yes, I have apologized, and she has graciously forgiven me. Candy is another student who has heaped accolades on me, especially for making grammar finally make sense to her. What a great compliment to one who became an English teacher largely because of being able to teach our language to teenagers and possibly helping them to love the language as much as I do. Candy credits my grammar instruction with making it possible for her to learn the German language. An English teacher’s dream is to be able to claim such credit!
Candy is the first former student to share a certain happiness with me: We are both grandmothers! We have become such good friends because of Facebook, and once again I’m so thankful that I took the leap and joined. By the way, envy is not a Christian virtue, but I’m certainly feeling a bit envious because of her trip in August! Candy and I will not let ourselves get out of touch again.
Isn’t it funny that memory can pick up on happenings from decades ago and transform them into nostalgia? That’s exactly what has happened to me with a young man who must be at least close to 50 by now. Pete Ruckman (AKA Peter Ruckman and P.S. Ruckman, but always Pete to me) graduated from Woodham High School in 1979, and I will never forget him . . . or his cohort, his “partner in crime,” Chris Tredway. They were unstoppable and unpredictable. Today’s post is just about Pete, though; maybe someday Chris will admit that he lives in the twenty-first century and join Facebook. Then perhaps I’ll write just about him.
Pete Ruckman . . . my goodness, what a character! If you’re familiar with the USA Network, the expression “Characters welcome” won’t be unfamiliar. Pete was truly a character, and he is truly welcome to my nostalgic mood today. Unlike other students from long ago, Pete has almost always been within my reach. I don’t know exactly how I knew where he was . . . maybe he dropped by school to keep me up to date. I don’t know. At some time, I found out that he was living in the Chicago area, teaching in Rockport, IL. I always intended to get in touch with him when I’d go to Chicago for McDougal Littell sales meetings to see if he might come to see me, to let me take him and his family to dinner; however, deep down, I’m a bit shy, and I didn’t want to hear that he couldn’t come. Pretty silly, now that I think about it.
Before I talk about having him in my College Prep class, let me hasten to say that Pete was an excellent student, a student who could do well with anything I was teaching but who could bring hilarity to the subject, making it fun for us. I don’t necessarily mean fun for the whole class, but for the two of us. Most of the time the fun was in writing because Pete was relatively quiet in class with just an occasional comment that would break us all up. His sense of humor was wonderful but still in the developmental stages. I noticed on his Facebook Profile that he belongs to a "sarcasm" group. I'll bet that today both his humor and his sarcasm have fully flowered and are a work of art. I hope so, anyway.
I don’t always have very specific memories of students’ activities in my classroom, but Pete Ruckman was different. I’m thinking of one day, probably on Thursday before research papers were due on Monday. Pete spoke up and asked if the class could have an extension on the date. I don’t know what happened to my head, or maybe my heart, but I gave them a few more days. Before I knew what was happening, that young man was at the front of the room. He grabbed my foot and kissed it . . . well, he didn’t literally kiss it. He just pretended, but the class thought the action was real. They cheered. Another time, he saw me in the hall and fell down at my feet, probably begging for something. What a character! The last memory that I’ll mention is gleaned from my memory of a day shortly after the students received their yearbooks, the Mnemosyne. My habit during those early years at Woodham , if a student happened to ask me to sign his or her yearbook, was merely to write something like “I enjoyed having you in class this year. Have fun at college! Come back to see me . . .” Well, when I wrote this inane comment, or something similar in his book, Pete once again ran to the front of the room, this time to chastise me for not writing a more personal comment. After all, we had enjoyed the year, and I should give him more than an enjoyed-the-year little nothing. You guessed it . . . I wrote something with meaning. This young man taught me a valuable lesson: I needed to be able to think back over the year quickly and mention something personal in each student’s precious Mnemosyne . . . and that’s just what I did for the next 20 years. For re-connecting actively with Pete Ruckman, thank you, Facebook.
I can’t believe that I forgot to tell you what these folks did after high school, what they’re doing now:
· Todd lives in California and dubs himself “musician by day, nurse by night.” He’s a registered nurse who loves playing bass. Check out this video, in which he’s playing in Seville Quarter with Joey Allred, Darin Boyd, and Mike Magno, original Velvet Melon members, along with Jay: http://www.youtube.com/solitaireg
· Candy Carter went to law school, passed the bar, and became a lawyer. After an automobile accident, she was left with disabilities that caused her to close her law practice. She’s hopeful, though, to do some mediation work after updating certifications later this year. She and Arthur have two sons and one granddaughter, Alli, the light of her life.
· P.S. Ruckman is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, IL. He is married and has two little boys. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I’d term Pete an expert in presidential pardons. I’m sure I’m supposed to say that differently. He has written a forthcoming book: Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy. Check out his blog at www.pardonpower.com.
Nostalgia is “a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past” (The American College Dictionary). Today, nostalgia set in, and these three persons of the past, along with their situations, were very much a part of it. I loved today, and I’m very much grateful to Facebook for re-connecting me with these young people, my link to a past made up of some of the best years of my life.