Saturday, September 01, 2007

Wint Barton: Take 2

Mr. Barton came back to my school on Tuesday to talk to the class he missed last Friday. (Check that out here.) Once again he seemed to genuinely enjoy himself as did the students and our illustrious principal, who sat in this this time around.

Suzanne, Wint's daughter - a retired fourth-grade teacher herself - called me and we talked for about 30 minutes last weekend. She called to invite Sheila and me to Wint's 95th birthday celebration on the ninth. But she talked at length about how much her father had enjoyed the visit to our school. In the process she brought up his ability to recite.

For example, he can still recite the final lines of the famous poem, "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
by William Cullen Bryant

He also can, and often does, recite all the counties of Georgia in alphabetical order. This last is no mean feat. Georgia has 159 of them. Only Texas has more.

So for this lesson I brought up Georgia's 159 counties. I had had to learn them myself in eighth grade, but I have long since lost the skill of reciting them.

"Well, let me tell you how that came about," said Mr. Barton, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, ...

There was a fella that traveled around with a little elephant, and he came to our school at Everett Springs. He saw me studying that list of counties. I was studying hard, and having a rough time remembering them. He said, "Now you know about elephants, don't you? They never forget anything. So come here and lay your hand on this elephants back, and see if you can say 'em."
Well, I walked up there and laid my hand on that little elephant and named every last county in Georgia in alphabetical order, and I still remember them to this day!

Then he raised his hands and started ticking them off... "Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Baker..."
The kids gave him a rousing round of applause and he beamed.

After school, as we headed away from the school, under the sudden inspiration of a gorgeous afternoon, I asked if he'd like to drive on up to Everett Springs and show me the homeplace where he spent his first 25 years. He was game so off we went.

He is a great tour guide despite his poor eyesight. All along the way he mentioned which farm had been whose in the old days and who has bought it. Where the road washed out and his cousin's car ended up. And finally the wooded hillside where Barton school had been -- there is no other clue to its ever having been there.

We pulled into the driveway of his brothrer's widow and had a nice 15 minute visit with her, before pulling off the road next door to the home he grew up in, and where another brother lived into his nineties.

Walking around the place he pointed out his usual path to the old school.

I watched a long water snake tumble off a little plank driveway bridge into a beaver pond. Several peacocks shuffled around then flew to the rusted metal roof of a vine covered shed. A little green heron, with an injured wing fluttered about the margin of the pond.

He pointed out the bottles his brother had collected still stacked in the back windows, and the incongruous satellite dish attached to the side of the house.

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