Searching for Mr. Parker

I’m looking for Mr. Parker. I want to tell him thanks. Next to Alvina, star teacher of my book Yoder School, he was my favorite.

But it could be too late. After all, I haven’t seen him for almost fifty years. I’ve searched on Google and Facebook. And just last evening, I tried whitepages.com. In fact, I might have spoken to his voice mail. I found a Philip Parker who lives in Michigan, not far from Flint. He’s the right age—in his eighties. And maybe it was my Mr. Parker’s voice.

“You know what to do after the beep,” it said. “Thank you.”

More gravelly than I remember, but the voice was still full of courtesy and dignity and pep.

And it was the pep that drew me to Mr. Parker. He couldn’t wait for us to walk into geometry after lunch each day, or so it seemed. We’d find him already pacing, twirling a pointer stick and holding the place in his math puzzle book.

Before we were even seated, he’d launch into the day’s puzzle, “A milkman has two empty jugs: a three-gallon jug and a five-gallon jug. How can he measure exactly one gallon without wasting any milk?”

Barely noticing the beginning bell, we’d jot the specifics on scrap paper and work together on the milkman’s problem. Just like in Alvina’s class, clocks didn’t matter in Mr. Parker’s room. Because we did new things, time slipped away instead of stretching out.

During my decades of teaching, I thought often of Mr. Parker—especially on days I was plagued with exhaustion or cynicism or feelings of ineffectiveness. I’d pick up a puzzle book or a pointer stick, and I’d summon up some pep. And soon the energy would flow again.

And why, I ask myself now, did I never, in all his active years, try to visit him at school or send him a note or call him?

After the beep, I left a message. I told the man with the gravelly voice who I was and who I was hoped he was.

I’m listening for my phone to ring. And maybe it will be Mr. Parker.

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