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Emily Liz

April 20, 2004 at 9:06 PM

A few days ago, I was studying hard when Mom came to the door holding the phone. “It’s for you,” she said, handing it to me.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello, Emily?”

I recognized the voice straightaway. It belonged to one of my favorite teachers from eighth-grade, a tall, congenial, typically-Midwestern fellow with kind eyes, a piercing gaze, and a unique ability to discern everything about everyone. It’s impossible to fool him. I’ve seen a few people try, but nobody’s ever succeeded. He simply knows too much about the human race to be fooled. If our class failed to study before a major exam, all he had to do was shuffle through the graded test-papers in the front of the classroom, set his piercing gaze toward us, and raise his ever-present bottle of Mountain Dew...and we would know we had sinned, and we would promptly repent.

Other than that, though, he’s a remarkably average Wisconsin guy. He plays sports. He coaches teams. As a side-hobby, he interprets current events - and he's extremely good at it, too. He’s got a wicked sense of humor. He’s a slow typist. And he knows nothing about the violin.

Funny, then, that he should befriend a teenager who A) wants to be a violinist, B) can’t catch a football worth a darn, and C) hates the taste of Mountain Dew. I’m sure he was bewildered when I first starting moaning about how in love I was with music. I was bewildered myself. But despite that, he urged me to pursue my ambition, anyway. He didn’t protest when I brought him a tape containing the Twenty-fourth Caprice, the Meditation from Thais, and the Finale from the Scottish fact, he seemed to enjoy it...and although there we've not always understood each other (I once wrote a report about Fritz Kreisler, and before reading it, he joked about why I was writing about the head of an automobile corporation), he has stayed in touch. Always, he has kept one of those piercing eyes on me, watching.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

I hesitated for a minute, wondering if I should tell him the truth. “Pretty badly,” I finally admitted.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

Bewildered, I gave him my address.

“I’m going to be there in fifteen minutes,” he said. “Be ready.”

With that, the phone went dead.

I scurried around slapping on some clean clothes and brushing my teeth, arriving in the front hall just as he pulled into the driveway. I waved good-bye to Mother and got into the car. As per usual, he was grinning and holding a lime bottle of Mountain Dew.

“If you could go anywhere within a fifteen mile radius on a limited budget, where would you go?” he asked me, pulling out of the driveway.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“How about going out for pie?”

Ten minutes later we were sitting in a restaurant booth and glancing through a menu. He ordered an omlette. “I’ll have half a slice of cherry pie,” I told the waitress.

“Make it a whole piece and put the other half in a doggie bag,” he said.

The waitress obliged. Under those piercing eyes, she could do little else.

After she left, there was a moment of silence and he looked at me. I hesitated, then rushed into it headlong. I told him all the awful woes of my teenaged life - the quest for braces, the strain of schoolwork, the difficulties of having such fantastical dreams and so few resources to carry them out with. I’m sure most of you can relate.

I told him absolutely everything that flitted across my mind, and he did something few people ever do: he listened. After thirty minutes of outpour and another thirty of advice, he paid the bill and left the tip and drove me home again.

As we rode the last few miles back to my house, both of us rather silent, my strength was renewed. In a way, however, I felt a little guilty, too. Not a bad sort of guilty, not a “shoot, sob, wail, where’s the ashes and sackcloth” kind of guilty. It was more of a dawning sense of “oh, yes, you dummy, that’s the kind of human being you ought to be”’s the best kind of guilt a person can have.

Since I’m an ambitious musician with a primal urge to be the best I can be, I oftentimes lose sight of what’s really important...that it’s not the number of hours I practice each day, or the number of etudes I master, or the number of prunes I consume...but rather the time I spend being a kind and considerate human being.

Hurrah for teachers who not only teach you about the things they’re getting paid to teach you about, but also the things they won’t ever get much credit for...the things that help their students become better people. That cheer is not only for my eighth-grade history teacher and his endless liters of Mountain Dew, but for all the teachers out there who are reading this! Thank you SO MUCH for your investments in us, no matter how pointless and fruitless they may seem at the time...

As a closing note, I recommend everyone try and hear Pablo de Sarasate play the finale from Zigeurnerweisen whenever possible...I have a recording from 1904 on the exquisite “20 Great Violinists Play 20 Masterpieces” disc. Although a little difficult to hear behind all the static, the fire of his playing still glows...amazing playing for a sixty-year old guy. Charisma and pizzazz abound!

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