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HUCKABY: Traveling the byways brings back fond memories

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

You're welcome to the interstates. Nothing beats driving along the blue lines on the map -- those smaller roads that meander through the countryside.Last weekend I had the opportunity to drive home from the Georgia coast and instead of joining the throngs on Interstate 95 and Interstate16, I drove cross country through some of the most beautiful farm land I have ever seen. I didn't realize that we still grow so much cotton in Georgia.

We drove through or by-passed a lot of towns with familiar names and doing so brought back fond memories of trips to the coast I used to take with my parents when times were simpler and there were no interstate highways. We went through Jesup and Eastman and Surrency and saw signs pointing toward Hazlehurst and Hawkinsville and Reidsville.

We didn't go through Reidsville, but I wish we had. It holds a soft spot in my heart and always will -- and not because the state prison is there. Reidsville was the hometown of one of the most influential people in my entire life -- my first-grade teacher, Miss Ruby Jordan, who was also my second-grade teacher, too.

Miss Jordan was up in years when I began my formal education in 1958. There was no kindergarten in Porterdale in 1958 and preschool for 4-year-olds hadn't been thought of, so I began my schooling in the first grade. I couldn't have had a better teacher.

Educating our children -- or attempting to do so -- has become a frustrating task in the 21st century. There are so many mandates from above -- and I mean all the way to Washington, D.C. -- by people who really don't understand what really goes on in the classroom, that we are rapidly losing sight of the fact that the professional educator is the most valuable asset in our quest to educate and inspire the young people upon whom the future of the republic rests.

Miss Ruby Jordan was a professional in every sense of the word. She taught because she loved teaching children. Think about that for a moment. She didn't love teaching reading or writing or arithmetic -- she loved teaching children -- and was great at it.

Ruby Jordan understood that each child was different and that each child had different needs. She realized that everybody doesn't learn the same things at the same time in the same way. Let me give you a for instance.

I came to the first grade already knowing how to read -- like Scout Finch before me. I learned from my father while sitting in his lap at the kitchen table, peering at the pages of the Atlanta Constitution. Unlike Scout Finch's pedagogue (in "To Kill a Mockingbird") Miss Jordan didn't chastise me for my unorthodoxy, and neither did she make me sit in a circle being bored to death with Alice and Jerry and Jip. She gave me a newspaper and assorted chapter books and made me a reading group of one. I progressed at my own pace and read about things that interested me. I still love to read, in part thanks to my father and in large part, thanks to Miss Jordan's insight into my academic needs.

But she didn't just recognize my strengths. She also recognized my weaknesses, which were legion, and made sure that they were addressed as well. She didn't elevate me above other students and she didn't lower me below other students. She treated me -- she treated all of us -- as individuals, and made sure our needs were met, to the best of her ability.

The actual knowledge she imparted to me and the 30-some-odd little lintheads that were my classmates was secondary to the more important life lessons she helped us learn -- and there is a difference between teaching and helping someone learn. She taught us discipline. She taught us to respect ourselves and one another. She taught us that learning could be fun. She taught us to be proud of ourselves and our parents.

It's funny what people remember. I remember that several times a year we had to fill out various forms that called for our parents' occupation. Miss Jordan taught us to put "textiles" in that form. When she had to get someone told, and from time to time all teachers have to get someone told, she would add onto her admonishment, "put that in your pipe and smoke it."

I will never forget the day she told me that she was ashamed of me -- for getting in a fight, of all things. I wish I could say that I never got in another fight after that. I guess I could say it, but I'd be lying.

All these thoughts and many others raced through my mind as we passed near Reidsville last Sunday and I started to suggest going to the local cemetery there and searching for Ruby Jordan's grave. I would love to find it and pay my respects. I didn't, but I wish I had. Perhaps next time.

In the meantime I can only hope that somehow she knew, before they put her in that grave, how much she meant to so many children just like me.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.