There’s a scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus in which a retiring band director is surprised by the return of his former students. Similarly, the 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips is centered around a once-surly teacher who ultimately leaves footprints of great depth and breadth with his young learners.
My ‘Mr. Chips’ was Sylvia Trussell.
I came across her photo and a few paragraphs about her life early this past week during my daily browsing of the online obituaries. There were no memories that suddenly flooded my mind, because Mrs. Trussell was unforgettable to begin with.
‘I’m five-ten and I have a size 11 foot,’ Mrs. Trussell announced in a blaring monotonous tone – much like one would expect to hear from a military drill instructor. ‘I’ve raised kids who are bigger than I am … and I know how to use that size 11 foot.’
As quickly as she warned us, Mrs. Trussell smiled widely and welcomed us to fourth grade.
Sylvia Trussell was a peculiarity among the teachers who had the misfortune of seeing my name on their roster. While her colleagues wore skirts and concerned themselves with the latest Junior League-inspired hairstyle, Mrs. Trussell mainly made certain her nylon pants were clean and that her coiffure didn’t look like it was pressed into a pillow the night prior.
‘It’s not your IQ. It’s your I Do.’
Yes, Mrs. Trussell was real.
And she was among the very few teachers in all my years who understood the true beauty of grey.
While she forbade me from decorating a Christmas tree at the local Lions Club with some fellow gifted & talented students (I’d been arguing with someone and had become rude), Mrs. Trussell carried out only a heart-to-heart with a classmate who cursed at her. The reason, as I later learned, was that the young lady had a home life that was anything but loving.
I don’t remember what academics I learned in fourth grade. Neither do I recall the subject taught from Mrs. Trussell’s podium. She taught me something far more valuable as she ended an argument between a classmate and me about who was smarter.
‘It’s not your IQ. It’s your I Do.’
That trite little mantra still sits at the forefront of my mind. And my children’s.
It’s been almost 40 years since Mrs. Trussell gifted me her wisdom and, though I’ve not seen her size 11 foot in almost as much time, she will remain with me always.
Goodbye, Mrs. Trussell.
I’m not even sure of the basis for the lesson, but one of my more memorable moments in Mrs. Trussell’s class was when everyone was to bring a type of food that no one had likely ever tasted. Some kids brought wild game; others brought unusual baked goods. I brought Limburger Cheese. (Surprised?) If I’d been interested in positive attention, I would have considered something like these Broiled Ham & Cheese Tomatoes. Catherine came up with these some time ago, and they always disappear quickly.
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Broiled Ham & Cheese Tomatoes
- 4 oz – thinly sliced Black Forest ham
- 10 – Small (Half-dollar size) Tomatoes
- 4 slices – Mozzarella cheese, each cut into 4 strips
- 6-8 strips – Roasted red peppers, diced
- 2 TB – Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB – Red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp – Italian seasoning
- Combine olive oil, red wine vinegar and Italian seasoning; whisk and set aside.
- Cut off the top portion of the tomatoes; using a spoon, carefully scoop out the pulp and seeds.
- Roll/fold a slice of ham to be about the same width of the cheese.
- Place cheese strip on top of ham.
- Spread about 2 tsp of the roasted peppers atop the cheese.
- Top with another slice of rolled/folded ham.
- Roll tightly and carefully place in tomato, flat side up.
- Repeat until all tomatoes are filled.
- Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with olive oil mixture.
- Place under a broiler until cheese is melted, about 4 minutes.