Sunday, October 26, 2008

Remembering Mr. Kraus

Rain - Hi 71 Lo 63 for Baghdad, Iraq
Sunny - Hi 85 Lo 50 for Qandahar, Afghanistan
Sunny - Hi 65 Lo 36 for Northern KY, USA

Song of the week: I Need a Lover, Johnny Cougar
Before John Mellencamp was John Mellencamp, he was Johnny Cougar and then later John Cougar. This name was a record company decision and not his... Eventually he was able to be John Mellencamp. I like John Cougar and even some of the John Cougar Mellencamp stuff. . His breakout album of course was 1982's American Fool album-- the one that had Jack and Diane, Hurt So Good and my favorite from that album Have a Hand to Hold On To. The year I graduated was the year of "little pink houses"... Oh Gawd... yuck. But it also had the song Play Guitar which is simply fun. I like his older stuff... the Sunday Song is funny... there is a sense of humor to the lyrics and the composition of the song pulls you in and builds to a crescendo- an exclamation of needing someone that won't make him crazy! Along the way and over the years John became angry. He takes himself way too seriously. He also picked up the paint brush and has done some interesting art work. Like his present day persona, it is dark, thick, unattractive and angry. I'm not sure why the small town boy became so angry... maybe he has forgotten... something... I hope he can find his happiness. Life is too short.

As a kid, I was incredibly fortunate to have a great deal of stand out teachers. My Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed held my hand and introduced me to other kids in the class... being painfully shy... she took a great deal of time to make sure I was OK.

Mrs. Sleichter was about 102 years old when I had her as my 2nd grade teacher... Gawd she was mean. But for whatever reason, I really liked her. I remember there was this kid that was always throwing up in class, so the janitor would always have to come in and throw that kitty litter stuff down... I remember she was forever sending him to the corner because the kid got sick all the time. She insisted we were all old enough to realize when we weren't feeling well and should ask to be excused. She was a strict disciplinarian... and did not tolerate fidgety 7 and 8 year olds. Mrs. Sleichter was the only teacher to impose corporal punishment upon my behind...why? Because she had issued a dictate... "The next person to drop their pencil will go out in the hallway for a swat." Ya... you guessed it... I dropped my pencil...

My 4th grade teacher was Mrs. Carroll and I loved her... all the kids did... She was beautiful and smart and kind and generous and young. She read Ramona to us... This particular grade school was in a town that was supported by GM and the plant had closed... it was predominantly blue collar, unemployed, and single parent homes. My neighborhood was gross... I digress. Anyway the two 4th grade teachers took a great deal of time with the kids... We were pushed in reading and math and history. We were studying Japan and Mrs. Carroll asked if I would teach the rest of the students how to use chop sticks... That was disastrous... buttons and chopsticks everywhere... Because so many kids came from broken homes, Mrs. Carroll took time with each of her students. She was engaged and an active participant in our formative years. She called home and spoke to my mom on a regular basis. She knew our situation and how late my mom worked. Mrs. Carroll would often stay late at school with me to help ease some of the monetary woes my mom had and this helped a great deal with the cost of a sitter. Anyway, toward the end of the school year Mrs. Carroll indicated to the class that she was moving away and wouldn't be back. She was 24 and was moving with her husband to support him while he finished obtaining his Master's degree. We all cried. It was horrible. She promised to write all of us, but in turn we would have to write her. I kept in contact with Mrs. Carroll up through high school. She was a source of advice and friendship. She was a wonderful and kind person and I wish I had stayed in touch. I had heard that after she put her husband through several years of school and a number of affairs, he divorced her. Terrible.

Then in 8th grade I had Mr. Benton... my uncles and father had this man as a teacher... This man walked to the beat of his own drum and did not apologize for it. He was a large robust man with a large booming voice with a Kentucky accent. He had the same buzz haircut in the 70's as he did in the 50's. He wore black horn rimmed glasses, navy blue work pants and suspenders every day. He was the first history teacher I had that expected us to pay attention and to pay attention to what was happening in the world today. He loved our country and what it stood for. It was the first time I remember recognizing that sort of pride in someone outside my own family. He would make proclamations about organized religion and that if he wanted to go out in the front of the school yard and worship under the tree, he could do that. Why? Because this was America! A staunch conservative and a little crazy? Perhaps.

Mrs. Zando was our English Lit teacher and she introduced me to Shakespeare and the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses and all the wonderful mythological stories. She loved Shakespeare and it is because of her, that I have such an appreciation. At that time, my grandmother had given me a charm bracelet and each birthday and holiday she would add to it. Mrs. Zando asked if she could contribute to my bracelet. She gave me a delightful little silver Dutch shoe from when she had visited Holland... It is still on my charm bracelet. To this day, I love reading mythology.

