Monday, September 28, 2009

Aint No Thing ... a remembrance

A classmate of a former student of mine who passed away a few years back contacted me about collecting remembrances of him to share with the family. Here's what I wrote:

I’m pretty sure it was my first teaching at LHS. The course was Mass Communications, if I remember right. Roy Booth sat in the back row of my classroom. It was first period, early for all of us to be sure, but it seemed especially early for Roy who would often show up with a five o’clock shadow and a cup of joe. He seemed older than most of the other kids. He had one foot planted solidly outside the school in another world, an adult world of work and experience. Roy kept a low profile in my class, an arrangement that suited both of us. He didn’t have a whole lot of use for the academic side of things, but he never let that interfere with what was going on in the classroom. His was a live and let live sense of life.

At some point in the course I assigned each student the task of making an oral presentation. The prompt escapes me now, but Roy chose for his subject wood cutting tools. I remember the day Roy was to give his speech. He showed up with an axe. These were the 70’s, and that sort of thing could still happen without anyone giving it too much thought. Even so, I remember watching Roy unsheathe that thing, and how the class fell silent, all eyes on him and on that beautiful bladed thing in his hands. He handled it with ease, almost nonchalantly. He spoke off handedly about the work of wood cutting. He hadn’t crafted a speech, there was no discernable intro or conclusion, yet there was an unmistakable air of authority. His husky voice and his unvarnished words carried weight, even as his hands deftly balanced the axe before us.

He spoke of the importance of keeping blades sharp, of how dull blades make work unnecessarily hard and even dangerous. He then took the axe, slid one hand up the handle just below the head and laid its blade edge on his forearm. He angled the steel and pushed. We all leaned in for a better view. The dark hairs on his muscled arm gathered the way a powder does when pushed by a razor on a glass mirror. When he lifted the blade, we saw a patch of skin, clean shaven, a clear cut about the size of a playing card. Roy lightly brushed the blade clean. He put it away, as if to say, “Aint no thing.”

But we knew better. Roy had a hold of something that most of us could not and would never understand. It was more than he could explain in words maybe, but he had it nonetheless. And for a few magical seconds, we watched; we listened.

K

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