I wish I could say I’m unique, but in so many ways I’m just like everyone else.  I have favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite words, and favorite people.  I was sitting at my desk thinking about people who touched my world in some way when thoughts of the colonel crossed my conscious musings.  

I never saw the colonel in a uniform, but he always looked dapper in a dark suit and tie as he sat at the front of the room eagle-eyeing the wiggling, squirming, whispering, and giggling kids perched behind desks.  He sat for what seemed the longest minutes of the day looking over his charges before he pushed away from the desk and slogged across the room to close the door. Enroute to the door he would say, “Shaaad uuuup.” Which meant shut the hell up.  

Once he shut the door he’d stand leaning against the desk for a bit before he sat back down leaning his chin in his hands. Sometimes he’d stare at the floor as his head began to slowly tilt to one side.  We all had our own ideas of what he was doing, but the guys in the class were convinced he was trying to look up the short skirts of the girls. Maybe he was…

He taught us Spanish, a language he spoke fluently. I often wondered why a retired colonel in the US Airforce needed to speak Spanish.  He’d scribble barely legible sentences on the board and then call on someone to read the sentence. More times than not it was an impish kid named Pots, stupid enough to take Spanish his freshman year.  Pots sat quaking in his seat with legs dangling, too short to feel the security of the floor beneath his feet.  He’d start with hesitated stammering.  The colonel would help him along until he became frustrated. His cheeks would puff out emphasizing the letter ‘p’ as he said, “Shaaad uuup, Pots,” and then continue by telling him to sit down and next time do the assignment or don’t bother to come to class.   

Every school has their share of trouble makers and the rural school I attended was no different.  One morning the locker doors ouside the room slammed, fast footsteps tapped a hurried rhythm, and raised voices rang through the hollow hallway.  The colonel did something no teacher today would ever get away with. He chased down a student and had him by the front of his shirt, back against the lockers as he told him to fly right or get out.  The boy had been in trouble repeatedly with the school and the law.  He did all those things bad boys do: smoke, drink, cuss, skip school, steal, and take drugs.

Several years later, that same kid joined the army and found himself in the jungles of Vietnam where he was killed.  The entire school honored him at a memorial service.  A white-haired man stood stalwart as tears streamed down his rough, reddened face.  I was in elementary school at the time, but I can still see him holding his white-haired head proud even as his shoulders trembled. Of all the people at the service only the colonel understood what the young man saw, heard, smelled, and felt before taking his dying breath.  As a man who fought for his country and lived to teach Spanish to a bunch of country kids with the wide-eyed innocence of calves in a pasture, he honored the young man who he had held in a firm grasp by the shirt a few years earlier.

The colonel became one of my favorite teachers, as he was to my older siblings.  His gruff voice often belied a genuine concern for the kids he taught.  He would go to bat for an underdog and do his best to corral troublemakers.  He didn’t have to say much to get 30 kids to “shaad uuup.” He told us wonderful stories of faraway places with blue eyes flashing. He made us listen and encouraged learning with eccentric behaviors that only endeared him to most of the kids he taught.  We saw beyond the tough exterior to the soft center of a man.

I doubt schools would put up with his idiosyncrasies today, but he fit the little school on the hill for the time he was there and left a lasting impression on at least one student….me.