Friday, February 6, 2015

Saying Goodbye

  On the last day of school, as a high school senior, I delivered three hand-written letters to three teachers who made me proud to be their student: A genetics teacher, an English teacher, and a music teacher. 

 My earliest memories of music are from church.  I remember sitting in the wooden pew, listening to the organist play and the congregation sing, and holding a heavy hymnal in my hands.  I could read the words on the page, but what were those little black dots?  Surely, if I could figure out what they meant, I could sing along. 

Music has always been a part of my life.  I started playing piano at the age of seven, joined the school choir at the age of nine, and even played the flute for a year.  I was a part of musicals and honors choirs throughout high school and college. 

While I might be known more for my abilities on the basketball court and on the softball field, I wouldn't be who I am today without the strong musical influences I've had in my  life. 

Music was never an option for me; it was a given.

Music has always centered me.  Even in college, you could find me holed up in a soundproof piano room pounding out a few of my favorite melodies before I'd get on the bus and head to my basketball games.

Mr. Watterworth was my choir teacher.  I had the pleasure of being his student for six years.  He knew me in the awkward middle school choirs, he knew me as an alto in his concert choir, he knew me as a tenor in his a capella choir, he knew me as a madrigal, and he knew me as a member of the cast in several high school musicals. 

Mr. Watterworth's class was different than the others.  Upon entering his classroom, you'd find him still in his office, with a student or two, consoling them or offering advice or just listening.  Class never started when the bell rang. Often, he'd peek his head out after twenty minutes and tell us to start warming up with scales.  He'd eventually join us on the piano and lead us into the pieces he had selected for us in our folders.  The best days were when he'd stop us after warm-ups and just start talking.  He'd talk about his family and his former students and just life. Before you'd know it, class would be over and we had never sang a single song.

He wasn't just a teacher.  He treated us and loved us like his own children.  There were times I had to go straight from the softball field into the auditorium for musical practice and I'd just swap out my cleats for tap shoes and get on stage still in my uniform.  I remember he used to tell me that all of the sports I played were going to cause me to lose my femininity.  I would always laugh and tell him that I'd never let that happen.  He also used to tell me quite often that I needed to get the tiny mole under my eye removed because eventually it would grow and grow and cause me to go blind!  ( I am happy to report that that mole has not changed shape or size in almost forty years.)

Before I left for college in West Virginia, I stopped by to visit Mr. Watterworth at his home.  Although happy to see me, he was clearly preoccupied-there was a sadness in his eyes.  It was then that I learned of his wife's cancer and that she would soon be gone.  We cried together and eventually said our goodbyes.

I saw him again a few years later at the Flushing A&W.  It was Tuesday-Coney Day.  For some reason, that day I was wearing a dress.  I remember thinking, I didn't lose my femininity and he saw me wearing a dress and all is right in the world!  He was clearly pleased with this fact and we enjoyed catching up.

Over the years, we kept in touch with yearly Christmas cards.  He followed me through college, my marriage, and watched my family grow.  He kept me up to date on his life and I always looked forward to receiving his card more than any others.  I received a card from him for Christmas, 2013 in which he stated that his health was failing and said that he would probably soon be gone.

That was the last card I received from him.  He passed away on Saturday, January 31, 2015.

Tonight, I put on a fancy dress and curled my hair and did my makeup and went to pay my last respects to a friend who just happened to also have been my teacher. A teacher who taught me to find the balance in my life.

Rest in peace, Mr. Watterworth.  You will be missed.