Passed into legend, just like Atlantis

One day, Andy and I were sitting in the newsroom, batting around stories about growing up along Lake Michigan, albeit a generation apart. We grew up in the same town, Sheboygan, lived on the same side of town, went to the same grade school, Washington, and had the same teacher, Mr. Metscher.

“Ah,” Andy said, smiling. “Wild Bill.”

“What?” I asked.

But as so frequently happens in the newsroom, one of us was called away at just that moment. I never did find out what Andy meant by that. He’s no longer here to explain further. Nor, as of last week, is Mr. Metscher.

Everyone has teachers who made a huge difference in their lives. Bill Metscher was one of mine. In the summer of 1968, I desperately wanted to get into his sixth-grade class and was thrilled to get in. He just seemed like a cool guy.

In August 1968, Bill Metscher had just turned 33. He was a local guy who had gone off to college, gotten a teaching degree and then come back home to work.

He was the first male teacher I’d ever had. He was young and energetic, nothing like any of the women who’d been my teachers before. That — and his occasional cussing, the first of my teachers to do that in class — lit up a bright but shy 11-year-old like a lightning bolt.

I can’t imagine teachers today would build a Valentine’s Day bulletin board and pair off boys and girls, but Mr. Metscher did that. I still remember the girl he put me with. It was Carol Kraft, another bright but shy 11-year-old.

Mr. Metscher and I met again three summers later at the playground he supervised. We’d moved to the other side of town, so he was surprised to see me. I told him I was going to start working on my junior high school paper — the Sabre Star — and at 14 was going to go into journalism. He said he was surprised that a shy kid like me was going into that line of work, but he smiled and seemed pleased. That was all the affirmation I needed.

I wrote Mr. Metscher a letter a few years ago, but never got one in return.  I’d heard, perhaps from Andy, that his health had not been good for some time. His obit seems to confirm that. Bill Metscher was 76 when he died Friday but apparently retired when he was in his late 50s. Gone too soon.

Picking a song from that time is a bit problematic. No music comes to mind when I think of Mr. Metscher. In 1968 and 1969, the only popular music I heard was on TV. I wasn’t listening to the radio yet, except for one summer week spent with my older cousins, driving around and listening to WLS out of Chicago.

So I’ll go with this.

“Atlantis,” Donovan, from “Barabajagal,” 1969.

I loved the prelude — it’s a bit like hearing a story from Mr. Metscher — and I’m sure I heard this in the summer of 1969, the summer after sixth grade, as my cousins cruised the circuit with my brother and I stuffed in the back seat.

(The pops and surface noise prove that this vinyl really did come from 1969. It’s part of its charm. It seems appropriate for a song about Atlantis.)

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3 Comments

Filed under April 2012, Sounds

3 responses to “Passed into legend, just like Atlantis

  1. That was a kool story that made me pause and remember a teacher I had once …eighth grade…briefly came in for a semester or two…getting some experience, I guess. Just completely different from any teacher I’d ever had. Made me feel smarter & better about myself than any teacher ever had upto then. Never thought to write a thank you or anything. But hearing of your teachers passing…made me think. Good stuff.

  2. I think we all have a Mr. Metscher somewhere in our careers as students. Mine was Roger Lydeen, my fifth-grade teacher, who was patient and creative and who taught me – among many other things – to make a good paper airplane. I exchanged emails with him a few years ago, and the fact that I remembered him gladdened him, but the fact that he remembered me gladdened me more, I think. Nice post, and nice tune.

  3. J.A. Bartlett

    Yes, a terrific post.

    The first male teacher I ever had was Mr. Schilling, also in the sixth grade, who, in addition to being male, was quite physically imposing—he must have been a football player at some point. One day in science class he wanted to demonstrate the power of the swallowing reflex, so he had a kid get a mouthful of water, grabbed him by the ankles, turned him upside down, and told him to swallow.

    He was also my only grade-school teacher who did not give me bad grades for my handwriting, admitting that he couldn’t, because his was worse.

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