My teachers light the path for me even today

The other day I accidentally conducted a science experiment in my home. Mr. Dykes would have been proud.

He was a science teacher in my high school, one of the many I’ll never forget; I hope you know the kind I’m talking about.

One day he was talking to the class about heat and fluids. He poured a little water into a metal gasoline can, set it on a Bunsen burner and let it boil. Without drawing attention to his actions, he turned off the fire and screwed the cap on tightly.

He was talking and we were more or less listening when there came a racket and we all jumped out of our seats. The can had imploded, crumpling as the water and vapor cooled.

That crafty demonstration taught us more than a lecture ever could. (See, I still remember that particular hour even though I don’t recall anything from the day before or the day after.)

That gets me back to last week, when I was swishing hot water around in a plastic water bottle I had just finished drinking from. I had tossed some things into the water to rinse them off and had closed the cap. I walked away to get something.

It wasn’t long before I heard the crackling sound we’re all familiar with when we accidentally grip one of those cheap bottles too tightly. I found it lying there, half its former size. The water inside had cooled.

Thanks, Mr. Dykes. Same principle, smaller scale.

Coy M. Dykes was tall, gangly, thoughtful; I heard that he had invented an apple peeler. He would say and do things that caught our attention.

For instance, he would say, several times a day, “Please sir ma’am.” He would say, “Do this if you don’t mind – and if you do mind, do it anyway.” And, especially, he would say, “Harrumph!”

Some days in chemistry or physics, we would jot down each saying, then place a mark by it each time he said it. As we filed out of class we would hand that sheet in with our papers. He would pick it up, study the curious list with its marks, then return to his thoughts.

Mr. Dykes died in 1986, just shy of his 84th birthday. His wife, Minnie Lee Dykes, was just as beloved because she taught me the entirety of world history in the ninth grade. She lived to 92.

I know their ages because their tombstones are neighbors of my parents, my oldest brother and my great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War. All those people came before me and went before me and taught me about life.

Mr. and Mrs. Dykes made high school better than it should have been. He was the absent-minded professor, she the orator who spurred kids to strive for extra credit (my grade for the year was 105).

I recently heard this: “Teachers are like candles: They consume themselves to light the way for others.”

As school ends for another year, I hope you remember teachers who were as enlightening as Mr. and Mrs. Dykes.

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