Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just This Once

Don't cry because it's over.
Smile because it happened.
- Dr. Seuss

A sad bit of news crossed my path the other morning.  I learned, via the maniacal precision of Facebook, Robert McMullen had died.  Mr. McMullen was eighty-five years old.  His son, Sean, was one of Jill's closest friends when the two were at W-H as members of the Class of '83.  Sean and I became good friends also, bonding over shared interests such as soccer.  I have also had the pleasure of calling the youngest of the McMullens, Macada, a friend for almost as long as I can remember. Through my occasional volunteering at W-H over the past several years, I have not only reconnected with Macada and her husband, Rudy Brandl (who was a classmate of Jill's and Sean's at W-H) but have also had the chance to meet their three children. Singularly excellent human beings, the McMullens, and this latest generation, the grandchildren, more than acquits themselves quite nicely.  

Mr. McMullen taught at W-H for ten years.  His time there post-dated mine.  I had gotten to know him however through his wife, Alice.  Mrs. McMullen taught English at W-H.  She was an excellent teacher and remains one of the best teachers I have ever had.  I loved her class - especially the good-natured way she and I did battle over Henry David Thoreau's Walden.  Thoreau was an existentialist and was one of Mrs. McMullen's favorites.  Truth be told, I found his work interesting and have re-read Walden a couple of times as an adult.  Knowing how much she loved it, and opting to be disagreeable, I repeatedly objected to it during class, exasperating her by pointing out that Thoreau abandoned his life "on the pond" to return to civilization and write his silly book, thus revealing him to be a fraud.  It did not, of course, which I knew, although I never shared with her my thoughts on the subject.  I simply allowed her to keep coming at me with her love of Thoreau.  She enjoyed the combat - as did I.  

To her credit, revealing just what an exquisitely gifted teacher she was, my stated disdain for one of her favorite books did not color her perception of me.  She never treated me anything but fairly the entire year.  I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who had Mrs. McMullen as a teacher who did not come away from the experience better for it.  She genuinely cared about the children she taught - and not simply while you were a student in her classroom.  She kept tabs.  She checked in.  

It was her "checking in" that formally introduced me to Mr. McMullen.  He was still on faculty at Plainfield High School during those years, teaching various math disciplines.  Anticipating that I might need a bit of help - not only with pre-calculus but also with the math portion of the SAT - Mom inquired of her friend and colleague, Alice, whether Mr. McMullen would be able to take me on as a pupil.  She asked and, without hesitation, he agreed.  I cannot remember for how many weeks our Saturday morning tutoring sessions lasted but I know I came out of them far better off than I had been when I began them.  I am quite confident that I represented one of his greatest mathematics reclamation projects although he was far too modest to make a big deal out of it.  

I had not seen Mr. McMullen in too many years to remember, although I have seen Mrs. McMullen on a fairly regular basis at W-H's annual Fall Fair/Homecoming.  A few years ago, when Margaret was with me, I introduced my wife to her.  I made Mrs. McMullen laugh at the memory of her giving my class a "quote" test on Herman Melville's Billy Budd to curb one of my classmate's almost-religious reliance upon Cliff Notes. For those unfamiliar with Billy Budd, it is less than one hundred and fifty pages long. There are any number of assigned reading books that scream out for Cliff Notes, but this was not one of them.  For those unfamiliar with Cliff Notes, back in the day they featured detailed plot summaries...and no quotations from the text.  A lesson my classmate, Don Cooper, learned the hard way.  

Here is the contact information for the Celebration of Robert McMullen's Life that shall happen at noon on Saturday, June 24, in Fanwood, New Jersey.  While I have always enjoyed seeing Sean, Macada, and Mrs. McMullen, I would trade my right arm for not having an excuse to see them this weekend.  A sentiment doubtlessly shared by all in attendance.  

In fact, I would bet you a dollar that just this once, Dr. Seuss would tell all of us that it is not only okay to cry, it is completely understandable. 


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