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Thursday, 26 March 2009
A real Good guy
A few years ago, I wrote a short, retrospective essay titled Birth of a Buff. In it, I shared the story of how my parents first introduced me to the Civil War during a family vacation to Gettysburg in 1978. You can view that essay, along with some incredibly cute photos of yours truly, over on my website. If not for the efforts of my mom and dad, who knows what kinds of shenanigans I would have fallen into? Another individual who deserves credit for cultivating my interest in the "Great Divide" is Mr. David Good, my 6th grade history teacher.

I turn 37 in just a few weeks, and there are very few things that I can still remember from my days at Manilla Elementary School. Most of them however, took place in my American history class. You know that teacher who seemed to have a gift for igniting interest in his/her students, the kind of teacher that presented their curriculum in a totally captivating way, and the type of teacher that you actually looked forward to seeing in class each week? That was Mr. Good. His teaching style was extraordinary and he left an indelible impression on me that lasts to this very day.

You could say that he alone gave me my start as a writer. I distinctly remember penning one of my first historical pieces for him. It was a report on Francis Marion "The Swamp Fox" and Mr. Good told us stories about how he and his friends would pretend to be Continental and British soldiers while playing army in the woods. I also recall when he came to class dressed entirely in fringed-buckskin (ala Davy Crockett). He was teaching us about the French and Indian War and brought along his black powder musket to demonstrate how tedious the process for loading and firing was. Imagine a teacher bringing a working firearm to school nowadays. Times sure have changed, and not for the better.

When I returned from my trip to Gettysburg, Mr. Good immediately recognized my newfound interest in the War Between the States and he was patient enough to allow me to contribute to the class with my limited knowledge. He set up a special display in the glass case outside his classroom and filled it with my souvenirs from the trip. I distinctly recall how proud I was to get that kind of special recognition. I also remember how anxious I was to get my stuff back.

Mr. Good even encouraged me to create a special project for extra credit. I made a small diorama of the battle at Little Round Top. Starting with a shoebox, I cut one side off, and made a landscape w/ terrain out of clay, sticks and rocks. I also cut the cover off a Gettysburg brochure that looked like soldiers silhouetted in the woods and used that as a background. Finally, I placed tiny blue plastic soldiers representing Chamberlain's 20th Maine on top of the hill and scattered gray members of Hood's division along the slope. (I also recall having a stream represented at the bottom of the hill, which was not topographically accurate. I don't think he marked me on that one.)

My 6th grade year happened to be the last ever in this school. It was closed down and later became the borough building, police headquarters, and library for our community. The faculty was scattered among the various schools in our district and I moved on to Middle School never to see my favorite history teacher again. I did think of him from time to time, most recently during a weekend trip to Gettysburg in which my father and I returned to where it all began.

For the last four years, ever since I published my first Civil War book, I have been trying to track down Mr. Good to thank him for the tremendous affect his tutelage had on my personal and professional life. A couple years ago I managed to get a hold of my elementary school librarian who informed me that Mr. Good had retired in 2005 after teaching 33 years in Keystone Oaks School District.

Bummed beyond words, I thought that was it, and gave up on the prospect of reaching him. Luckily, through the wonders of Facebook (and the networking of some other teachers that I am fond of) mentor and student have finally been reunited.

It turns out that Mr. Good never lost his enthusiasm for history, especially the American West. Today he is a member of the River Junction Shootist Society and practices the lost art of cowboy action shooting. He is also an avid cyclist and has toured Civil War battlefields on 2 wheels with fellow faculty. Over the last few days, we have communicated via email and we are planning to chat on the phone this weekend.

I believe that we all need to take the time to thank those who had a positive influence on us. Let them know they mattered. If you had a Mr. Good in your life, I highly recommend seeking him/her out. The Internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities to get reacquainted with our past. Use it. It's well worth the effort.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 12:11 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 30 March 2009 10:10 AM EDT
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