And not at all in the good news department: one of my favorite teachers from high school wrote to tell me another of my favorite teachers died yesterday. Ron Gabriel. He was 56, though his MS made him seem older, physically.
The Gabe was...I don't even know how to say how the Gabe was. By the time I met him, he was in a wheelchair. He's gotten progressively weaker over the years, but his mind was still extremely sharp. He was the best teacher of literature and writing I ever had. He was funny, sharp but not mean, not afraid of being a little earthy with high school seniors but never crude, he was...
Just so damned alive
. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
When he got weak enough, the school got him a microphone so the students in the back could hear. And when scottjames
and I went back to visit, he told us stories about the prank he'd pulled on Mr. Emsick, the math teacher next door, with it ("Emsick!" "Uh...yes, Lord?" "I want you to build me an ark!"), and how he'd accidentally embarrassed a roomful of sophomores by forgetting the microphone when he went to the bathroom. How a red-faced 15-year-old boy had dashed into the bathroom going, "Um...Mr. Gabriel? Mr. Gabriel?" He never stopped laughing, sometimes at himself.
Honest Gabe initiated the Honors English freshmen and taught the Honors seniors to write and write well. Those of us who stuck around for senior Honors English were his kids, with rotating treats on Fridays and e-mails from college and all sorts of things. He was the only member of our old Honors Triumvirate still around at RHS, the last of an older bunch of teachers who wouldn't knuckle under to pressure from the administration to lower his standards and treat the kids like idiots who couldn't learn. I hear that some of the younger teachers have tried to pick up the banner. I hope so. Some members of the administration pulled some pretty low maneuvers on him.
The Gabe was my preparation for my physics profs: he would not hesitate to tell you when you'd gotten entirely the wrong end of the stick, but he was just as quick to tell you when you'd done something really good. He wrote to me about 18 months ago to tell me how proud he was of my writing and how special he thought it was. Just an e-mail out of the blue to let me know. He was that kind of guy.
I keep hearing his voice in my head reading poetry. He did not read poetry well, but I loved hearing it anyway, sing-songed iambs in such familiar tones.
What a roller coaster morning.