The strength of humility

In 1976, I was a freshman in high school. Freshman year was an exciting year. Our lockers were in the high school hallway, and we rubbed elbows with upper classmen. I signed up for Algebra. The only thing I remember from Algebra class is creating equal opportunity formulas because whatever you do to one side of the equation, you must also do to the other side. When I dropped Algebra I may have skipped down the hall to our counselor, Mrs. Hester to change classes.

The year was the bicentennial of our country. Some may remember the Bicentennial Minutes, 60 second educational segments on CBS that aired nightly around 8:30 p.m. for a little over two years from July 4, 1974 to December 31, 1976. The short history accounts were to commemorate the bicentennial of the American Revolution. The segments were mini-history lessons narrated by CBS stars and political figures that corresponded with what had occurred on that day’s date in 1776. At the end of each minute the personality or public figure would end by saying, “and that’s the way it was.”

While CBS was reporting history during their Bicentennial Minutes, a lot of things happened in 1976 in the United States. For instance, the Apple Computer Company was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Sylvester Stallone’s first “Rocky” film was released, NASA presented the first space shuttle, the Enterprise, Jimmy Carter won the presidential election against President Gerald Ford, Ted Turner purchased the Atlanta Braves and believe it or not, gasoline was just 59 cents a gallon. These are just a few events that happened that year. There were many more things that occurred with both positive and negative effects at the hands of people who would become famous or infamous.

In this world there are countless people who move quietly through life performing good works unaware of the influence they have on the lives of others. They don’t seek attention because they believe that they are only doing what they are supposed to do. They are modest if given any praise for their efforts. Many parents of the baby boomer generation had this mindset. This generation was known for their impeccable work ethic and solid morals. To me, it’s people like these who deserve recognition for living authentic lives. Today there are many misguided people in the world who believe that for their lives to have any value they need the spotlight or to go viral on the internet for some inane action or speech. The things people gain fame for doing is ridiculous.

In ninth grade there was a class that many girls took to learn life skills such as cooking and how to sew called Home Economics. Today it is known as Family and Consumer Sciences. The class was taught by Ms. Guthery. In Ms. Guthery’s class I had the prospect of manning a sewing machine to create garments and to learn more about cooking.

Ms. Guthery is a 1957 graduate of Corning High School. She taught generations of students important life skills; many were the children of her high school classmates.

Under the guidance of Ms. Guthery in her gentle, but oh so knowledgeable way, she taught me to bake some fantastic biscuits from scratch. One evening when I was in my twenties and in my mother’s kitchen, I pulled a pan of those biscuits out of the oven for our family’s supper. Their buttery aroma filled the room with their browned tops that had billows of heat wafting up from them. My late brother-in-law, Bill Young who was sitting at the kitchen table said, “Now there’s some catheads!” That was big praise coming from him. They were large and fluffy when you cracked them open just as they should be as I had followed her directions precisely straight from her dittoed copy of the recipe. I remembered her words about leveling off the flour in measuring cup and how baking was a science that when done correctly would yield the best results.

That semester I also made a muslin wrap around skirt in her class. Muslin fabric and wrap around skirts were both in fashion in 1976. I sewed a cotton blouse to wear with it of an earthy colored print. I had never sewn a thing. It was miraculous to never have placed my foot on a sewing machine pedal to creating an outfit that I would wear to church. Her patience saw me through creating the entire ensemble.

Looking back now, especially after having been a teacher myself, I know it wasn’t easy to supervise and to teach a classroom full of teenage girls each hour all day. Can you imagine teaching twenty or more students at sewing machines or stoves how to operate them? There had to have been days when she went home and wondered if she could do it all again the next day. If she had those thoughts, she never let it show to our class. Teachers today experience those same days and feelings.

Kids haven’t changed much through the years, although society has and the way parents interact with teachers has changed. Social media has certainly modified the landscape of respect for educators and schools. Naturally, there were students who misbehaved from time to time because they mistook her humility, patience and kindness for weakness. When in fact those students were showing their frail character or their need for attention in the wrong ways. A wise teacher recognizes those weaknesses and needs. Ms. Guthery handled each day with fortitude and grace, always ready with positive comments and feedback. She had a way of critiquing wonky seams in a way that didn’t make one feel they were a failure at sewing. She was provided two gifts as an educator; one, the opportunity to cultivate learners and two, a talent for it.

Mrs. Guthery is one of the millions of teachers who have possessed humility; a strength under control. They go quietly about their business of educating children. Like most teachers, she didn’t expect accolades or praise. She just did the best she could in the educational climate of the 1970s. There are countless numbers retired educators right here in our hometown and in towns across the country who devoted their lives to educating our youth in the same way. If you see one of them on the street, at the store or at a ball game, thank them.

I haven’t seen Ms. Guthery in several years, but I hope she knows her years as a teacher mattered and that she made a difference and is remembered. That’s why we need highly qualified educators teaching our nation’s children, they influence the lives of generations of people who will remember them.

Readers may contact Pam Lowe at plowe@ cherryroad. com.