An old man’s hands…

_63298095_63298094May 6, 2014 – In the fall of 1966, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Roslyn Hartsell, showed the class a photograph she’d clipped from a magazine over the weekend. It was a black and white still of an old man’s hands, serenely folded in his lap. Our instructions were simple: write a short story about the image. Without hesitation, I put my freshly sharpened #2 to a crisp sheet of blue-lined notebook paper and let my imagination run wild. While the other children turned in their stories with titles such as “My Grandfather’s Hands” and “Saying a Prayer,” it was my story that got Mrs. Hartsell’s attention. Luridly titled “Jack Arthur: Serial Killer,” it told of the gruesome murders of one Lois Jackson (strangled) and her friend Rose Hillbird (stabbed), the chief of police (shot), and the governor (M.O. unknown) at the old man’s hands of its titular psychopath, and how the FBI ultimately trapped and killed him in a bloody shoot out in a mountain shack.

photo 5Today, this most likely would be seen as symptomatic of some mental depravity, resulting in panicked calls to my parents, mandatory counseling, drug testing, psychiatric evaluation, and possible suspension. But Mrs. Roslyn Hartsell saw it as a sign of a kid who’d probably seen too many episodes of The FBI (R.I.P Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), had a healthy imagination, and perhaps even a bright future as a writer. Throughout the year, she continued to bring in photographs that struck her fancy, and we continued to exercise our creative muscles so that by school year’s end in 1967, each student had enough stories to self-publish our collections. We even designed and executed our own cover art. In my case, I like to believe the contents outshone the packaging:
photo 1On the last day of school, Mrs. Hartsell gave me something that remains my most prized possession, and follows me from office to office as I pursue my vagabond career:

Hartsell2

People often ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I always reply without hesitation, giving full credit to Mrs. Roslyn Hartsell at Briarlake Elementary in Tucker, Georgia. She nurtured and encouraged creativity with passion and kindness. As it turns out, she only taught at Briarlake for two years, and I was lucky enough to be in her classroom for one of them. Years later, I started searching for her, just wanting to check in and says thanks. It was my computer savvy mom who finally located her, and when we at last spoke over the phone after some forty-five years had lapsed, I was both astonished and pleased that she actually remembered me as “a well-spoken little boy whose hair was always perfectly combed.” Since that first conversation, we’ve spoken several times, and she still takes great interest in whatever I’m working on.

Hartsell

So, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, a shout out to Roslyn Hartsell, who tops my list of extraordinary educators who made a real and immeasurable difference in my life. Stay tuned…

 

2 thoughts on “An old man’s hands…

  1. Mark

    I’m so grateful that Mrs Hartsell took the time to support and inspire you writing. We never know who’s lives we may touch as we move through our day to day, do we?

    Reply
  2. Wvalles

    What a great, personal story to share with others that generously gives insight into your mind at an early age. I too, had a similar experience when I was in the 4th grade at Wadsworth Elementary in Decatur, GA.

    Climb into Mr. Peabody’s ‘Wayback’ machine with me and stop somewhere in the year 1969-70. At that time, I had a speech impediment which had me going to a speech therapist who would come once a week in a kind of circuit through the various elementary schools around the county where they would collect the kids with issues and work with them. In one of our exercises, I remember that our teacher had asked each of us in this particular class to go home and write a story which emphasized the words, letters, and phrases which we were having the difficulties pronouncing and then we were to read them in class to one another which was supposed to help us articulate properly.

    Most of the kids wrote kind of simple stories, maybe a couple of paragraphs, which were simple little narratives consisting of, ‘I went to the park’ or ‘today I saw a swan’, something along those lines. My story was about going on a quest to kill a dragon and about everything that happened to me along the way. At the end of the quest, I discovered that the dragon was not a dragon at all but the projection of the nightmare I was having while asleep in my bed and the only thing that was killed was the personification of Sleep, which as it turned out, dies by our hand every morning. I must have been channeling Jorge Luis Borges or someone at that time. Who knows.

    I remember most of that little story going right over the heads of the other kids when I read it, but my teacher was blown away. I still remember the awe in her face when I read it. I don’t think she was even paying attention to my speech issues. Finally, she encouraged me to pursue writing and wrote my parents a note about it. My parents just kind of blew it off because I was always writing and recording my little one act soliloquies on the these really ancient tape recorders that weighed almost as much as I did. They were used to seeing their little mutant children, my brother and myself, involved in our odd little proclivities.

    Of course, my writing career never took off, as I was ever the distracted kid and once the hormones kicked in, I think for those years I devolved into using crude stone tools and a strange grunting language until I was maybe 30 or 35 years of age. However, all my teachers were quite convinced that I was going to be attending some Ivy League school and contributing to the overall American literary body of work in some way.

    So kids, let this be a lesson to you: When your teachers encourage you to use your gifts for the betterment of mankind, try and work with them instead of against them. Often, they actually might know what they are talking about. Presented for your approval, I give you case in point Mr. Mark B. Perry who stayed on the path and did the right thing.

    Kids, do the right thing.

    Reply

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