Friday, December 14, 2007

Mr McCrillis

Thanks to Kendra, I was reminded of the wonder that was Mr. McCrillis, my junior high math and science teacher. I think if you asked most graduates of CBCA, they would say they hated our school but loved and respected our teachers. And certainly, the most colorful person of the group was Mr John McCrillis, mad scientist, reformed 60s "chemist", purveyor of ever-increasing-in-size-and-magnitude stories, and curator of one freaky closet museum.

I only knew him as a teacher. Which is a relationship that is limited in dimension, really. But as people talked about him around me, I was able piece together an idea of him as a whole person...a husband, father, public speaker, and child of God. And like many of our teachers, he stayed at a job that paid a meager salary when he could have been paid a lot more at a place where he'd receive a lot more respect and money, I guess because he realized he was making a dent in our heads.

I stunk at math...couldn't get the hang of most of it. But he was super-patient and told me often that he knew I was smart even if my grades were abysmal. I found math so boring, I wanted to give up and check out, but the rumor was if you fell asleep in class, he would throw a chalky eraser at you.

But then he would start one of his stories...

oh the stories....of people going sledding on car hoods and labs blowing up... of kids on the bus sitting on the heater and passing gas...

And then the stories would lead to the items in the closet...the giant pickle jar of a tapeworm in formaldehyde...the human skull...the aborted baby in a jar.

Or if he managed to finish the lesson and there was some free time, you could play with the rats he raised for the 10th grade biology class to dissect. Only everyone got so fond of them, we hated to have them killed, so he gave them away as pets...Rachelle Kegley's mom let her have one but my mom would NOT. And he bought a batch of already dead ones for the dissection....probably with his own money.

He had a devilish grin with dark, heavy eyebrows. And he employed it for kicks when, again, just to get your attention, he would say the word "SEX" just to creep out a bunch of squirrelly 7th and 8th graders (that was back then junior-highers didn't know anything and the mere mention of the word sex made you gag.)

He managed to make collecting Campbell's soup labels into a sport. This must have been big money to our little school, because as class adviser, he would take the class out on the town, going door to door asking for soup labels. The class that brought the most won a day trip. He had a big sign over his chalkboard which read, "Humility" which was very tongue in cheek, indeed, as his class nearly always won. My brother's class, in a very "O Captain, My Captain" moment, drew a cartoon of Mr McCrillis' face on white T-shirts for the whole class to wear on their reward trip to the beach.

Another tradition was the 8th grade series on rock music. I still find it hard to believe that he didn't secretly love rock music. But the series included lessons about how drugs were involved and backmasking and all that crazy stuff. I suppose it was all very real to him, having attended a liberal college in the 60s, but to us, it was a little removed from our Phil Collins and Tiffany. He told wild stories in that unit too, but I don't remember much about them. Something about Ozzie Ozborne and poop being thrown at a concert maybe? He had taught this unit for years...by the time the grade below mine reached it, it must have been at least 15 years. Which was why it was so disgraceful that one of those punks complained to his parents about one of the stories. And they were outraged. And got him fired.

Just like that. All the color gone. No more human skull. No more rats. No more Campbell's Label contest. No more evil laugh. No more flying erasers. It was all just...science and math and a very proper late-middle-aged southern female teacher who's accent we couldn't understand half the time.

I saw him once after that. He had a job at Allegheny College where I guessed...from the fact that he was no longer wearing dreadful polyester pants with shiny pressed creases and a dingy white shirt...that he was getting paid much better. He came to my dad's feed store to buy some fertilizer chemicals and I rang his order up. Did the math correctly and everything. He seemed both sad and relieved at the same time.

He died of cancer a few years later, leaving a wife and a very young daughter and son. But in the minds of his students, he is still very much a live.

5 comments:

WORKING MOM said...

Ness, this was a great trip down memory lane. He was truly an original, one of a kind, impossible to replace, teacher. I loved his closet too, and his talks about sex let you know that even though we were to wait til married, after that it was all fun and games. He was real, and in the days of Bachur, which were my days, he was a welcomed relief.

WORKING MOM said...

Yeah, I have to comment on the little geek that got him fired. Maybe I should comment on the deacon board that aloud it. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.

Sandy said...

Thanks for reminding me of some of the truly great teachers I had and some of the not so great, also.

How nice that you got to have him as a teacher before the minions of mediocrity took hold.

WORKING MOM said...

I mean "allowed."

Ron said...

...and the irony is that the father of the geek (AKA Rev Geek) ended up controvertially running out on the church he pastored. And who was it that stepped in and took over as the interium (and later full-time) pastor? Mr McCrillis... which only added to the much better salary he earned at Allegheny College. I think sometimes that God saw a long time out which way CBCA leadership (or lack thereof) was headed and protected the good ones by moving them to where they would be happy and most effective in His work... BTW, Mr McCrillis' favorite band was Lynard Skinner... he liked to tell stories of how the drummer would wear nothing but a jock-strap for concerts... one thing that always stuck out in my mind as he taught the Rock Music Classes was the fact that he never seemed like he believed in what he was teaching.

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