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It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...Star Wars

The air outside is crisp. You can see your breath and the end of your nose is red and cold. The houses that you pass have Christmas trees in the windows. There are lights arranged all over the front lawns. The stores are all lit up and twinkling. The bell ringers are sitting in front of the shops collecting your spare change for charity.

But it’s not a Christmas party that we’re going to tonight.

I’m sitting in a restaurant with my wife and my daughter. It’s not a fancy place. “It’s not the Shangri-La,” as I’ve been known to say in description of any place that doesn’t require a jacket and tie. No, this is just a hamburger joint.

We’re sitting in a booth enjoying big, fat cheeseburgers, shoestring fries, and ice cream sundaes. There is electricity in the air. There is a smile on my face. This is a special day.

At the table next to us there are two men about my age. They’re having a casual conversation about their work and if you just listened to the words you’d think they were in bus…

"Stretching From Here To Pletcher"...a tribute to Steve Latham

Today is a dark day.

If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts before then you’ve heard me tell the stories of my experiences in high school. I was bullied. I was bullied a lot. It’s something that has affected me my entire life. It has caused social anxiety issues that I deal with to this day. It’s not something that I like to remember, but it’s my history and it’s a part of who I am.

Granted, I was an awkward teenager. I didn’t play any sports. I wasn’t on the little league team. I didn’t even like watching sports...I still don’t. I don’t know enough about football to have an extended conversation about it. The stuff that I was into was a lot nerdier than that. I liked Star Trek. I liked reading science fiction and fantasy novels. I liked writing stories. I liked watching old black and white monster movies. I liked British sitcoms. Like I said…weird kid.

When I was a junior in high school I signed up to be a library aid for one class period a day. I figured I liked to be around books so much and I already spent enough time in the library that I might as well get some class credit for it. That year we had a new librarian. His name was Steve Latham.

Steve was still a relatively young teacher at the time. He was only about 32 or 33. But what I soon came to realize was that we were kind of kindred spirits. He was into Star Trek. He liked old movies. He was a theater buff and liked watching plays and reading poetry. I soon found myself really looking forward to the class period that I spent in the library because we would start up a game of Star Trek trivia and see which one of us could trip up the other the fastest. His original series knowledge usually won. That and the occasional times that he had to gently remind me that I was supposed to be working.

The next year, my senior year, I signed up for two periods of library duty. Mr. Latham had become my favorite teacher and someone that I looked up to and respected a great deal. I got to watch him give presentations to the underclassmen about the Dewey Decimal System, the card catalogue, and the microfiche. He had a way of getting on the level of those kids and actually make them have a good time learning about some of the most boring subjects ever.

He had a presence about him that is hard to explain. He was a gentle man that anyone felt comfortable approaching. You could have a conversation with him about any subject and he would get just as animated if he were talking with a fellow teacher about normal business or with a sixth grader about what book they should read next. He had a laugh that would fill a room and you could hear it in the classroom across the hall. That laugh was so full of joy that it would instantly bring a smile to anyone’s face. It was like hearing Santa laugh when you were a kid.

Mr. Latham decided to head up a drama club when I was a senior. It was something that I had been lobbying for since I was a freshman and there was finally a teacher that was going to devote some time into making it happen. He settled on a script that was essentially a modern day telling of Twelve Angry Men. This being high school and it being the south there were not twelve guys that wanted to take part. So, we performed Twelve Angry People with a cast of two males and ten females. Those months that we spent developing that play and getting ready for a performance are the best memories that I have from high school. I played juror number twelve and I had a grand total of two lines. But it was an awesome feeling to do that play in front of an audience. And Mr. Latham was the best person for that job. He made it a lot of fun. But, the closer we got to the performance date the more stressed he got and we did get to see the steam come out of old Mr. L’s ears a couple of times.

Mr. Latham left Vincent High School not long after I did. He took a job teaching at another school in the county. He built a career at that school that lasted until this past spring when he announced his retirement. He was going to devote himself more fully to his writing. He was developing a blog called Stretching From Here To Pletcher and he had plans on writing a book. He also wanted to develop a podcast.

 I kept up with him for a while through email but eventually we lost touch until about two or three years ago, when the rise of social media made it easy to connect again. Once again, I was chatting with him fairly regularly. We’d send birthday messages back and forth. I even reached out to him just over a week ago, to find out if he’d be interested in being on my Star Trek fandom podcast, The Prime Direction. He graciously declined because he wasn’t as big of a fan as he had been back in the day. He even got me in touch with a college professor that has taught classes on Star Trek that will be on my show in a month or so. But we had already made plans for him to come on a future episode of Cosmic Potato to chat about movies. And I was going to help him get his podcast off the ground.

Today I found out that Mr. Latham suddenly passed away. This news absolutely floored me. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I broke down and cried. This man that has brought so much joy into the lives of students in Shelby County for so many years was taken out of the world just as he was getting ready to enjoy the next stage of his life. I felt sadness for him. I felt anger at the loss of his future. I felt an emptiness in my soul.

Mr. Latham is gone.

But Mr. Latham lives on in the hearts of students and teachers all over the world that began their lives in Shelby County Schools. He lives on in the memories that we have of him and his wisdom. He lives on when children from the nineties now stand in front of their own classrooms and teach a new generation of students. He lives on when the kids that never had an interest in reading now find themselves looking forward to the next novel from their favorite writer. He lives on every time someone goes to his blog site and reads some of the home spun stories that he loved to tell.
He lives on with a nerdy kid from Vincent, Alabama that hated to get on the bus and go to the place that offered him nothing but physical and mental torment can look back on some memories from high school and smile.

When he announced his retirement, I wrote a comment on his Facebook page:

When I think of my days in high school, some of my fondest memories are of sitting in the library as an “aid”. I was supposed to be working, but what I was really doing was talking Star Trek with Mr. Latham. You may or may not have known this, Mr. L, but my teenage years were a pretty lonely time for me. The fact that you spent so much time shooting the breeze with me has meant a lot over the years. Congratulations on a long career. Good luck on the writing career.  And if you ever do decide to give podcasting a try we’ll have to collaborate.”

His response:

Shawn, those are some of my best memories from a three-decade long career, and our convos meant much to me as well. Thanks for the kind words. I DEFINITELY need to get with you about this whole podcasting scene. It’s more complicated than I thought it would be.”

That collaboration will never happen. That podcast will never be heard. It probably would have been a great one, too.

Mr. Latham…you will absolutely be missed.

If you’d like to read some of Steve Latham’s writing, and I highly recommend that you do, you can follow this link to his blog.

Comments

  1. Beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. He will be greatly missed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He gave kindness as easily as he breathed. He is missed

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a tribute. Steve was a friend of mine from college and loved your stories of him...I bet that Podcast would have been a good one.

    ReplyDelete

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