It’s entirely possible I had some learning problems. Or did I? I got by in school, barely. School was never inspiring except during recess and lunch. For me, it was all about being social. In fact, I don’t think I ever stopped talking while in my classes. Math and Science really threw me. They both still do. They are like a foreign language. I got by though and my report cards usually were all B’s, C’s, or even some D’s, and always an A in PE. I almost got an F once in Dunker the Flunker’s second grade math class and that is when my mom when into full-blown protect-her-child-mode. She showed up at school with the results of my IQ test to prove… not sure what? But, it worked. Then in high school, I actually did get an F and it was in a filmmaking class. Again, my mother showed up at school to fight that grade. This time, she lost. You get the idea; I maintained a strong C-plus average. Hey, I didn’t know I was there to learn. I assumed I was there to sharpen my already A-plus social skills.
And then one fine day, when we were starting the sixth grade, a new teacher came to town. His name was so unusual, as was he. Harbison Poole. To write or say his name brings a smile to my face and a flood of wonderful memories to mind.
To be one of the lucky ones to land in his homeroom class was a coup. I have my entire life been a hysteric. You can ask me what someone looks like and I will not be able to tell you. I get the essence of the person. I don’t look closely at the details. If someone is, let’s say, unattractive but charismatic, they are gorgeous to me. Like, my dad. And, I’m thinking, like Mr. Poole. He was chinless and, I guess, somewhat homely. But to me, as to the rest of his class, he was so compelling he was stunning.
There was not a student that didn’t love him. He inspired us to do our best. Suddenly, I was more apt to pay attention in the classroom. He didn’t seem so bothered when, and if, I was chatting with my neighbor. Every other teacher wrote copious notes home about my incessant talking each Report Card Friday. Those were miserable days for me, but not with Mr. Poole. This might have been the only time in the history of my education where it wasn’t only the top students who were teacher’s pet. We all were. Harbison Poole had the ability to make each and every one of us feel special. Then he hatched a plan in which anyone who wanted could join his new after school club dedicated to creative writing. Do you think I’m the after school club type? I’m not!!! We got to decide what it would be called and collectively we came up with the WORDS Club. It was an acronym — and, no, I do not remember what each letter stood for — but I’m hoping one of my old friends will post a comment to explain. Sorry, as you can see, I’m not that interested in research.
So, on Thursdays (I just made that up, but I might be right) we stayed after and shared creative writing. I was feeling very good about myself that year, though it wouldn’t last long. The school system was in a panic over Mr. Poole’s style of teaching and how deeply he affected us kids. They moved him the following year to Hawthorne, a nearby school in the district, where others got to fall madly in love and have one great year with him. Then, they tossed him for good. He was just too ahead of his time.
I remember that there was another inspiring, original teacher in my sophomore year of high school, Emanuel Lombard. Sitting in his classroom one day, I saw Mr. Peters, the superintendent, checking Lombard out. I sensed danger. Like Mr. Poole, he was very advanced in his style of teaching. I stood up, walked over to Peters and accused him of trying to do it again — getting rid of a great teacher. Big mouth that I could be.
In my early-to-mid 20’s, I became obsessed with finding my old teacher Mr. Poole. I called the Beverly Hills school system, which claimed to not know what happened to him after his short Hawthorne reign. Finally, my brother told me I could hire a skip tracer (whatever that is) and he hired one. I paid the guy $35 dollars and in less than a week, they found my idol, Harbison Poole. I was told he was the principal of a progressive school he started in New Jersey. I made my reservation and flew out on the next flight. A red-eye. My friend Barbara, a real trouper, picked me up at the airport at 6 AM and off we drove to New Jersey. I walked into the school very early pretending to look for a teaching job. I asked for an appointment with Mr. Poole. I sat across from him and feigned looking for a job. I was waiting for just the right moment for the big reveal. I really wanted it to be a powerful surprise. He kept looking at me and telling me I look familiar. Mind you, I was on some TV commercials at the time so that could have been why. But, I like to believe it was because he did remember me. I was carrying my classroom photo from back in the day. When I found the right moment, which was when he kept insisting I looked familiar, I pulled out the photos and said, “Maybe this is why.” Ta-dah!!!! “Because Mr. Poole, I’m Fredde Duke and you were my beloved teacher in the 6th grade at Beverly Vista. We LOVED you!!! You inspired us and I have needed to tell you this for a long time. And by the way, fuck the Beverly Hills school system for not getting you.” We hugged, went to lunch, and were best friends for a day. I reminded him that he was such a rock star to us that we girls would link hands, ten across, during lunches and recesses, to sing a song we wrote about him (changing the lyrics of “Harvest Moon”): Shine on, Shine on Harbison Poole…
All my life, when I heard this song, I think of Mr. Poole, even though we were not an unruly bunch!
I tried to find out what my friend Roland’s favorite restaurant in New Jersey is and I will post that one also. In the meantime, I found this online in Zagat and now I really want to go here.
Saddle River Inn
2 Barnstable Ct., Saddle River; 201-825-4016
“Superb from beginning to end”, this “gold-standard”, “big-ticket” grande dame is set in a “casually elegant” 18th-century barn in Saddle River, where “impeccable” Franco-American preparations emerge from the “steady” kitchen; “serious” service and an “inviting” atmosphere burnish the “world-class” experience, and while it certainly “doesn’t come cheap”, BYO allows one to “indulge more than usual.”
So fitting that Roland just told me about these Diner’s in New Jersey–because the last time I saw Roland, we were eating at a Diner in Manhattan!!!
this is only part of Roland Hutchinson’s reply : Well, Fredde, as you know, I’m no foodie, but I do like to eat.
One of my favorite dishes is the Greek-style lamb shanks, braised in a
tomato sauce and served over orzo, available Sundays at the Six Brothers
Diner. Just a tick or two further upscale, there’s a Greek café/bistro
sort of place that does a similar dish, and that has terrific sea food.
That’s sort of our default for going out on a slightly festive occasion;
the diners are where we go for a convenient everyday meal when we’d
rather not eat at home.
P.S. Susie Lohn, my childhood best friend sends me photo’s and letters and many wonderful things for my blog, including this that I just found. A letter to her parents (written May 22, 1965)
about our after school club, the WORDS club. I now know what each letter stands for. Writing, Oratory, Reading, Drama Society. So fabulous!!!!!! We really thought
we were something else in that club!!!!
Tags: Beverly Hills teachers, Emanuel Lombard, favorite teachers, fredde duke, growing up in the 60's, Harbison Poole, New Jersey Diner's, Roland Hutchinson, Saddle River Inn New Jersey, To Sir with Love