I’ve mentioned before that we moved around a lot when I was a child. That’s the drilling business for you. You go where the booms are and leave as soon as the inevitable bust arrives.
For the first ten years of my life, our wanderings were confined to California and we split time evenly between the Central Valley and both Los Angeles and Orange Counties down in the southern end of the state.
But then we made our first out-of-state move – the first of seven out-of-state moves over the next twelve years – up to Steele, North Dakota. Now, although living in the greater Los Angeles area was big city living, the Central Valley has some small towns. I was born in Turlock, which in the 1970s had about 12-15,000 people living within the city limits. But a handful of miles from Turlock are small towns we lived in, Denair and Hilmar, but even they had a couple of thousand residents.
Steele resides within Kidder County and when we arrived in the Spring of 1974 the entire county had 1,010 residents. Steele itself? About 500. You could walk from one end of town – the school – to the other – the interstate – in about 10 minutes. So yes, this was a very small town and a bit of an adjustment, especially when winter arrived.
That fall I enrolled in the fourth grade at Steele Elementary and met someone who – though I didn’t realize it at the time – would have a huge impact on me. He taught both music and science classes for the fourth, fifth and sixth grades in Steele. Mr. Charles Wells.
Most of my best school memories come from the three years that Mr. Wells was one of my teachers. The local paper was called the Steele Ozone. So he rewrote the 1972 song by Dr. Hook, Cover of the Rolling Stone, and our class sang, Cover Of The Steele Ozone, with such gusto the Principal had to tell us to turn down the volume a notch.
But it was in science class that Mr. Wells had the greatest impact on my life. He just didn’t lecture and hand out tests. He was a hands-on educator. We built, and launched, model rockets. Experimented with the myriad scientific equipment that he filled his classroom with.
We had a class hamster and one wall of the room was dedicated to a complex tunnel system we would redesign every few weeks for the hamster to run around in. There was even a telegraph system that ran from his classroom to Mrs. Palmer’s seventh-grade mathematics classroom that he’d installed.
He instilled in me a love for science that expanded into a love for science fiction and led me to start writing my own sci-fi. When I finished writing Escaping Infinity I had just reconnected with Mr. Wells – who has long since retired as an educator – via e-mail. It seemed only right that I dedicate the book to him in thanks for his role in making the book possible.
Sadly, it seems there aren’t enough Mr. Wells in our schools today, from kindergarten up through college. So when we do find them, they should be celebrated and thanked as often as possible. A great teacher, like Mr. Wells was, can inspire their students to do great things.
We need much more of that in our world today.
So thank you, Mr. Wells, for all that you taught me during those three years in a little town off of Interstate 94. And thank you to all of our teachers who, like him, inspire as well as educate.