Sunday, August 05, 2007

These are the People ... Mr. Salvatore Gallo

I was once a teacher.

Like all people who enter that profession-no matter the subject matter or the age of his students-each of us is afforded the enviable opportunity to achieve a species of immortality if we can but change one life for the better. A wise man, I think it was Henry Brooks Adams, historian, who put it rather well though, by its very nature, his aphorism is appealingly, even enticingly open ended:

"A teacher affect eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. "

He was the most generous civics teacher in the 9th period though not the first of several teachers whose person made and left an indelible impression on my personal and working life nor would he be the last, but for reasons almost inexplicable the picture I retain of him occupies one of the finest frames in the panoply of people whose lives have touched mine. At the end of the day, Mr. Salvatore Gallo, my eighth grade civics teacher, was a mechaya. I can only speak for myself naturally when I say that if a student did not look forward to his class, even though tired and worn thin by the day's business, that alone would constitute serious prima facie evidence of something seriously amiss with that particular individual. Or maybe it was just me, but as far back as I can recall, I have always been attentive to our oft-hidden human faces. In other words, I have an eye for special people.

As for the why, it occurs to me that from a very young age I was given more to quiet observation of others than ever having been much of a chatterbox. There was good reason for that, I can assure you! As a boy, when only about five years old, I became a stutterer, for whom speaking could at times be as arduous as clearing the height of the bar newly raised by one's coach.

A man whose middle section was shaped uncannily like a boulder, he exemplied simple wisdom and kindness. He was a man driven to punctiliousness and whose severe regimen of assignment protocol was such that, should one not follow it, he would be penalized anywhere from one to five points. For example, each student had to draw with the precision of a budding engineer a one inch square box in the upper left hand corner of his notebook paper into which Mr. Gallo would pen that person’s grade. Mind you it had to be a neat square, with no overlapping lines at the four corners. To counterbalance what an outsider might regard as a eccentricity, Mr. Gallo practiced a unique and rather unorthodox generosity.

He once brought a piece of cake to class probably no larger than six regular servings, and so scientifically cut it up that each child in the classroom received an exact equal portion. Its precision was as if it had been cut by a bakery template, clearly a case of having made much from very little. On the other side of the equation was this: get Mr. Gallo mad and look out. Unlike my other classrooms, Mr. Gallo's had an adjacent coat closet that was as deep as the classroom itself.

We had a student in our 9th period class, one David, on whom misfortune fell one afternoon after pushing Mr. Gallo's buttons once too many times. A mere twit of a lad whose mouth was bigger than his person, he suffered that day the fright of a one on one, a nose to nose with Mr. Gallo in the coat room. When that door opened after what seemed to the rest of us like an insufferably interminable length of time-but in fact was no more than three minutes-though no one had heard a word between them nor would Mr. Gallo have lain a fingertip on him, David emerged looking more than a wee bit rattled. I have not one wit of a doubt he ever forgot that.

Mr. Gallo's face was one of those only a mother could love, a big bald head, with rather unhappy teeth but a smile like none other. His nose, broad and flattened as if it had known the impact of too many fists in his youth, lent a certain rough veneer to his otherwise gentle manner. If you have had a "Mr. Gallo" in your life,
count your blessings for not everyone has enjoyed such great fortune.


Dag said...

This reminds me of Mr. Vernon who we called "Vern".

He was our Honors English Teacher and we all loved him, well most of us.

The running joke was if you sat in the front row, Vern would spit on you because he always sprayed when he spoke, and you could bribe him in two ways for a higher grade.

1. Bring in a picture of Sandra Bullock. (which he would tape onto his podium.)
2. Bring in a jar of green M&Ms.

Now, this might seem like a joke to some people, but it was true.


Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

dear Dag,

Thank you for your on-going readership. I do very much value it.

I'm busy with working out-biking burns the calories and pent-up energy otherwise gone to waste. Eating down but feel relatively no appetite.

What are you doing?