In my old age I started to write, first a blog then a novel. I’m asked from time to time how someone who ran a restaurant and later worked as an independent financial planner ended up writing. The answer is easy. I learned to love reading and writing years ago as a young boy because of a few of those wonderful people called teachers. Actually, even before school my mother, who was not particularly intellectual, read to me almost every day. I learned to love stories and begged her to read to me every chance I got. As a single parent she had to work, cook, clean house, take care of me and my older brother so there wasn’t much free time. But she found the time to read to me and for that I’m forever in her debt.
I remember in grade school we earned stars for book reports. I think it was in fourth grade that my teacher posted these stars on a chart she hung on the classroom wall. This was a great incentive to me. Also, we could order cheap paperback books. Once a month I remember the big box that arrived in the classroom. It was one of the most exciting times for me to open that box, smell the new books, and find the ones I ordered.
I wrote some time ago What A Teacher Can Do to describe how my exceptional high school teachers impacted me in ways that have lasted throughout my life. There is one other teacher who has had a lasting impact, my first college English teacher V. I. Wexner. I’ve thought about Mr. Wexner many times over the years but never managed to look him up. Life unfolds in unexpected ways and time passes more quickly than we think.
I remember my first English class was in a room along what Stanford students call the QUAD. Mr. Wexner would arrive loudly on a motorcycle wearing his leathers. He would jump the motorcycle up onto the stone walkway, rest it on its kickstand, take off his helmet and hang it on the handlebars, then walk into the classroom looking cool and collected. He was very handsome and fit. I suspected all the girls in that class were in love with him and I was properly intimidated.
We read five books that quarter all by new authors: Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, The Collector by John Fowles, Rabbit, Run by John Updike and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (the only book that wasn’t new). All the new authors went on to illustrious careers. Werner had good taste.
I always wondered what happened to him. Thanks to Google I was able to find out. He went on to be a high school teacher in the Redding area. He kept up with his relentless physical activity. He took on the school district in a court case when they tried to ban books by Richard Brautigan and other authors and he was successful. I’ve never forgotten his class and what I learned from him. Those high school kids in northern California were lucky to have him and so was I.