Miss Wilma and the Mayor’s Son

Miss Wilma was my teacher from 3rd through the 5th grades. She was a frail lady, who from an early childhood accident was bent over at the waist and had to use a cane to keep herself from falling over forward. I was the mayor’s son, and I was hell on wheels as a youngster, but this lady never saw me that way. She only saw the potential in me as she did all her students and she addressed those issues in her classroom. The small town I lived in was small, 250 people small, and the children of small town attended a three room school where Miss Wilma taught about the importance of life and education, and because of her wisdom our world grew daily until we saw possibilities everywhere. I remember so clearly sitting in her class as a 5th grader, and her telling us, “It’s not where you start out in life that’s important, but where you finish. That’s what counts.” I don’t know how many of her students caught what she was saying, but I thought I had. From that time on I would find myself sitting up on main street at night watching the big trucks roll by on the highway a quarter-mile outside of town, and I would wonder, “Where those truckers had been, and where were they going?” And I would imagine they were on their way to California where they might see the redwood forest, or a movie star walking down Sunset Boulevard, or maybe they were on their way to New York where the Dodgers and Yankee’s played baseball, or maybe San Antonio where they would pass right by the Alamo where Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, and so many other brave men had lost their lives fighting for Texas independence. I had a very vivid imagination, and I determined that one day I was going to leave small town behind and see as many of those places as I could because I sure didn’t want to finish life where I began.

The day came when I reached the age I could leave small town, and since that day I have visited most of the continental 48 states and many foreign countries, but after spending so much time traveling and looking, I realized I had missed the point of Miss Wilma’s wise teaching. Traveling the world will take you from one destination to another, but really all you are doing is going from one bus to another, or one train or plane to another, because when you reach your destination, you are still the same person you were when you left home. It was with the dawning of this realization that I understood, watching those big trucks roll by on the highway outside of town had caused me to confuse a life teaching with my desire for traveling. And traveling was not what Miss Wilma had been talking to us about in our classroom at small town elementary.

One day several years later, I was preaching in a small church near where I went to elementary school and Miss Wilma came to hear the mayor’s son speak. As soon as I saw her, I went to her and told her I had finally come to understand what she had meant by the statement, “It’s not where you start out in life that important, but where you finish that counts.” A look of amusement came upon her face as she looked up at me with her tired brown eyes and a smile formed on her lips as she grabbed my hand and squeezed it as hard as she could. As I sit here today remembering the time I spent in that little school house with Miss Wilma seated behind her desk passing out eternal wisdom, those precious thoughts bring tears to my eyes and makes me appreciate life and the people who spend their life making the life of other people better for having known them. I wasn’t in the area when Miss Wilma went home to be with the Lord several years ago, but she is one person that no matter how old I live to be, I will never forget the difference she made in my life and the lives of many other young people back in small town Illinois where I grew up. DThrash

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