Curtain Call for Mrs. Emelson

The curtain has come down on Mrs. Emelson. I shot this photo of her for my high school yearbook, that’s where we met. High school for me was just a continuation of a rudderless existence beginning in grade school, and running through junior high. The current was pushing me toward the arts, fueled by years of mediocre grades in math, science, etc. I was sleepwalking through my junior year – my parents and I had reached an uneasy détente. They would send me to college, where I would major in art, but it had to be a college they could understand…University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, West Virginia University. By no small coincidence, these were schools of which my parents were football fans. Mrs. Emelson taught English, and Humanities, and Drama. When she walked the halls, she always had that little smile on her face, as if she was in on a joke that was about to be played. Naturally, all the school misfits were drawn to her. Her classes were fun…fun not being a word associated with Uniontown, PA education during that era. I loved it when she closed the classroom door, and unleashed a profanity-laden tirade in the direction of the school’s administration, or the athletic department. Mrs. Emelson, along with my art teacher, Miss DeMotte, saw the looming disaster on the horizon, which was my parents’ plan for my higher education. They knew Pitt, or Penn State, or WVU would chew me up and spit me out, and encouraged me to consider an intensive school, dedicated to the Fine Arts. Once I got up the nerve, I dropped that bomb on my parents, and, to their credit, they went for it. Then they put their Pitt, Penn State, and WVU t-shirts in a drawer, and turned their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She followed my career closely over the ensuing decades, and I delighted when her contributions to Uniontown High School were recognized – the school’s auditorium, where countless plays under her direction were presented, was named in her honor. It was on that stage, in 2017, where I was inducted into the UHS Hall of Fame, for my achievements in the arts. During my remarks, I got to thank her publically: “Mrs. Emelson, your humanities class literally, not figuratively, not virtually, LITERALLY changed my life.” I could see her in the audience, cheering the loudest. If any of this sounds corny, it’s because you’re not from a small town. I could explain it to you every day for a year, and you still wouldn’t get it. A few months ago, I had a photography retrospective at the Baltimore Creative Alliance. There was Mrs. Emelson, now using a Rollator Walker, at the opening reception. She was holding court, surrounded by the many other adoring UHS misfits, whose lives she touched. A few weeks later, her daughter Beth, and her granddaughter Beatrix, brought her back to Baltimore, for a private look at the show. It would be our last visit. I was lucky to be able to look back over my years, find the person who changed it, and thank her for it. I cannot imagine what my life would have been without Mrs. Emelson, and I really don’t want to. Goodbye Doll.

 

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