Legacy of a Teacher, Gilbert Morris
This is August. It’s hot. Our granddaughter Haven is staying with us this month.
The day starts by making a list of what we’ll do that day. Usually, we make it a high-structured day. That’s what helps those with autism, helps to lower their anxiety. That way, they know what’s next. Haven does not care for “free time” as much as she loves having a plan.
But on this day, Haven and I had errands to run in town. We finished the shopping list. She finished an iced mocha. Drinking coffee is her new way of saying she is 19, an adult.
Near a busy intersection, I whipped into an almost empty parking lot. I said, “Haven, you never know what might jump out at us in Goodwill.”
“That’s true,” she said.
Covid is rampant in our county, so we masked up. The automatic doors opened for us. The store had its own unique smell. Not bad, just unique.
Within ten minutes, Haven stood in front of bookshelves, calling “Mamaw!” She wanted to buy a book. Believe me, she is not without books at our house.
She talked non-stop, trying to convince me that she needed another book. It’s probably like I sometimes want a cup of tea or coffee, and I already have a full cup in front of me. Or it’s like she stalked this corner of the store, hoping to find something she wants. Maybe a book beyond normal books, promising her structure and love.
Haven pulled a book off the shelf. She held it up. It was written by Gilbert Morris. I stood where I have stood many times before, looking at an entire collection of books I’d never seen before. The books were written by Gilbert Morris, my favorite college professor. I am in shock.
Mr. Morris taught me to appreciate Moby Dick. I recall sitting in a drafty old room, chilled. He smiled and said to his students, “No one will nod off today. The cold will keep all of us awake.”
He was one of my favorites at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He taught American Literature in the early Sixties.
Seemed to me that all of my teachers were always ahead of me. I spent four years there, feeling like I’d never catch up.
How many times have I wished to say thank you to Gilbert Morris?
Not only was he my teacher, but Gilbert Morris let me work as a part-time secretary for him for three years during my college time. He lived out his values and beliefs in front of me. I noticed. Everything about him matched up with what he said.
In those days, he was writing formal poetry. But here today, my granddaughter found historical fiction by Gilbert Morris. I’d heard that he’d become a prose writer. I’d even bought his first book, but then I didn’t keep up with him.
After college, I moved forward, becoming a teacher myself. Then, onto graduate school. No further contact with former teachers at Ouachita. I guess I just stayed with the path before me.
But that day, I stood and stared at books. Gilbert Morris had been on a path, too. Here, at the Goodwill Store and Donation Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas, a set of 30 books in The House of Winslow series stared back at me. Maybe there were more.
Haven is sensitive enough to tell that I was in awe. I explained that 30 books was a lot to write, and maybe there were more. “And, Haven, you found them….”
I told her a little about who Gilbert Morris was to me. “He was a little like your teacher Mrs. Barr—kind, smart, and a good teacher.”
Haven got it. She may be autistic, but she is not dumb.
“Mamaw, he was your teacher!” she said. “You need to buy three of his books!”
I smiled and looked at the other shelves to see if there were any other books by Gilbert Morris. No more.
My eyes again landed on the shelf with the G. Morris books. I started loading my cart with his books.
“Are you buying all of his books, Mamaw?!” asked Haven.
“Maybe. Haven, would you take one book to the front and ask them about the price?” Off she hurried, book in hand.
Soon, we stood at the cash register with 30 books.
“Gilbert Morris wrote all of these books,” Haven told the young man checking us out. “He was my mamaw’s teacher when she went to college.”
“So you’re buying the entire series?” he asked, looking at me, not her.
“Yes,” I said.
He counted the books to be sure Haven’s count was accurate. “30 books for 30 dollars,” he said.
“And we want this nice cup for my granddaughter. She thinks she wants to drink iced mocha frappuccino from it.”
Haven laughed. She and I were strangely happy with ourselves.
As we left the store, we left with hope and three bags of books.
P.S. Haven wants me to read all the books in correct order, of course.
Just a small portion of Gilbert Morris's legacy. Books from The House of Winslow series. Photograph taken in August 2021 by Pat Durmon.
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