High school brought a handful of teachers that made a difference in my life... Mrs. Brough, Mr. Wolfe, Mr. Enders--- he loved Dolly Parton, and Mr. Kraus.

Mr. Kraus is the reason for this week's post. Jimi, an old friend brought to my attention that Mr. Kraus had tragically died this past May. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. NO. This was not possible. Mr. Kraus was the only teacher I had all four years of high school. So, he literally watched me grow up.

He was one of my art teachers- being art class-- there was considerably less structure, the radio was usually playing in the background, kids talked and joked during class-- creativity was not inspired by a module of time but by life, so if one wasn't creative during the class... well, one had to be creative at home or before or after school. I never do well without structure. It is my nature to become lazy. Mr. Kraus was a good teacher. He encouraged me in my first couple of years of high school. He obviously realized my shy nature and worked to help me express through art. He pushed me to enter a couple of competitions and I did OK receiving recognition for my work. As a junior I was coming into my own, but at the same time I was more interested in being social and was not disciplined in maintaining my school work and it was easy to keep things from my mom. Besides, my creativity was in my head... actually putting brush to canvas or pencil to paper did not come naturally for me. I had to really focus... and practice... There were so many other kids that had this incredible gift... Jimi and Rodney. In any event the classroom was always loose and free spirited. I remember always laughing and having fun in his class. Mr. Kraus loved music. He was a huge fan of John Cougar. Jimi reminded me that Mr. Kraus had seen the Stray Cats and Jimi, Gary and I were so jealous. He also saw Men at Work and brought back a pin for me... I still have it. We talked about music and art and stuff...

The other thing... Mr. Kraus could not spell... he was horrible... another friend, Scott would mercilessly make fun of him. It was always in good spirit and fun.

Mr. Kraus was around for every single boy I dated during high school. He teased me about some of my selections...from a competing school. One day late in my junior year Mr. Kraus pulled me aside and asked me what I was going to do- what my plans were- he was disappointed because I had not really worked on pulling together a portfolio to get into art school. In fact, I had not even applied. He expressed his concern that although I had an eye for composition and perspective and story, I had not applied myself to learn fundamentals. He expressed his concern for my lack of discipline and he did not want to see me waste any of my talent. At the time I had picked up photography and was into that, but it was more of a means of documenting my teenage life and not an artistic outlet. His message was loud and clear and a pill I chose not to swallow. My senior year was filled with more of the same- fun and frolicking. Mr. Kraus was part of our lives and we enjoyed our time in his class. He pulled me aside one more time and asked me what I was going to do about college.

I told him I needed to work for at least a year before heading off to college. Grants and scholarships were not going to cover it and I wasn't about to ask my mom for assistance. He made me promise that I would never give up on art and asked that I keep in touch. I graduated and my life went on... it took a different direction than I expected, but one that I am quite happy with.

Over the years I have often thought of Mr. Kraus. I had promised Mr. Kraus I would come by and visit him but never did. He was good to me- he wasn't just a teacher, he was a friend and he wanted the best for us. He was honest with me and thought I was wasting my talent. When Jimi's sister died, I wanted to contact him. When Rodney committed suicide, I wanted to contact him. I never did. I wanted to invite him to my wedding but for whatever goofy reason, I changed my mind. So, this past week, Jimi told me about Mr. Kraus. He had Parkinson's Disease, was confined to a wheelchair, living in a nursing home... divorced with 2 kids... 20 and 16 years old. He had gone to see a band--- still passionate about live music. On his way home, he was hit by a car. Those on the scene performed CPR in an attempt to save his life, but it was too late. He was only 56 years old.

How cruel life can be... a man who used his hands and fingers to create- stricken with a disease that steals that gift from him.
I never had the chance to thank him. He was the first person in my life to offer me real constructive criticism... he was right... I did lack self discipline. I need structure, I know that about myself now... and I move through life accordingly.
Upon reading the news about Mr. Kraus, I wrote Jimi, "...despite his life situation, I hope and pray he was happy--proud of his kids-- still listening to music, appreciating art and finding that talented young soul-- that diamond in the rough. There were so many talented kids that went through his class. I pray even though he was alone that night, he wasn't alone in spirit and that he was loved. "

Teachers are amazing and wonderful creatures. You don't realize the lives you touch and to what extent. Mr. Kraus was only in my life for four short years, but the mark he left will remain with me always.

Although I never went back to visit Mr. Kraus, I did keep my other promise. I never gave up on art. It is still just as important to me today as it was 25 years ago. It is a rare day that I pick up my sketch pad, but I always stop and see the art. Thank you, Mr. Kraus.

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