Whenever my mother heard any of her children “talking about” anybody, she would clear her throat. Believe me, it was an audible clearing. “Talking about” somebody meant we were approaching gossip. Whenever the line between factual information and petty commentary became blurred, our mother faithfully cleared the blur.
If my younger brother and I heard the throat clearing in church, it meant that we weren’t sitting up straight, or that we were attempting off-limits nonverbal communication. I don’t remember ever getting “the look” from our mother, only the throat clearing. “the look” wasn’t necessary.
Knowing that she would approve, since it isn’t gossip, I’m going to “tell on” and “talk about” a few of my former students whose names many Cobb Countians would recognize. Call it modern local history.
When she was a senior at Wheeler High School, Debbie Smith Abernathy, daughter of former Commission Chairman Earl Smith and wife Rachel, was enrolled in my World Literature class. Blessed with a sharp mind and a great personality, Debbie was definitely a leader. She had no trouble with Shakespeare. Her class’ quick grasp of “Hamlet” allowed time for a few passages here and there from Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest.” Debbie read the part of Miranda who lived on an isolated island with her overly protective, magician father, Prospero.
Miranda sees no other male beside her father until she is 15. When a shipwrecked handsome young man, Ferdinand, wends his way to the island, Miranda, an utterly unsophisticated girl of peerless beauty, thinks she is viewing a god.
Drama students everywhere would have benefitted from hearing Debbie read the words of the transfixed Miranda: “What is it? A spirit? Lord, how it looks about! It carries a brave form! Nothing ill can dwell in such a temple!” Debbie’s classmates were transfixed as well.
While at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Debbie called to say that Mississippi writer Eudora Welty would be reading there and asked me to join her. After the reading, we stood in line to speak to the aging, ruling matriarch of American literature.
Finally reaching Ms. Welty, I told her that I grew up near Forest, 50 miles from her lifelong home in Jackson. But for Debbie Smith Abernathy, I would have never been blessed with a slap on the forearm from the celebrated Eudora Welty as she exclaimed, “Well law-zee, I know exactly where Forest is.”
Cathy McFerrin Webb of Kennesaw was one of Corky Kell’s outstanding basketball players. (Remembered mostly for gridiron feats, Corky also coached Wheeler girls’ basketball during the ’70s.) Cathy was an equally outstanding English student. She has probably grown tired of my reminding her of one of her best sentences.
Asked to describe Room 601 — OK, a bad topic, but better than “How I Spent My Summer” — Cathy penned an exquisite paragraph containing this sentence: “The trash can is filled with futile attempts at perfection.” Which it was, since that was before I learned to tell students to treasure, not trash, their first writing efforts.
Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, son of Corky and Carol Kell, was an Advanced Placement English student at Wheeler. Because of Tain and his good friend Dr. Richard Ozment, there were no dull moments in senior English. I once told Judge Kell that I hoped he made his court room as much fun as he made my English class. He replied that he didn’t have to since there were plenty of other “funny characters” always passing through.
Former North Cobb High School student Clint Austin is one of Georgia’s pre-eminent political consultants. When I first ran for office in 1998, Clint assisted me in a superb way. My wife Nancy had baby-sat Clint, so I had watched him grow up.
Like the other students I’ve mentioned, Clint hardly needed even an advanced English class. He could have taught it. During my last race for the Georgia House Clint was not my consultant, but when, in my presence, he learned that my opponent had filed a last-minute ethics complaint against me, he angrily reached for his checkbook and wrote my campaign a sizable check.
Like Clint, Wendy Porbandarwala was a student of mine at North Cobb. Smart, friendly and energetic, Wendy brightened my class room every time she entered it. After high school Wendy attended Liberty University, did her student teaching in Kenya, and married Tanveer (Tano) Porbandarwala from Mumbai (Bombay), India.
Wendy blessed her mother and me with a hardworking son-in-law and three excited-about-the-world grandchildren. Like every other student I’ve taught, she too has become my teacher.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.