Uncle Jimmy Green and Student

7:00 AM

Uncle Jimmy Green and Student, Daniel Chester French, 1924
I am no Aeneas or Paul:
Not I nor others think me of such worth,
And therefore I have my fears of playing the fool
To embark on such a venture. You are wise:
You know my meaning better than I can tell.
Inferno, Dante, Canto II

Forgive this foray into the personal, but please stay while enough to hear the words. 

Last week, I had the pleasure to see old friends. Six of us attended the opening of Terry Evans' stunning retrospective "Heartland" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. After the reception, and the reception-after-the-reception, we retired to Cafe Trio for more communion and laughs. Four of us attended high school together: Dave, the country director of Liberia for the International Rescue Committee fresh from four years with Mercy Corps in Iraq (his mother is the artist above); Phillip, the gentleman farmer and artist from Oskaloosa; his high-school sweetheart, spouse and ace ad woman Sally; and me, the book critic turned English and Art History teacher. We were joined by my dearest, early childhood education expert Jennifer; and David's charming Scottish friend Ashley, who has seen international relief action in Sierra Leone, Darfur, the West Bank, and Iraq. Later we were joined by David's sister, Corey, who directs the education program at the Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston.

Please be patient, the exposition nears its end. As so often the case with folks who have known each other for more than 25 years, friendly fire can be the biggest danger. Openings get exploited immediately, and foibles of the past become the grist for present chuckles. As so often the case, I faced such an attack, with four fellow graduates of Salina Central High finding the bead. They fired. 

At least I thought so at the time. After an amusing recollection of mini-scandal involving four junior high and high school teachers, I was deemed "Mrs. Sackrider." "You're so Mrs. Sackrider." "Totally." A gauntlet taunt, to be sure. 

Mrs. Sackrider, now Barbara Werth, was an English and Humanities teacher at Salina Central High for many moons. Her look was what one would expect - flowing skirts, a beaded chain for reading glasses and an undisputed passion and knowledge for all things literary and artistic. She was also the woman who introduced me to modern art, the beauty of El Greco skies and the poetry of Dante. 

In the moment, I turned defensive - I am not Mrs. Sackrider. My approach is different, my interests are different, my emphasis on writing different. Of course, that merely opened the floodgates. I took heat for the similarities in sartorial choices - what is the flowing print skirt but an analogue to the sweater vest? Didn't I major in Humanities at college? Wasn't I teaching her class? I stumbled for answers, thinking somehow I needed to differentiate myself from one of my first mentors. 

After considering this for a few days, I offer my friends a response, "Damn right I am Barbara Sackrider." And I will add to it: I am happy to even be considered with people like Nancy Presnal, Larry Patrick, Garry Armour, Gerry Masinton, Philip Barnard, Cheryl Lester, Tom Lorenz, Ted Johnson, Art Crumm, Mac Gratwick, or Robert Demeritt. What I didn't realize in the silliness of the moment - teachers do make a difference in kids' life. However, I need to remember that as a teacher, it should never be about me. 

Mrs. Sackrider introduced me to Dante. I am merely passing it along. For this post I have chosen the image of the James Woods Green and Alfred C. Alford. Green was the dean of the University of Kansas Law School for 41 years. Alford was killed in the Spanish-American War. The statue was crafted by Daniel Chester French, who also sculpted the Abraham Lincoln statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial. The student looks toward the East and the sunrise, the teacher looks toward the West. For the next couple of weeks, I hope that the students of Art History at Barstow can show you the sunrise - how the curious students of today engage the world of art and literature - just as my friends and I did 25 years ago. 

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