Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mr. Mo


Yesterday I got a birthday phone call from an old friend and colleague of mine. Some of my friendships with people I taught with go back many years. My friend just happened to be sitting with a lunch table full of former colleagues so I spoke with all of them for a few minutes.
Afterward, it became clear to me how that world and that life and those days are so over. They really are then.
That's what makes thee days so sweet. I'm not missing out on anything because the universe that I inhabited then does not exist. Yet a few things linger. During the conversation I learned of the death of another former colleague: Jim Morehouse. Mr. "Mo," as many kids called him, was one of the few extra special people I've known. Born into the pre Civil Rights south, his Louisiana upbringing could have given him plenty to be angry about. He transcended that anger and forged a life of service and became a mentor to generations of young Black men. Of course, in his role of school supervisor he helped everyone, it was his presence with those kids that had no role models that made his impact so vivid.
Mr. Morehouse was probably the most honest man I've ever known. Maybe his religious upbringing had something to do with that, but his ethics centered more on responsibility and thoroughness. He had your back. In my first decade as a high school teacher, I'd get in the mix when kids got into fights. There were no thoughts of guns then. In fact, the boys mostly postured, but the girls got into it with hair pulling, scratching and biting and back in the 70s with Afro combs known as "cake cutters." They really were cake cutters; they could really slash up an adversary if unchecked.
When Mr. Morehouse arrived on the scene I knew I could exhale. He could be strong physically and move an angry student to a safe place quickly. He could be strong emotionally, playing the father who'd seen enough. He could put his hands on kids without any backtalk.
"Son, get yourself together," he'd say. Many of the toughest kids respected him so much that their bravado melted instantly.
Last year a new health center at my newly rebuilt former school was dedicated with his name. In the years to come the students and the staff won't really know much about him. They'll read some plaque somewhere, or a description on a web site about who James Morehouse was, but it will no doubt hve little meaning for them. That's inevitable I suppose.
If they have a picture of Mr.Mo there I hope it's one with his big smile, his blue jeans rolled up a tad and his gold teeth glinting. He always smelled great with some delightful cologne.
Jim Morehouse was, for many years, the audio visual guy too. Movie projectors, slide projectors, audio tape, tape recorders, films, videos, anything electrical. He saved many a teacher from techo-disaster in his day. Everybody needs a face in their life that lets you know it's gonna be alright without saying a word.

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