Yesterday (November 14, 2015), I attended a memorial service for Jerald Krauthamer who was my track coach from 9th grade on and one of my English teachers in my senior year. He was 65 when he died from advanced, metastasized renal cancer. For those of us who had him as a coach, he was simply “Kraut.”
Kraut was my mentor in many ways. Sure, he taught me to throw discus and javelin, which I did pretty well by the time I graduated. And, sure, he taught me to read deeply and critically and write from the brain and not from some 5-paragraph formula. But those were not the important lessons. The important ones were the quiet ones, the unsaid ones, that came through in everything he did.
You see, Kraut was weird. He was a tall, gawky man with glasses and a long nose, but he didn’t care how he looked. He expected people to accept him for who he was. He was a lover of Gilbert and Sullivan and could be heard leading laps around the track singing “I am the Pirate King” or “I am the very model of a modern major general….” He did have a pretty good singing voice, though most of us were too full of ourselves as teens to realize what he was sharing with us. What we did get was his passion. No matter what he was teaching us, he had a passion for it and shared that passion with us. I hated reading Thomas Hardy, but I did, every dreary page of Return of the Native, because I knew that I wanted to understand what Kraut was going to talk about in class the next day. Also, if Kraut liked it, there must be something to it. There is, but I still don’t like Hardy. (Sorry, Kraut.)
Besides teaching us not to be self-conscious, he taught us that a good teacher loves what he teaches and shares that love with his students. Don’t hold back. I remember him getting lost in a passage of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, one of my favorites from his class, and then looking up and simply saying: “I forgot the point I was going to make. Oh well, don’t you just love that description?” And then he’d smile and wait for us to respond. He wasn’t easy by any means — we all worked really hard in his class — but he was easy going.
He set an example of what it was to love literature, writing, running, and life. He was an absurdist that would have made Camus proud, an eclectic eccentric in his tastes, and a sarcastic wit in all he did. If you got a question right he would touch his nose and point at you without a word, just a smile, and you knew you had “earned a point” in the book of his mind. His comments on papers were more about your effort in your writing than in the technique of it. “Did you really give this 100%? Because it certainly hasn’t earned it,” was a likely comment. If you were asked to meet with him at his desk in the English faculty office, it was scary, but it was also because he cared to work with you one-on-one.
So, why do I mention all this about him and why haven’t I mentioned him before? Because, like most things, we don’t realize how much someone or something means to us until it’s gone. Kraut was a true inspiration for the teacher I am today. One of a select few. I try to share my passion for literature and good writing with my students. I try to focus on the truly important aspects of the study of English, which is appreciation, not necessarily loving or even liking, of good literature and thinking critically. I try to put 100% of my effort into everything that I take on. And, although I will never sweat as much as Kraut — and that man could sweat, take it from someone who had to use the lifting bench after him at times — I hope that I will someday have taught and inspired as many people as he did.
Thank you, Kraut.