Ever notice that some people cross your path and are only there for a short time but they have a life-long impact on you? I can say that about Mrs. Russell.
Mrs. Russell was a speed reading teacher at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas in the 1960’s and 70’s. Rumor had it that she was a former U.S. Marine but nobody had the nerve to ask her. She was probably a little over five feet and had the general shape of a bowling ball. Her speed reading class was an elective. I don’t recall that she taught anything else. I had her in the fall semester of 1971.
She was known throughout the school to be very tough and never in the mood to take any guff from anybody. Any male student that had the temerity to give her any nonsense usually caught the side of her hand alongside the head. I have no memory of her ever smacking a female.
When report cards came out, Mrs. Russell demanded to see everybody’s. She heaped lavish praise on those who had done well. Those who did not do well got hair pulled, ears boxed, or a hand slapped upside the head. Let us say that I was not a great student so when my turn came for her to review my report card, I hid the worst one in the assumed knowledge that she would not realize there was one missing. Bad mistake. After she went through my cards and was about to begin the beating, she stopped. “There are only five report cards. Where’s the sixth?” I was sitting on it and, to my dismay; she saw the corner of it on my chair and grabbed it. She looked at it and her eyes got big and her face turned to an angry frown.
First, she grabbed the collar of my shirt and started shaking me violently. At the same time, she boxed my ears and slapped my head while lecturing, “How dare you bring this kind of report card in my classroom! How can you shame your parents like this!?” She whipped me pretty good and told me she had better see a lot of improvement on the next card. Mercifully, she moved on and I am sort of glad to report that I was not the only one to get a whipping that day.
A lot of people took a beating from Mrs. Russell over the years and nobody ever said a word. Know why? It was because we all knew she loved us and wanted to do all she could to get the best out of us. She is the only one of a few teachers I remember by name and with great fondness.
It was something else, though, that made an impact on me. Shortly before my seventeenth birthday, I made the decision to quit school and join the Army. On the day I quit high school, I had to go to every teacher and get their signature to leave on a withdrawal report. I also had to get my parents’ signature. Mrs. Russell was the ONLY person that tried to talk me out of it. She even went so far as to offer to take me in to live with her so that she could help me finish high school. At the time, I told her that my parents would not allow it. She finally relented and signed the withdrawal form. She did so with great reluctance. I have never forgotten that moment in November of 1971. Somebody actually believed in me and said so.
I went on to finish high school and college. I have never forgotten Mrs. Russell and never will. I wish I could thank her. Maybe I just did. Today, go look for somebody that has impacted your life in a positive way and thank them.