Some teachers stand out above the rest. I’ve already written of my geology professor, Dr. L. F. Brown, but there was one other teacher that had a lasting effect upon my life. I have to give credit to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Baird, for the following:
- A lifelong interest in Conservation.
- A through knowledge of the Old Testatment.
- An abiding hatred of baseball.
I remember the indomitable Mrs. Baird as being one of the oldest teachers that I ever had. Of course to a second grader at Dean Highland Elementary School in Waco, Texas, old was almost certainly extremely subjective. I mean almost everybody was older than me, but it seemed that Mrs. Baird was really old. She had grey hair and spectacles, but she seemed to have a backbone of titanium steel.
Perhaps it is a testimony to my sensitivity to some things back then, when you consider how I reacted to her stories about trees. She talked eloquently of how America was covered with tall beautiful trees when the first settlers arrived. And then she would recount sorrowfully how these same settlers would cut the trees down, pile them in stacks and then burn them! Her voice would become grave when she talked about this, and I could just imagine vast tracks of trees being cut down and burned. Of course being in central Texas we didn’t have large forests. We did have trees but nothing like those that she described. It wasn’t until many years later that I saw miles of clear cut forest in the northwest with trailing plumes of smoke from the burning slash; I immediately thought of Mrs. Baird when I saw these horrors.
She went on to recount the story about a farmer that she knew who had these two huge beautiful oak trees at the entrance to his drive way. They shaded the place in the hot summers and provided homes for the birds, and food for the squirrels in the fall and winter. One spring she went by the farmer’s house and noticed that the two beautiful trees were gone except for the stumps. She asked the farmer what had happened, and he said that he had cut them for firewood. When she asked him why he didn’t cut the other dead trees on his property, he said that it was cold and he didn’t want to go that far. Her voice then dropped to an indignant whisper when she recounted the story to us, “He cut those beautiful trees because he was too lazy to go out onto his acreage and cut the already dead trees.” Her eyes flashed fire, and her voice was full of disgust. This and other stories that she told made a lasting impression on me, and always since then I have been an ardent conservationist.
Mrs. Baird also did something that today would get her ridden out of town on a rail, but back then nobody thought anything of it. She read to us from Hurlbert’s Stories of the Bible! Perhaps in deference to the one jewish boy in the class she only read from the stories of the Old Testament. I was given this book when I was in the second grade, possibly because of her reading these stories. I still have the book and keep it in the section of my book case where I put my most valued books.
She read one story each morning until she had progressed through all the stories on the Old Testament, and I remember being enthralled with the bloodthirsty nature of the Jews of this time. I thought it was full of adventure with great stories. I learned more from her readings than I ever did later in Sunday School.
Mrs. Baird also taught the boys baseball. We didn’t have any bats or baseballs but we had these big red rubber balls that we used for baseballs and used our arms and fists for bats. I hated the screaming and arguing that ensued amongst the little boys. It seemed that they would argue and fight over every little thing about the game, and I developed an intense hatred for it which lasted me into adulthood. The rules seemed absolutely incomprehensible. I was the designated pitcher since I could get the ball over the plate at the right height better than anybody else, and I remember getting the ball and stepping on third base to put a fellow out, which caused Mrs. Baird to grab her grey hair and scream “Nooooo!” I still don’t know what I did wrong…
I wondered later if Mrs. Baird had had any military training because she would get the entire class out on the play ground and run us through an exhausting regimen of calisthenics. The worst that I remember was having to duckwalk the length of the playground.
There were other stories about Mrs. Baird that I could recount, like the time she almost quarantined me because she thought I might have had Scarlet Fever, and the time she held me after school in my cub scout uniform and lectured me until I felt knee high to a mushroom because I had talked during the rest period.
I must have learned my academic lessons also, but the lessons that I remember learning from Mrs. Baird were never gotten from any textbook.