Southern People

When I was in the 5th grade, I was having trouble reading in front of the class, so I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Johnson, a very nice grandmotherly looking woman who taught public reading skills to students at South Margarita, in the Panama, Canal Zone. She only taught once a week; or to put it more precisely, she taught me once a week. She had a real gift in making each child under her tutelage feel like they were the only one that she taught; such was her dedication to each one of us, a dedication that we returned to her by the effort we showed in our work.

(Photo by Olivier Ffrench)

I remember one day she told each one of us in her class — there were only four of us — what we would each do when we got older. She was right about me, how she knew I don’t know or understand; if she guessed rightly for the other three I have no idea, but I would not be surprised if she did. It points to her having a deep intuition about others, perhaps that was why she was such a good teacher; having small classes she could adapt to each one as needed and strengthened and deepen her positive influence she had on us.

She loved reading and encouraged each of us to read as much as possible, it did not matter what we picked up, just read she instructed us. She had a large selection of stories that were part of the American Indian folk lore; I would guess they were about 50 green volumes, each having about 150 pages. You know they had stories with titles like, “Why the fox had a white tail” kind of thing. She asked me if I read a lot? My answer was I did read, but not as much as she seemed to imply that I should be doing. In response she gave me one of her books on Indian Folk Lore to read, which I did, loved it, and began to plow my way through her entire collection. I loved the stories, and from there on my love affair with books, already begun in the 1st grade, only deepened, and has not let up, for it seems as I get older, the love only increases.

I think one of the reasons she was so open, loving, and accepting, of each one of her charges, is due to the fact that she really did read a lot, read broadly, and that gave her an appreciation of the differences of others. She listened to what we had to say, encouraged us, but did not try to control; she only gave some observation and let it drop. I suppose because of her respect for us, we took everything she said seriously, and tried out her suggestions. After almost fifty-two years, I have still not forgotten her. She had a great influence on me, and my only regret is that I was never able to go back and thank her for what she did for me

My weakness as a child was my innate tendency to rebel when I was browbeat, shamed, or was told that I had to be a certain way to be a good student. Not being very mature, I did not appreciate what some of my teachers were trying to do to help me become a better student. I was not loud in my rebellion, I just did what I wanted, read what I found interesting, and I suppose inside I was sort of telling them all to go to hell. Now that I am older I am not so quiet when I disagree with someone; if I feel that a situation arises where a person is being treated in an unjust manner. I know now that it must have been stressful for the teachers to have someone like me as a student, or perhaps to have quite a few like me; I was in no way unique. We all had our way of dealing with the stress of school, I just got quiet, went inward and sort of lived there.

I am thankful for being part of a large family since it helped me to develop many social skills, and also some understanding of different personalities. Having 9 brothers and sisters will do that, a school in itself. Without their being there I think I would have never gotten out of my shell. So to Skip, Robert, David, Sissy, Judy, Jane (twins), Victor, Craig and Georgia, thanks for being there, and for still being there.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

One Comment
  1. Will Cantrell

    Hurrah for people like Mrs. Johnson. I think that there is no greater gift that can be given than the gift of reading. I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read at least a few words. My mother, Virginia, said that she read to me while I was in the womb and that I’d been reading ever since. While it seems to be an exaggeration, it is only a bit of one. Growing up as an only child, I often entertained myself by reading and cannot imagine what life would have been like without the myriad of books that were around our house.

    Like Mrs. Johnson, Virginia read voraciously. As a teacher, she taught many others to read as well. Widowed as a result of the Korean War, she raised me by herself and gave me many gifts – one of which was her “quirky and funny” way of looking at the world. However, there is no doubt that perhaps her best gift was the one of teaching me to be an early and ‘notorious’ reader. God Bless Virginia … and Mrs. Johnson.

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