I don’t think he was there the first time we visited the Methodist Church a few years ago, but he was the second or third time we went back.
“Sally,” he said to me in his strong deep voice. I was flattered that he remembered me. It had been 40-some years since I sat in his 7th grade math class.
“Hi, Mr. Hanson,” I replied.
“You can call me Dick, you know,” he said, smiling. “You’re an adult now.”
“I don’t think I can,” I said to him.
Teachers, especially good ones, have a special status. When I hear kids today calling teachers by their first name, or, worse, just their last name, I cringe a little inside.
Sunday after Sunday he would engulf my hand in his while he greeted me. If I called him Mr. Hanson, he would give me a look and then say, “Dick, please,” so I took to calling him nothing.
“Good morning!” “Good to see you today!” “Merry Christmas!” I avoided the naming, and he allowed me to, until one Sunday, he said, “C’mon. You can say it.” He held my hand and waited.
I took a deep breath, and said, “Dick?” in the smallest of voices, and quickly followed it with “I don’t think I can.”
He looked at me a long time, then let go of my hand. “Okay,” he said, and he smiled at me but never mentioned the name thing again.
Mr. Hanson was one of those larger than life teachers. A former marine. Physically a big guy. A booming voice. A great smile.
I said something to another woman at church who had had him as a teacher. “I just can’t call him anything but Mr. Hanson,” I told her.
“I know,” she said, ” but let me tell you something about him. Do you remember when I was in the hospital?”
I did. When we were in school, she had been in a tobogganing accident that resulted in a broken neck, broken jaw, and months in the hospital. I spent many afternoons sitting in her room with her. Her jaw was wired shut. A device that resembled tongs attached to her skull and held her neck in traction via weights that hung down over the end of the bed.
“My mother was taking a mandatory First Aid class for teachers on Monday nights,” she said, “and she must have mentioned something about it to Mr. Hanson because he started showing up in my hospital room on Monday nights to visit. He never said anything to her about it, and it took me a long time to figure it out, but on the one night she couldn’t be with me, he came by.”
I wondered how many other Mr. Hanson stories are out there.
Therein is greatness.
Not doing big things that draw attention and bring accolades, but in doing the small things, unnoticed and unseen, but not unimportant.
Mr. Hanson died last week.
I’m sorry (not sorry) that I could never bring myself to call him Dick. I’ll miss his strong handshake, resonant voice, and warm smile. I’ll miss his presence.
Rest in peace, sir.