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Because of Mrs. Rhodes...

March 19th, 2009 (12:10 pm)

current mood: grateful
currently hearing: Jackson Browne--Sky Blue and Black

It was time to discuss bones in my anatomy and physiology class, and Jana, my instructor, dragged out Bob. I stared at him for a moment, and suddenly inside my head, I could hear a litany that began: frontal, mandible, maxilla... and other names that included clavicle, scapula, sternum... and coccyx, sacrum...humerus, radius, ulna, carpals, metacarpals, phalanges right down to femur, fibula, tibia, patella, tarsals, metatarsals.

Was I some kind of skeletal savant?

No. I was the product of a good teacher.

Twenty-two years before that day when I mentally recited the names of bones, I'd been in Mrs. Rhodes's physiology class during my last year of high school. I admired everything about her. She was poised and calm. She had complete control of our class of seniors anxious to graduate from academic prison, including a group of practical joke-loving jocks and their audience of boy-crazy girls.

Mrs. Rhodes was in no way a babysitter. She was there to teach; we were there to learn: It was as simple as that. Her material was challenging, and the tests were hard. Also intimidating: Mrs. Rhodes was a looker. But behind her beautiful, determined face, one could always see a glint of humor and an understanding and balance that transcended our little classroom in our little school in our little Alabama town.

I completely adored her. She didn't cut me any slack because I was her assistant principal's kid (this wasn't always the case with other teachers). I respected her so much, and I wanted her to know I had a good mind. For the first time ever, I made straight "A"s in a science class.

One advantage of being my father's daughter was that if I wanted them, he'd buy my textbooks for me instead of making me turn them in at the end of the year. While it's no surprise that I have several English texts, it's significant that I've also held on to this:

Two decades later, proof of Mrs. Rhodes's teaching ability showed up as I breezed through Jana's anatomy and physiology course. Everything was as familiar as if I were back in that little Alabama classroom, sitting next to my boyfriend while Larry cracked jokes about the skeleton or Debbie wrinkled her nose at the fetal pigs we dissected.

Eventually, the boyfriend and I married and divorced. Debbie died of leukemia when I was in college. I lost contact with Larry after he came (with my ex-husband) to my father's funeral in 1985. And I never knew what happened to Mrs. Rhodes.

I made a little attempt to pay tribute to her in Timothy's and my book, The Deal. Our narrator, Aaron, teaches English, and one afternoon the school secretary warns him that it's a day of crazy shenanigans, including an incident in which two fetal pigs have gone missing from Ms. Rhodes's physiology lab.

I've been pleasantly surprised by some recent friendings on Facebook, and one of those is Sandra Rhodes. She's enjoying her retirement after a long career in education that included teaching and administration. She has children and grandchildren, and she's still beautiful, smart, and balanced. I'm so glad I can honor her outside of fiction for being one of the people who helped shape the better parts of who I became as a student, a teacher, and a person.

Thank you, Mrs. Rhodes, for being a superb teacher and a great example.


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