Catherine Horricks - A Teacher Who Went Beyond
Heather Andrews Miller“No, no, you have to multiply first,” Mrs. Horricks repeated patiently. “There is a rule called the order of operations that will make it much easier for you to remember.”
I tried the problem again. I really hated math and had been about to fail my Grade Six math course in the school in the little Canadian city of Edmonton from which we had just moved. After much erasing and making calculations on the side of my paper, I got a different answer to the algebraic figuring.
“Yes, that’s right. You got it! Now do the rest of the problems on this page using that same method and you’ll get the answers correctly.”
Relieved, I thanked her profusely and headed home, with my math books in my hand. I figured I’d do my homework right away while her instructions were fresh in my mind.
I felt a bit guilty staying after school to work on my math, knowing Mrs. Horricks was a farm wife who had to drive over the snowy roads to the agricultural operation where she and her husband Tommy grew grain and raised range cattle. But Mrs. Horricks had suggested I stay for a few minutes at 3:15 and I must admit I really appreciated the one-on-one help she had just given me. Knowing about the order of operations cleared up a lot of confusion that I had. “Who knows, maybe some day I’ll actually be able to do math,” I muttered to myself. And I still needed some individual instruction from time to time, but after that I did find math easier.
I let myself quietly in the back door of the United Church Manse in the little prairie town where we lived, just across the road from the school. I could hear a Mozart minuet being played on the piano and my Mum’s voice coaching her student. There had been no piano teacher before my family moved to the little town of Forestburg and once the word got out that she was a teacher, she was fully occupied every week day after school with eager students.
Spreading my homework out on the kitchen table, I noticed a note: Heather please put the casserole in the oven at 4:30 so it will be cooked in time for supper. There were often instructions left for me to help and I didn’t mind.
The next morning, I proudly handed in my assignments at school and found to my delight that I had figured them all correctly. I’d only been in her class for a few short months and already I was much better at math, and I was also growing extremely fond of Mrs. Horricks. Although she and Tommy were childless themselves, she showed love to each one of her students as if they were her own, showering us with attention that went far beyond the classroom requirements.
One spring day a few weeks later, I came home for lunch and saw a rug placed in an unusual position on the back porch. I didn’t think much more about it until I stepped into the kitchen and saw my Mum’s teary face.
“Heather, I have some sad news to tell you. Our little dog Boots got off his leash this morning and dashed across the road. A car hit him, and he died instantly,” she sobbed. I too burst into tears and asked where he was.
“He’s in the back porch; I covered him with a little rug. There’s just a slight mark on him, a slight indentation where the tires went over him. But otherwise he looks very peaceful.” Together we shared more tears over the lifeless body. We’d had Boots for several years and he’d been a good dog, a good traveller and a faithful companion to us.
“Come on, dear, let’s have some lunch. There’s nothing we can do for him now.” She guided me back to the kitchen table.
I choked down some tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. “I don’t want to go to school. Can’t I stay home?”
“No, it’s best if you go back for the afternoon. Keep yourself busy and distracted.”
When I walked into the classroom at 1:00 Mrs. Horricks knew instantly that something was wrong. A fresh flow of tears accompanied my sad story. She gave me a big hug. Then spoke to the class.
“This afternoon, we are going to do something different than what we’d planned,” she announced solemnly. “Everybody, pull your desks into a circle. We’re going to talk about pets instead of the classroom work we had originally scheduled.”
And so we did. One by one we shared our passionate stories. Other students were just like me, and had lost a pet, either from old age or in an accident. Some, especially those who lived on farms, had sadly seen their pet calf sold at auction. We cried together, we laughed together, and we bonded together. At 3:15, we all left to go home, sobered by the remembrances, but feeling light-hearted at our mutual understanding of the love of a pet.
How grateful I was with the special consideration that Catherine Horricks had showed us that afternoon. I’ve remembered that day for all my long life. I was sorry when June arrived and I graduated to Junior High School and Grade Seven, leaving her behind in the elementary wing to teach the next batch of Grade Sixers.
However, it wasn’t the end of our relationship with Mrs. Horricks. Our families became close friends through the church. Soon we were visiting back and forth, Catherine and Tommy coming to our place for dinner on occasion, and in turn, they invited us out to the farm to share a meal and a visit. We always had a tour of the barnyard, where many animals were kept and of course there were the typical barn cats and a friendly dog to love as well.
A few years later, Catherine and Tommy, despairing of ever having children of their own, adopted Ethelynn, a delightful three-month old baby girl, and two years later they welcomed Tommy Joe, a chubby little boy, into their family. We were all so happy for them, knowing how they loved children. And we understood why she resigned from teaching so she could stay at home to care for the babies and be home on the farm. We moved away two years later but kept in touch by letter and occasional visits.
So today, if anyone ever tells a story about a favourite teacher, I have a story of my own! Catherine Horricks was the best!
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