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  • Writer's pictureDavid Jefferson

Mentors & Teachers

Grandma Topsy- My mom’s mom. She lived with us. I remember her smell, and how her lap was just right for sitting in as she read me stories. She taught me the alphabet and how to see early words in all those mysterious scribbles. Incredible! I’ve loved reading ever since. She was hard of hearing. I inherited that. Now I wear hearing aids. Mine have a tiny battery tucked into the curved unit that hooks over the ear and are almost unnoticeable. Hers were in a battery case the size of a cigarette pack hidden somewhere in that mysterious area down her front. I think it’s called a bodice. Two pink twisted wires ran up from there to her ears. Without her hearing aids she was pretty deaf, unless one of us was whispering something they didn’t want her to hear.

Bess Solloway: My 4th grade teacher. The writing assignment was, “what I am good at.” I was never great at sports which were what the rest of the class seemed to be writing about. I couldn’t think of anything, so I wrote about how I helped Mom around the house. I wrote that I would carry the clunky Hoover vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs for her. Miss Solloway read my paper aloud. I was unbelievably embarrassed. I wanted the floor to open up so I could sneak out through a basement window. I think she sensed that. Later in the day she pulled me aside and told me she was proud of me. Never forgot it. I love her to this day. Maybe she kindled my love of writing.

Sheldon Merritt- My goal as a teenager was to own my own dairy farm. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the college I attended after high school was Delhi Tech, a 2 year community college in upstate New York. Professor Merritt taught animal husbandry. I was just 17, and I’m guessing he was in his late 60’s. One day he said, “People talk about the success of others and they call it luck . I think you make a good deal of your own luck.” I never forgot that.

After my retirement I taught vet tech students at a community college. I was what they call an adjunct professor. That means they trusted me to teach the courses, but they weren’t sure I could handle the money, so they didn’t pay well. That’s OK. I think I took the job as payback. Community college was a perfect start for me. I am able to say to my freshman classes today, “if you want, you can go on from here.” I tell them I did. I hope some remember it and don’t get satisfied too early in life.

John McHale- Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, my drill instructor at recruit training, Parris Island, SC July, 1960, Platoon 364. A man about as tough as they come. Saw action in the Pacific in WW 2. He was part of the invasion force on the island of Tarawa. 12,000 Marines landed. In 3 days 1000 Marines died, and over 2000 were wounded on that 1/2 square mile island. 800 were buried right on the beach. Three days of hell, but it opened the way to the rest of the Japanese held islands. McHale was a Marine’s Marine. When I don’t feel brave enough to tackle something, I think of McHale. He probably didn’t want to leave the landing craft when its ramp dropped on the beach. He did it anyway.

Math Teacher, Cornell - Can’t remember her name, but she saved my college career. I was right out of the Marine Corps, and hadn’t cracked a text book in 3 years. I had been accepted at Cornell as an undergrad and needed to finish my studies to apply to the vet school. I had never done well in math, and my scores on the SATs for math from high school were dismal. The Cornell administration wisely sent me to what was like a junior high resource room. It was really “math for dummies.” This wonderful lady knew how embarrassed and frustrated I was at my lack of math skills. She worked patiently with me that whole first semester. Under her guidance I began to understand and appreciate math for the first time in my life.

Dr Francis Fox- Vet School professor, Large Animal Medicine- In our junior year he gave an entire course on the science and art of physical diagnosis. It’s been more than 50 years, and I can still hear him saying: “Use all your senses look, look again, listen, feel, get your nose right down there and smell! If you have to, taste it!” I was in his office one day in my senior year, and he asked me to go out to the cow barn and examine the calf in the first stall. “Come back and tell me what you find.” 20 minutes later I reported back: “She’s got a pronounced systolic heart murmur audible on both sides. It sounds like a valvular insufficiency.” Oh yeah, I was pretty proud of myself. “What else?”

“That’s all I found.”

“Go back and look again.”

I used my stethoscope, my ophthalmoscope my ears, my eyes, and yes, my nose. I finally found something else and reported back.

“Her tail has a kink in it, half way up. I think she must have fractured it.”

“Nope, she was born with it. It’s called wry tail, spelt w.r.y. It’s often seen in calves with congenital heart issues. So if you run into another calf with wry tail, check the heart. If it’s got that murmur, onto the veal truck with her as she won’t live long. It’s rare to find one congenital problem without another. They go in pairs, sometimes in triplets. Next time don’t stop your exam until you have looked at everything. Got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t forget it.” Never did. And, from that day on, right through the day I left vet school, he called me wry tail.

Writers Group at Gulfport, Florida Senior Center- You have listened to my stories, encouraged me, challenged me, and have kept me writing. I look on each and every one of you as a good friend. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

My clients - What a great bunch of people. I loved the fact that they consistently put the needs of their animals first, often sacrificing for them. They were forgiving of my mistakes, and almost all became good friends.

My wife, Bonnie- We’ve been married 56 years. She put me through vet school and then I was so busy running the practice that she mostly raised our two kids. All the credit that they turned out well is due to her. In my close to 50 years running my own business I never once heard a complaint about my long hours or me showing up late for supper again, smelling like a horse. Now, she is making retirement a new fun adventure.

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