I never thought of the relationship my second grade teacher and my fourth grade teacher had until today, but they taught together in a small elementary school (2 teachers per grade level) for years, so they must have known each other. Why did I think about it today? Because the day after I blogged about the death and life of my second grade teacher, my mother called to inform me that my fourth grade teacher had died on the same day. I am amazed that these two women who so influenced me and hundreds of others they taught would die on the same day. If God does not play dice with the universe (Albert Einstein), what happened?
I have blogged a number of times about Mrs. Belle Bing and I will attempt to link those blogs within this tribute. My mother enjoyed reading my tribute to Mrs. Milton and remembering the stories as I retold them, so as we talked today she offered a few of her memories about Mrs. Bing. The thing that stood out to my mom the most is the fact that Mrs. Bing, a widow, invited all of the girls in her class to spend the night (in 3s and 4s) at her house. This impressed my mother. I added a detail as my mother was recounting this – the boys (in 3s or 4s) came over to dinner on the same nights the girls were sleeping over. We all helped with dinner, cleaned up and played at our teacher’s house. There was no homework that night, as I recall, and it was the first night I remember wondering what happens when a husband or a wife dies. What did Mrs. Bing do on the nights she didn’t have her students over?
My mom also reminded me of a story Mrs. Bing told that I have re-told over the years. “Once upon a time, a young Indian boy named Falling Rock set out to prove himself worthy of becoming a brave. He went over the river and through the woods to gather all of the food he could gather to take back to his small village. Hours passed by and Falling Rock had not returned. Days turned in to weeks turned in to months and years and still no Falling Rock. The story of Falling Rock passed through many lips just as it is passing through mine right now. Certain that Falling Rock would emerge from the mountainside one day, workers building a grand road through the mountain wanted to warn the travelers. So, whenever you see the sign ‘Watch for Falling Rock,’ you will know you are traveling through old Indian lands.”
Mrs. Bing had a way of telling a story within a story like no one else I have ever known. Shortly after hearing this story from her lips, we went to visit my grandparents in WV. We set out on I-64 W and I saw the sign. I wondered as a 10 year old if the story was true. We saw the sign again and again on that trip, and each time I paid more and more attention to the destruction of the mountains in service of the road construction. I was devastated that Falling Rock’s homeland had been cut out, and stripped, and paved. On Monday morning, I went to Mrs. Bing and asked her if the story was true. She asked me if I had seen Falling Rock come out of the woods on my trip and encouraged me to keep looking for him. I retold this story to a group of fifth graders I assisted on a project about the displacement of the mountain people for the construction of the Shenandoah National Park. Those kids got it!
Mrs. Bing was a storyteller. She was the kind of teacher who could make you feel like you knew a ton one minute and had so much to learn the next that you were overwhelmed by the prospects. Perhaps my fondest memories of Mrs. Bing come from the field trips we took. This piece was originally posted by me in another blog:
Mrs. Belle Bing is an amazing teacher. She is a storyteller with a commanding presence. We learned about the Civil War by loading on to a school bus and taking a trip to sit on an old lady’s front porch. She told us stories passed down by her grandfather and ate lemon cookies. I remember this day like it was yesterday and it’s going on 36 years ago! We went back to school and devoured everything we could find on the Civil War so we could come to terms with a question the old lady asked us – “What would make Americans go to war against America?”
How would Mrs. Bing teach in the 21st century? Would she use an interactive whiteboard or her old chalkboard with her old chalk? Would she stand at the front of the room and tell us stories or would she deliver high-tech presentations? Would we go on field trips in a yellow school bus or on the Internet? Would we pursue essential questions or would we respond to random blog entries?
On one of our field trips, we stopped by the location of an old country store where our principal, who Mrs. Bing had taught, had worked as a young boy. Talk about an anticipatory set! We got out of the bus and walked over towards the railroad tracks away from the store and there it was – The Greenwood Tunnel. Mrs. Bing told the story about Claudius Crozet, a French engineer, who designed and oversaw the construction of four railroad tunnels through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the days before dynamite. She spun a tale that told of the technology of transportation and mesmerized me, thinking about life before automobiles and heavy machinery. The day my older brother got his car and we had our first joy ride, I had him take me back to this location. We walked around and touched the sealed tunnel entrance and talked about how they just knocked out the mountain beside the tunnel when the trains got too big for the tunnel.
I have since read everything I could get my hands on about Crozet and his tunnels, traveling to Elkins, WV to take a picture of a historical marker in Crozet’s honor, visiting related museum exhibitions in Richmond and Lexington, VA and eventually finding each of the three tunnels that still exist. I took great pleasure in creating a presentation (done most recently via Google Earth) to deliver to fourth grade classes around the county where I attended school and now work. Every time I think about the tunnels, I think about Mrs. Bing.
I hope Mrs. Bing and Mrs. Milton have seen each other a lot since last Friday when they both died. I hope they have reminisced a lot about “the good old days” and have reconnected with their husbands and other loved ones. Both of these women influenced me greatly in life and in my classroom. I am thankful for my time with them and look forward to seeing them both again some day. For now, my thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones.