Monday, March 6, 2017

The Fletcher Experience

March 6, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I looked up my old 5th and 6th grade teacher on Facebook.  I had tried to look him up before, but it's tough to look up folks when you don't know their first name--or if their first name is "Mr.".  Anyway, he was one of those incredibly unique and interesting educators that not all students are fortunate enough to encounter in their careers, and he made quite an impression on me in my young days.  I always wondered where he ended up.

Recently, it came to me that perhaps I was remembering that Neil was his first name, though I couldn't be sure.  I did a quick search and found a Leo Neil Fletcher.  I looked at a couple of pictures to determine if he was someone I recognized; I saw a couple of pictures of him (I was fairly certain I recognized that mischievous twinkle in his eye), but mostly I saw some incredible underwater marine life photography.  Leo Neil Fletcher was a world traveler, an adventurous diver, and an excellent photographer.  This certainly fit my memory of Mr. Fletcher--a consummate outdoorsman and a free spirit. I didn't know if he'd remember some shy kid who was in his class some 40(!) years ago, but I thought even if it wasn't him, the photographer in me was thrilled by the beauty in his work.  I decided I'd like to connect with him.  Within minutes of my friend request, he accepted.  Two days later he messaged to ask me if I was the same Donna Mayes who was in his class at Dry Creek Elementary so long ago and after confirming, we exchanged a few  'where-has-life's-journey-taken-you' messages.  I tagged him in a couple of old pictures from those early days, which led him to reconnect with a few of my classmates, including my two best friends back then, Kari and Missy.

After a little trip down memory lane, Mr. Fletcher suggested it might be fun for those of us who were still local to have a mini reunion of sorts--he was on a brief hiatus from his travels and was game to catch up with some of his very first students.  We planned to meet up at The Elbow Room on Friday night.

Six of us were there, plus Mr. Fletcher.  Still the consummate story-teller, Mr. Fletcher regaled us with anecdotes that he remembered, and we shared some of our favorite memories.  There was bombarge (Dodgeball), and marching out of the blacktop, competing with the other classes.  There was a love of reading--he read us The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, among others, and weekend camping trips.  There was the incident with Bo and the alligator lizard, and an epic footrace against the fastest kid in our class, which naturally, Mr. Fletcher won.  There was the movie that Mr. Fletcher took three of us to see after we'd won a reading contest in class.  (The movie was Ice Castles, by the way.  I can't remember who the other girl was that came, but I do remember that she and I overruled the boy, Derek, who most certainly did NOT pick Ice Castles as his first choice.  I also remember, sitting in the theater, that I thought even then that the movie was perhaps not quite appropriate for 5th graders, but I really wanted to see it anyway.  In retrospect, there were a lot of things that I think Mr. Fletcher got away with; call it beginner's luck, or willful ignorance of the rules, or an adventuresome desire to stay just out of reach of the realm of the ordinary--the status quo. Doing things differently didn't mean we didn't learn; it just meant that we learned things in a way that was real and that stuck with us.  It's the thing that made him so memorable to us all.)

It's a strange feeling, straddling the world of the past and present simultaneously.  We sat there, both 49 and 9 , and he both 65 and 25.  We were at once teacher and students, and old acquaintances reconnecting over a drink and a meal, reminiscing about the Fletcher experience--a shared moment in time, many, many years ago. They say that a teacher's first class is impressed upon  one's memory in a way that is more indelible than classes that follow, no matter how much you love those subsequent years. As much as Mr. Fletcher made an impression on all of us, his students, I like to believe that as he sat there, laughing, connecting, remembering, that perhaps we made a lasting impression on him, too.

    Missy, me, and Kari
        Missy, Will, me, Mr. Fletcher, Tammy, Kari, and Eric
       Me and Mr. Fletcher

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