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Thirst For Knowledge


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on February 17, 1990

by Roz Young

Everybody who ever attended Stivers High School or taught there was invited back for an open house the last Saturday in October.
            The place was packed with hugging, kissing, back-thumping, laughing men and women of all ages rejoicing in a few hours of sentimental recollection.
            When I was looking over a bulletin board of old school newspapers, a man with an elaborate camera outfit asked if he could take my picture. "I bet you don't remember me," he said. "John Titcomb."
            We were working on adjective clauses one day when John held up his hand.
            "May I get a drink of water?"
            "No, John."
            "Why can't I get a drink?"
            "The principal made a rule that nobody can be excused from a classroom for any reason whatever. Students can get drinks and go to the restroom between classes or in emergency, during study hall. That's the rule."
            "He won't find out if you let me get a drink. Honest."
            "The answer is no, John."
            He was quiet for one minute. He clutched his throat and heaved out giant gasps. "I'm dying of thirst. Water! Water! I must have water!"
            "John, be quiet. No drink."
            Quiet settled over the room for a few moments. I knew what he was up to. He would come up with a new request every three minutes or so until in exasperation or frustration I gave in. That would make him a hero in the class.
            Bang! John had slipped out of his seat and was lying in the aisle giving out unintelligible gasps. "Water!" He finally croaked. "Cool, cool water!"
            I had to do something. I could have given him a detention slip, but that would be like punishing a puppy for chasing his tail. John really wasn't a bad 16-year-old, but once he had an idea, he was hard to stop.
            "John, come here."
            He jumped up and came to the desk as if expecting a prize. The rest of the class watched as if at a movie.
            "I don't want you to die of thirst. But you may not leave this classroom to get a drink. When people in the desert are dying of thirst, they will drink anything liquid to survive. I read about a man who drank rusty radiator water out of his disabled car." I reached into my desk drawer and took out a bottle of red ink. "If you're dying of thirst, drink this. It won't hurt you."
            John took the bottle, pulled out the cork, smelled the ink and set the bottle down.
            On the desk sat a vase of flowers. He picked up the vase, took out the flowers and drained the vase dry. Then he put the flowers back in the vase, set it down with a bang and went back to his seat. You could have heard the kids laughing in Greene County. Almost.
            The round had gone to John, but I wasn't beaten yet. I made a great show of filling out a detention slip. The class quieted and John looked worried. About a minute before the bell was to ring, I walked back to his desk and slapped the detention slip down. "Read it."
            "Please don't give me a slip," he begged in a pleading tone.
            "Read it."
            I stalked back to the front of the room.
            The note said, "John, the flowers are thirsty. Please get them a drink before you go to the next class. If you tell anybody, you'll get a week of detention."
            John put his head down on the desk. The bell rang. As the class left the room, more than one of them told me I was a mean old teacher to give John detention. "You bet I am," I answered. "And you'll get the same if you deserve it."
            When everybody had gone, John grinned, took the vase and brought it back filled.
            I don't remember now whether that happened 25 or 30 years ago, but forget John? Never. It happened, of course, in an age when the teacher's word was final. Nowadays John would likely push me out of the way and walk out without asking.