This past week brought news of the death of one of my high school teachers. Charles Meadows taught World Geography and coached wrestling and football in Webb City, Missouri . He was my World Geography teacher in ninth grade (1973-1974).
According to his obituary, Mr. Meadows died suddenly. He was 69, much younger than I realized.
My classmates have been sharing their memories of Mr. Meadows and the influence he had on their lives over on Facebook. Their stories include:
- Coach Meadows was a jewel! I owe my love of world geography to him...sitting directly in front of his desk in freshman World Geography made me a bit more studious than I really was! He had an amazing gift of making a kid very attentive and never wanting to miss a single word he spoke! Rest in Peace Coach Meadows, you'll always occupy space in the hearts of so MANY of your former students!!! (Teri Edwards)
- In remembering D-Day and America's hero's, Kirk Ellis says, Charlie Meadows from Vinita, Oklahoma was a real hero. Not only during his time of service in Vietnam, but also as a teacher and friend to the students he loved and that loved him. His countless stories that we sometimes believed, to his funny laugh that we will always remember. His so-called ability to pole vault, even though we never saw him clear the bar. This was a hero. I do want to tell my favorite Coach Meadows story. He told us while he was in Vietnam a guy was coming at him and all he could hear was "karate". He said he reached into the back of the truck and responded "tire iron". That was his sense of humor and only one of a hundred stories that "Chopper" told us.
- Charlie...was one of a handful of adult males that had a positive impact in my young life and in the lives of many young men at WCHS. I celebrate knowing Charlie and all of his Chopper quotables. There are some that I've used on occasion to this day, i.e.; skillet paws, panzy-ass, drink milk at lunch, we'll make cottage cheese during practice, and the list goes on. (Kevin Howard)
- I loved Mr. Meadows. He teased me mercilessly ... and I enjoyed every second of it. I always felt like he and I shared a special kinship but I think he made every student feel like that. The world is a sadder place today. A much sadder place. Thank you for all the sweet memories Mr. Meadows, you made WCHS a lot of fun. Below is a picture from our "Slave Day" ... those overalls are certainly not flattering ... but anyway, he made me do every thing Earl Mahaffey wanted me to do. I cleaned his locker ... and there were still cookies from summer two-a-days, I had to go to his shop class and sand a car, got his lunch (Earl's), and Mr. Meadows made me take notes in class for him during the hour he had Mr. Meadows. He checked on me periodically throughout that day to be sure I was earning the money Earl spent. I can guarantee you I did. I never saw him laugh so hard ... at my expense ... which in turn made me laugh as well. (Margaret Ann Lundien)
I, too, have memories of being in Mr. Meadows class, and like Teri, my desk butted up flush w/ the teacher desk. This enabled Mr. Meadows to stare directly at me as he spun tall tales, which he always followed with a snicker. "Did you know that Russians only wear red and black, Cowen?" If Mr. Meadows ever called me by my first name, I don't recall it. His head bounced up and down, and I could see his crooked, dimply grin. I believed this Russian narrative for many years and have told this story to my students on occasion.
Kirk's anecdote about Mr. Meadows' time in Vietnam jarred my memory as did Kirk's and Kevin's recalling Mr. Meadows claim that he pole vaulted. I never questioned the veracity of Mr. Meadows' stories. In ninth grade naivete governed my worldview.
In Mr. Meadows class I learned much about world geography and cultures. We memorized maps and must have read the entire textbook. However, the stories Mr. Meadows weaved into the curriculum kept me nervously riveted to my seat. In those days teachers scared me a little, and I worried about being singled out as the object of Mr. Meadows' teasing, which I soon realized was his way of validating his students, his way of noticing each of us, his way of making us feel important.
As my high school friends and I share our stories about Mr. Meadows' stories, I'm reminded of the absolute necessity that we do this:
To deny the centrality of narrative is to deny our own nature. We seek companionship of a narrator who maintains our attention, and perhaps affection. We are not made for objectivity and pure abstraction for timelessness...As humans, we must tell stories (Thomas Newkirk in Minds Made for Stories)
Reminiscing about my time at Webb City High School and my time in Mr. Meadows' class, I wonder about how students will remember me when I no longer roam the halls of this earth. What stories will they tell? What stories must they tell?