Mrs. Rumbleheart And Henry David Thoreau Both Continue To Teach

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

First Published:  March 18, 2010

Mrs. Rumbleheart, my fifth-grade public school teacher, was already within the ranks of “senior” citizenship the first day I entered her class at Lincoln School. Her classroom was in the typical style of “adequate for our needs” schools in the mid-1950s.

There was a cloakroom where our jackets, sweaters, hats and lunch boxes or bags were stored until needed. There were mostly individual wooden desks and a few double-occupant wooden tables with accompanying wooden chairs. The windows were wood-framed and the floor was wood.

The radiator for heat was situated along the window wall, the lights were incandescent, the ceilings were tall and there were inviting maps and pictures on the walls next to the blackboard. Air conditioning was never needed as the school was located one block from San Francisco Bay.

Behind Mrs. Rumbleheart’s large wooden desk were several book shelves where she housed her favorite works of literature together with a collection of history, geography, philosophy, art and science books and many reference materials.

One of the pictures on the wall next to her book shelves was that of an image of a well dressed gentleman, white shirt, bow-tie and boutonnière dated 1856.

At first view, I thought it was an image of President Abraham Lincoln — the namesake of the school. But, upon closer examination, the name underneath the image clearly read “Henry David Thoreau.”

Thoreau died before he reached his 45th year, but this American author, poet, naturalist, surveyor, historian and philosopher certainly understood much of the importance of living a long life and wrote about it beginning at a young age. Much of what he wrote certainly applies to those in their senior citizen years of life today.

Even though Mrs. Rumbleheart made a few passing comments about this “Henry” man, I’m sure that she knew that most fifth-graders (including me) would have never understood or appreciated much of what Mr. Thoreau wrote about — especially at that early age in our lives.

It wasn’t until much later in my life after I had read many of Thoreau’s writings, and after several sojourns to visit Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts specifically for the purpose of attempting to get the “feel” for the place that Thoreau wrote from and frequently wrote about, that I really began to understand much of what he had to say in his writings as being very applicable and helpful to our senior citizens today.

Today’s senior citizens frequently have the luxury of time to really study what is and what is not important in one’s life.

Here are some comments about life as seen through Thoreau’s eyes. See if they’re not still applicable today … nearly 150 years since they were first written.

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Just think about how often we might think we “have to” do this or that when in reality we really do not and we would probably be better of by not doing “this or that.”

“Men have become the tools of their tools.” Yes, we’ve created many jobs for companies and public agencies in this life to help pay for the “things” that we have been taught that we “need,” but has the person in the job become nothing more than another tool to help create the widget that is sold to the public to help pay the wages of the worker who 8 to 10 hours each day effectively puts “tab A” into “slot B” and then sends the widget along its path to the next “tool?”

Do we really need the “things?” Or do we need to spend those 8 to 10 hours each day doing something that is much more meaningful while we’re on planet Earth?

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” We have often been reminded that our country is never more segregated than at around 11 a.m. every Sunday morning. It’s still not too late to change.

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” There’s little worse than attempting to enjoy a $50 steak dinner on a $10 budget. Beyond money, the price we pay is just too great!

Keep that steak dinner in mind as you contemplate that Thoreau also taught that “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” This quote make one wonder just how many of our current senior-citizen-age or younger politicians have bothered to read and/or study Thoreau’s teachings?

Keep these Thoreau teachings in mind when you try to “keep up” your image for whatever reason. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

And, “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.” Perhaps most importantly, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Mrs. Rumbleheart taught me many things that I have applied throughout my years. Her introduction of Henry David Thoreau to our class stands out in my mind as one of her more important teachings.

I’ll always be thankful to Thoreau, a wee bit before my time on Earth, but who taught eternal truths such as this: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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