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Thank you, Mr. Webb

Once, I tried to egg my teacher’s house. I was in high school — a junior maybe? A senior? It was dusk. We drove by Mr. Webb’s house slowly. The plan was this: I’d stand up in the passenger seat, poke my head out the sunroof and launch two eggs — one right after the other. They’d explode on Mr. Webb’s porch, maybe even the front door. Then, we’d drive off laughing, high-fiving and hell-yeahing as we imagined him trying to solve the mystery of the egging.

The grand irony is this: when I look back on all the teachers I’ve had in my life, Mr. Webb’s the one who stands out, and there I was trying to egg his house.

I had him for two classes: mythology and a sociology class he called historical perspectives.

His mythology class was simple so long as you did the reading. He made that abundantly clear. You either read the books and passed his quizzes or you failed. There was no middle ground.

Mr. Webb taught mythology and sociology at Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio.

Mr. Webb taught mythology and sociology at Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio.

By forcing us to read, he kicked us over the threshold into brand new worlds.

Watership Down, The Firebrand, Lord of the Rings, 1984, Heiro’s Journey, The King Must Die, Dune and more. I remember him counseling us, goading us to push on through difficult chapters — particularly The Council of Elrond in Lord of the Rings. “Even I find myself getting bored in this chapter,” he said. “It’s long. But trust me when I say it’ll be worth it when you get through to the other side.”

Mr. Webb led me into the inky wells of the subconscious. When I climbed back out, I wasn’t the same. He taught me that reading was work. It’s a commitment — now more than ever. But it’s worth more than the surface depth we get from television and movies.

Mr. Webb gave me a tie when I needed one for Homecoming. I dyed it yellow to match my hair. It hangs in my closet today.

Me sporting Mr. Webb's tie. I used my yellow hair dye (Manic Panic) to make sure I matched.

Me sporting Mr. Webb’s tie. I used my yellow hair dye (Manic Panic) to make sure I matched.

In historical perspectives, he showed us the connections between protest music and Vietnam; between the Beatles and LSD; between jazz and oppression. Music isn’t made in a vacuum. It comes from people struggling to convey things words alone won’t let them say.

Mr. Webb introduced me to Alvin Toffler and his alarmist tome on change, Future Shock. Published in 1970, the book’s main thesis was this: radical change is coming. It’s accelerating, and it can be crippling. You either learn to cope with it or you get crushed by it.

Mr. Webb took his own life not long after I graduated high school. Something caught up with him. I’m not sure what. I was angry and confused. I cried. I thought about Future Shock. I wondered what changes he had trouble facing.

webb2I kept picturing his strange waddling walk in suit and tie. I saw that massive, red-faced smile, heard his voice — a voice that was always 10 decibels too loud. I thought about his love for literature and art (rumor was he had over 10,000 CDs — so many they took up an entire wall in his study).

I thought about the egging and how it went awry.

Here’s what really happened: I cocked my arm back to launch the egg. When I swung forward, the egg caught the edge of the sunroof. It cracked and splattered all over the passenger seat. My friend punched his steering wheel and cussed. In a pathetic, last-ditch effort, I tossed the second egg and watched it roll harmlessly onto Mr. Webb’s lawn.

“That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen,” my friend said.

Now, we’re both glad I didn’t hit his house.

I wonder why I wanted to egg Mr. Webb’s house in the first place. All I can think of is this: he pushed me harder than I wanted to be pushed. He made me stretch. He made me put in time and effort — far more than any teacher before him and far more than any after. He showed me that you have to sit through a lot of goddamned Councils of Elrond to get to life’s good stuff.

Thank you for that, Mr. Webb. That you for making me laugh, for pushing me, for making me a better man. In many ways, I’m still that 17-year-old boy, and I look up to you. I always will.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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  • Chris Brookshire

    Dear Mr. Marion,

    I really enjoyed your story about Mr. Webb. I too had Mr. Webb but several years before you I’m sure. Mr. Webb also made an impression on me and I remember him has a fair and caring teacher and was lucky he was part of my high school. Great story, thank you.

    February 14, 2016 at 11:21 pm
  • Ryan

    Nice article Fredrick. I had him as well, long before you,, and learned a lot from him. There were many teachers that made a difference at WHS. I easily passed college composition after having Mrs King for example!
    Thanks for sharing about Phil Webb.

    February 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm
  • Joy Stubbs

    I am so glad someone sent this page to me. This is a fine tribute to a good man from a good man. (I like your yellow tie picture.)

    February 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm
  • Dennis West

    nailed it Fred, enjoyed the read.

    February 16, 2016 at 12:43 am
  • Aaron Wolters

    I rarely click on anything I see on Facebook but I always click on your stories Fred. Thank you for the short escapes you provide. This also reminded me of my failed attempt at mailbox baseball from an open-top jeep where I hit my friend in the head with a bat.

    February 16, 2016 at 5:03 pm
  • Martha Lyon

    I, too, received a great Midwestern education in MI (Grosse Pointe) and OH (Toledo), but it was more about making us work than the Mr. Webbs of the world. Most teachers didn’t care back then, especially if you were only mediocre. Because of your age, I assume you didn’t have sentence diagramming in grade school, so, do you think it was all the reading that enhanced your writing ability? Typical of today’s Internet writing that sentence diagramming helps one avoid is this sentence from “Why Teach English?” by Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker contributor:

    “The vicarious pleasure of reading is, by the perverse principle of professions, one that is often banished from official discussion, but it remains the core activity.”

    When sentences are seen in sections, as sentence diagramming trains the brain to do, it’s easy to see the core message of the sentence is an impossibility: Pleasure remains the activity.

    Pleasure is the real purpose of reading and its benefit, but, obviously, it’s not an activity. But, today’s writer are unable to see such connections in their writing, but I sense you can. Do you think you absorbed the skill from all that reading and Mr. Webb’s discussions about it?

    P.S. How sad he’s unable to read of the enormous impact he had.

    January 5, 2017 at 12:09 pm

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