I can remember the simplicity of those days. When the only worry was getting to class on time, a poem that needed written, (and was often already done because I just loved to do it) and trying to stay awake in class. In my senior year of english, my seat sat against the wall, closest row to the door, 4th back, safe from being in the front row. Easy in, easy out. My friend, David sat in the next row over. I don’t remember much about the lesson plans as much as I remember just knowing it was a good class.
I have nothing but fond memories of Mr. Bottorf’s class. A gentle man always dressed in English teacher style, pressed pants, shirt, thick glasses, tie, a stern look, with or without pursed lips or a thin crooked smile, and poised pen – red. The man who insisted you be on time, not waste time and somedays, seemed to come from another time as he recited words from Shakespeare. These moments typically came when the temperature was the hottest and there was no a/c in the school. The afternoon sun would come in those tall windows where the venetian blinds wouldn’t close nor did all of the windows open.We were reminded our school sat in the middle of working farms fully stocked with cattle and pigs. Cowpie High didn’t get it’s nickname without reason. Those warm spring days, when it was time to clean out stalls, were “ripe” to say the very least.
A note about Jack, Jack Bottorf. And I say it that way because after all characteristically, he was kin to James, James Bond. Often during my high school english class, he would be referred to as simply Jack B. or Jack. or Bottorf. One thing is for certain. He was always referred to with respect. The lessons learned here were just as much about life as it was literature.
Don’t be late, or suffer the consequences.
There were no do-overs in Jack’s class.
You received the grade you earned.
You were expected to show up for class. If you didn’t, you were still expected to know the material and you better have a good reason why you weren’t there. Class began with the announcement of referral slips for those who had not been in class the day before and weren’t on the master absentee list from the school. Remember those days? So if you had planned on skipping class, you had better have a backup plan. David was mine. If you had reason to be absent, you were excused and the referral slip was torn in half and thrown away. All I had to do was raise my camera and the slip was gone from memory. After a time, there were no more slips, just a glance from above his glasses and a Ms. McWilliams, where were you?
Above all, Mr. Bottorf was fair. In my senior year, my class was not required to do a research paper. Our final exams were coming up and as we had thoughts of graduation, spring and an endless summer at age 17, we were given the option to either take the final exam or do a research paper. The grade we received – would be our final grade. I opted for the research paper. I felt the odds for a good grade were better with the paper; do it well and receive a good grade. When that final paper came back with a grade one point away from an A, I went straight to his desk to argue my case. What seemed like hours later, he still wouldn’t budge. I graduated from high school english class with a final grade of a B.
Last summer as I was visiting my son, Mike, at his business in Hollywood, MD. I was pleased to see Mr. Pence come through the door. Another previous high school english teacher; actually, the teacher that introduced Tom and I when we were freshmen. As I caught up with him, he mentioned that Jack, Jack Bottorf, was sitting in the car waiting and he needed to go. Literary buddies from my high school days and before that I am sure, they often went out together as old friends do. I was excited to know ole’ Jack Bottorf was there and followed Pence out to the car. He was just as I remembered him, thick glasses, neatly dressed and a crooked smile. Standing there in that warm summer day, sun bearing down, talking and hearing his voice, the only thing missing was the fragrance from a neighboring cow pasture. I could have been 17 again, with forgotten memories of high school flooding back. Before leaving him we argued again about that one point he refused to give up 30 years prior, and how it cost me an A. I was reminded that I hadn’t earned it. And it made me smile to know I was pushed, and wasn’t given something that I hadn’t earned. One point. One point…
The two of them drove away that day with a smile and a wave. As I walked back into my own adult world, I was reminded of so many little things forgotten. And for so long in my youth, and now adulthood, my memory of Jack, Jack Bottorf, was in relation to the point he wouldn’t give me. I now realize that the point he didn’t give – has been THE point well made for the last thirty years of my life. Working hard for what you are given. You are only given, that for which you have earned.
If only the world had more teachers like Jack, Jack Bottorf. God speed Mr. Bottorf, may your hall pass take you straight through Heaven’s Gate.
Mr. Bottorf’s full obituary can be seen by going to the link below.