A tribute to Mrs. Horton. May every child be so lucky
By Nate Thayer
December 16, 2016
If one is lucky in life, they were blessed, during the awkwardness of adolescence, when one transitions from child to adult, with the talents and love of a special teacher who thought, in turn, that child, too, was special.
I was fortunate to have had such a teacher, Mrs. Beth Horton, who was convinced, what seemed to most, including myself, against all evidence, that I was worthy and important and special.
I was a difficult child. I still maintain that most of those largely in control of my destiny at the time, were equally difficult adults.
That was forty years ago. Recently, I searched out the contacts for Mrs Horton determined to thank her and ensure she knew how important an influence she had been in my life.
Mrs. Horton, bless her, answered the phone on the first ring from her apartment at the assisted living center where she now resides. “Oh my, Dear Nate, how happy I am to hear from you! I have never forgotten you!”
I assured her that I had never forgotten her, either, which was the reason for my telephone call.
It had been 40 years since we last spoke.
That was when I was expelled, at age 16, from the high-priced social penitentiary for the reproduction of the American ruling class–a Christian, Blue Blood boarding school where we were made to wear coats and ties, attend class 6 days a week, and required to attend morning church services.
It was a horrible, mind corrupting institution. The school administrators felt quite similarly about me. But Mrs. Horton convinced me she thought I was special. I know she was.
It was lucky I telephoned Mrs. Horton as she refuses to own or use a computer or smart phone, insisting on handwritten letters placed in an envelope with a stamp affixed to stay in touch.
“I have saved every article I have ever seen you wrote or mentioned you. I wrote to many people to find out what happened to you. Did you get my letter I wrote you in 1998? I sent it to your office in Hong Kong” she said. “I still have all your homework papers and the letters I wrote you over the years which went unanswered,” she told me. This means she even made a point of making copies of her correspondence. And she had it all saved in a file with my name on it in her apartment. And she sent me a copy of that file which arrived in the mail today.
It included a homework assignment to write her an essay from February 1976. And it included a long four page poem she had written to give me as a gift for my 16th birthday, forty years ago this year. They are reproduced below:
“Once upon a time, when everybody was normal, John was born. He was not born, but created. His creators asked him one day if he would do them a favor.
“John,” they said, “we want you to cross the world back and forth. We would like you to communicate with everyone, in all facets of life. These people who live on the earth are all the same. There is no uniqueness among them. Please, as a favor to your creators, convey the message of uniqueness across the universe!”
“Alright,” John said, “Anything you say. I’ll do whatever you want.”
His creators looked at each other with tears, and began to cry.
“How can we expect,” said one, “to cure a disease with a doctor who is afflicted by it?”
Mrs. Horton marked across the top “Excellent”, and she meant it.
And she told me I had a talent for writing. I don’t remember now, in the fog of confusion of adolescence, anyone ever telling me at age 16 that I had a talent for anything. I believed Mrs. Horton meant it then, and I believe now she was a big reason I pursued a career and life as a writer.
Bless you, Dear Mrs. Horton.
A few months later, on April 21, 1976, my 16th birthday, she gave me a four page poem she had written just for me. It is reproduced below:
“************ A BIRTHDAY BIOGRAPHY **************
To celebrate his sixteen years,
I dedicate poetic cheers!
The world’s his playground, mile…after…mile.
He makes his mark with mobile life-style.
He’s VIP in foreign nations,
China grants him non-stop ovations.
Pre-empting space from President Ford,
“Air Force One” stow his package aboard.
He’s taken “junk trips (orient-sort)
And slow bus to Newport (last resort).
A “rolling stone,” who gathers no green,
Uses Maine Isle as R-an- R scene.
His Cambridge pad is this man’s castle,
A place where he may find less hassle.
Attending more than several schools,
Resisting neckties, bells, and rules,
Like those Milne foxes (in their boxes),
He doesn’t care to wear his sox-es.
When winter days get short and darker,
He’s visible in a blue parka.
If you should wonder where he’s at,
In spring he’s apt to sport a hat.
He might set type; he may shelve books,
Or give his studies well-glazed looks.
Though not-perhaps-discrete to-mention,
He’s no mere creature of convention.
A “panda” and iguana too
Have occupied his private zoo.
In his large refrigerator,
He could even stash a ‘gator.
Prefers his room neat as a pin.
Though Howie thought “that ash” a sin.
He fills the role of perfect host;
Guests: wall-to-wall, pre-dawn to post-,
With welcome mat and open arms,
Dispensing goodies, spreading charms.
He’s popular, has many a fan—
Is “his own person”—plus “ladies man!”
Relating well, one to another,
Has sense of “soul” and blood of “brother.”
A personal compass steers his code;
He travels straight on the less-trod road.
His whereabouts aren’t quite expected—
Like “lumps” in his bed (if inspected).
The “shape” he’s in shouldn’t cause surprise…
Considering all his exercise;
To “rainbow’s end” on the beach, he’ll go;
As parking lot pacer, he’s a pro!
From campus “shackles” he can twist
The bonds of G.D.’s “Blackest List.”
Performs rope tricks with Tarzan-ease
And climbs for Polar Bears–in trees.
As non-conformist, he ranks best…
First Prize: for flying “Cuckoos nest.”
Since his nature is political,
He’s “street-wise” as well as critical.
Unlike those sycophants in our land,
He’s never afraid to take a stand.
Sometimes such grit will mean Work Squad,
Dealing-with-dirt from dorms to quad.
Beware to his Foe who storms “Behave!”—
This single pebble makes a big wave.
He slices through “ifs,” ands,” or “buts;”
His “brownie”-radar picks out “nuts”.
His theory re: prescription “pills”—
A doc who’s sick can’t cure our ills.
That doesn’t mean he will not stay
With those nice nurses for a day.
Despite his nights of Deprived sleep,
He’s still a source for insights deep.
Besides the fact that he’s so smart,
His written work reveals an art.
In choosing words, he’s one of those
Who goes for very vivid prose!
Though he won’t swear by Boy Scout creed,
For needy friends, he’s a friend indeed.
His guiding spirit, based on care,
Asks, “What is right and true and fair?”
He has special gifts for sharing
And shows flair for forms of daring.
Among the earth’s diverse measure,
He’s acquired a range of pleasures.
Was, at one time, his rule of thumb!
Now he side-steps “Yesterday’s” sorrows
While chalking up clear tomorrows.
Though “tribulations” may be a grind,
His kind of being is…being kind.
To know him is to feel worthwhile,
Rewarded by his certain smile.
Re-phrasing authors proves a real challenger,
But I’ll try a pair named Seuss and Salinger:
A person’s a person, no matter how high;
And love catches children who runs in the rye!
April 21, 1976″
Bless you, Mrs. Horton.
May every child be so lucky.