Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American author whose works I taught for over twenty years, wrote one of my favorite quotations about friendship. Mr. Emerson wrote, “ A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.“ This is a significant statement when one considers the grand show that Nature can be.
How do we nurture our friendships? How many friends do we have? How have we lost friends? How important are our friends? What are we doing to maintain these connections?
As parents, you know that to your children, and especially to your teenagers, friends are everything. However, as we age, the burdens of work, family, and society encroach on our time, the time it takes to nurture that “Masterpiece of Nature.”
I want to share a story with you about a teacher who has been with me at the academy for nine years. His classes are always full; his name is Kurt Richey, and I am proud to call him my true friend. Here is our story:
In 1984 Kurt Richey was a student in my English 11 Honors class. On the first day of school, when most students reserve comment and assess the academic situation in which they find themselves, Kurt Richey asked me if I knew the difference between a Puritan and a pilgrim. I did not know. As the year went by, I hammered Kurt Richey and his English papers with C’s and B’s until he became a writer. I understand that he continues this tradition with his own students now.
If truth be told, most of time, I was trying not to laugh or lose control at some of his hilarious shenanigans.
The next year, Kurt Richey enrolled in my journalism class. There, he shined. He was a food columnist. His column was called Kurt’s Kitchen. I remember the first recipe that he shared with the student body, a recipe he designed especially for latch key kids. The recipe had something to do with beans, cheese, and a tortilla. He called his epicurean delight Corned Beef Hash Burrito.
His column was a big hit. Even the lunch ladies laughed.
Kurt was a crackerjack reporter and showed up at my house (a faux pas, for sure) one afternoon with a big story about a musical that our high school and another were jointly sponsoring. He was sure that we had scooped the local paper, The Argus, and he was right. The story hit the Smoke Signal (our school newspaper)and then the Argus. Kurt was a journalistic hero in Room N-9.
My seniors in journalism challenged me with tough issues, forcing me to draw The Line of Good Taste in chalk on the floor of my room. They danced up to that line; they wore me out. One day I let my guard down. Kurt Richey and his buddy, Mark Brosamer, asked me if I wanted a yogurt from the local yogurt shop. I did want a yogurt. Richey and Brosamer didn’t have a car. I did. No problem. No worries. They took my van, my money, and my stupidity and left the school (during class time) in search of yogurt. Driving back in, they met Vickie Lambert, one of the vice principals, who was checking the watch she wore on her ankle. Kurt Richey told a Tall Tale that day, reminiscent of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. In short, he told Vice Principal Lambert that they had been on “journalism business.” Never mind that he had deli sandwiches and yogurt in his hands.
I told Kurt he ought to consider becoming an English teacher. He went to University of California, Davis, majored in English, and lo and behold, was back at Room N-9 four years later asking if he could be my student teacher. I had never had a student teacher but said, yes.
He landed a job at my high school. We both taught English 11 Honors. Now we were peers. We made mischief in English Department meetings and planned riotous group projects for our students.
When I decided to leave public education to open my own school, Kurt left to teach at another school. I told him that if my business risk was successful, he was on board.
That was 9 years ago. He has been an integral part of the academy, my academic pursuits, and my fun. During that time, life has moved on: my Dad died, my daughter got married, Kurt and his wife Heather had three boys; the usual ups and downs of life have unfolded.
Every Wednesday, Mr. Richey arrives at my school, usually in a good mood with some funny or not-so-funny stories to tell. We discuss our lesson plans; we discuss our spouses and kids; we discuss religion, philosophy and politics. Then we teach. And boy do we have fun.
How cool is that?