Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Updating Memory - Please Stand By


The secret to immortality, my friends, is to avoid me. You see, when I lose contact with someone, in my mind's eye they never age, they never change, they’re never subjected to new hardships. I know this isn’t the case, I know life goes on, but my mind doesn’t bother to fill in the blanks. It simply stows away the last known reference I have of someone and, whenever I think of that person, my mind retrieves that archived memory – no matter how long it’s been in storage (I’m sorry guys, but many of you will always have a mullet…and Gerald Dean, you will always have a finger up your nose). This is the only way I can explain why certain things surprise me, certain inevitable things – like the retirement of a former high school teacher.

When I heard about the retirement of Mr. Hughes, the news blindsided me. This isn't supposed to happen, or should I say, time wasn't supposed to advance this far. You see, in the everlasting memory of my former teachers, they still teach in the same classroom, with the same textbooks (which is probably true), in the same attire – forever. Mr. Hughes was no exception. He was supposed to teach well beyond my ability to remember which assisted living apartment I left my dentures in. Obviously, though, the notice of his retirement meant I would have to update my antiquated memory of him; the fiery little man with the bushy hair, over-sized glasses, and caterpillar mustache is moving on.

Mr. Hughes meant a lot to me, more so than most teachers. So, I felt compelled to contribute to his retirement ceremony (besides, he’s had to deal with us Rantamaki’s for well over half of his thirty-year teaching career…it’s the least I could do). So, I took a moment to remember him, in my own special way (I'll get to you later)…

Former Classmates, Teachers, and Friends:

Unlike many of you here, I was never a student of Mr. Hughes (yes, I still call him Mr. Hughes, because using “George” just seems disrespectful). I never signed-on for any of his drama classes and I was never in his choir (though both of my sisters were, as were both of my nieces…and yes, it’s been THAT long). I did, however, find myself under the direction of Mr. Hughes during a number of school plays, and it wasn’t until then that I was able to fully appreciate the emotional complexity of the man beneath the hair.

Initially, I volunteered for backstage work - at the urging of my older sister who figured I could use the social interaction (she obviously felt I’d mastered “geek” and needed to move onto “interactive geek”). I simply saw it as something to do.

As the seasons passed, my participation grew to include not only set construction, lighting, and props, but also becoming a member of the cast – a monumental leap for a kid who tended to avoid attention.

In the transition from behind-the-scenes to becoming an on-stage performer in a Mr. Hughes production, I was treated to the full brunt of his wrath – a fury I once thought was fabricated by my sister to make it “appear” as though choir was hell. But, experiencing the yelling, screaming, fist pounding and foot stomping during the long tenuous hours of rehearsal only reaffirmed her depiction of a crazed man bordering on PMS.

His tirades were, at times, difficult to withstand, but when it all came together, when the curtain fell upon a performance equal to his vision, he never hesitated to heap tearful praise upon his performers. I can still see him standing in the wing, with a rare smile of satisfaction, open arms, and virtually bursting with approval — those moments, those infrequent moments, made it all worthwhile.

He was my teacher without a classroom, my mentor without an equal, an adopted parent without knowing. He built my character through his characters. His confidence became my confidence.

Without Mr. Hughes, my time at Chaney High School might have been forgettable. Without him, Chaney might have just left a bad taste and without him, my everyday encounters might lack confidence. It was symbiotic, our relationship, and though I lacked the ability to understand it then, I’m certainly thankful for it now. So, although my time with Mr. Hughes never counted towards my grade-point average, it's counted ever since.

Thank you Mr. Hughes and best wishes in your retirement,

Rick Rantamaki - Student in Life

Copywrite 2009 Rick Rantamaki


Barb Friedman said...

I experienced the phenomena of reality meeting memory just last night when I was re-introduced to a friend's brother. To my amazement, he wasn't still 12.
You captured the essence of that mind trick as well as the essence of Mr. Hughes perfectly!

Jim Patton said...

That was excellent Rick! I never had him for class...or via any other interaction, but through your 'tribute', I feel that I have and I'm smiling!