Meridian Star

October 4, 2013

William Center

By Otha Barham / Outdoors Editor
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — It is time for my loosely adhered to biennial or triennial tribute to teachers, specifically today those who taught me how to write sometimes coherent prose without my even knowing what they were doing and often not caring.

     I wish I could go back and give all my good teachers a Golden Apple Award. Teachers influence us when we can best be influenced; when we are young. Yet some, like me, perhaps were too young (or dense)to realize what valuable lessons we were absorbing from these who, for modest pay and less recognition, shaped and equipped us for facing the world. My gratitude is directed toward every discipline, but especially toward teachers of the sciences and, for today’s topic, the English language.

     Though I had no clue at the time that what my Jr. High and High School English teachers were trying their best to teach me as I resisted daily would become a passion of mine in early middle age and last for life.

     When I was in the 11th grade, someone assigned me to an English class taught by Mr. William R. Center, just as I was assigned to every other class. I don't recall if one could request teachers at Meridian High School back then, but it would not have mattered. I only knew one teacher, having just luckily graduated 10th grade at Kate Griffin Junior High and moved to the high school across town, and she was Miss Ada Holliday, the librarian and, coincidentally my Sunday school teacher.

     I didn't keep up with teachers much in those days being preoccupied with squirrel hunting, fishing, camping out, playing guitar and checking out girls, roughly in that order of priority.

     Mr. Center tried to get me to learn and appreciate the basic structure of the English language, as had a succession of good English teachers during my previous school years. But William Center succeeded, at least in the appreciation part. During my hours under his tutelage, I began to like words with clear meanings, sentence structure with rules to guide me and paragraphs that conveyed a singular element of the story and flowed like poetry.

     I actually liked diagramming sentences, for heaven’s sake! I began to worry about myself in that regard and certainly didn’t tell any of my friends; squirrel hunters, catfish fishers, guitar pickers all.

     I didn't know why I could possibly be enjoying this stuff at the time. It was unlike me. This was the same boy who just two years before had simply stopped doing my algebra homework for Miss Cheatham, preferring instead to sit in her class and watch Charlotte Smith, who sat there each day smiling and otherwise being beautiful. Of course Charlotte handed in her homework, so she was not around for me to watch that summer in Miss Fowler’s summer school algebra class.

     One might theorize that I was ripe for learning English and Bill Center just happened to be my teacher when I finally became teachable. After all, several wonderful teachers had planted seed; tons of seed, albeit in infertile ground at the time. But Mr. Center saw my eyes open wide one day with the look of a prospector who has chiseled his way into a thick yellow vein. I’m sure he just smiled as he often did, knowing he had reached another perpetual simpleton.

     So today I again salute and genuinely thank Mr. Bill Center and all the English teachers who gave me a love of the language and pointed me toward immense pleasure from sharing my feelings engendered by a boundless outdoors.