22
arches
summer
2013
Oh, you’re the new teacher?”
Yes, ma’am.”
Can you come back in 30 minutes or so? My
husband and I are finishing up his 85th-birthday
lunch.”
Half an hour later, I had a new home—
Magnolia Cottage,” the sign reads in front of
it—along with an invitation to church that
Sunday. Putting on a semi-wrinkled, slightly-
matching shirt-and-tie combination three
mornings after, I decided to brave the heat and
walk the four blocks that stood between my
new house and the Fordyce United Methodist
Church.
I tried to wedge myself into the back corner
of the sanctuary, more of an observer than a
worshipper. That lasted about 30 seconds, before
Mrs. Phillips quickly hooked my elbow from
behind and dragged me up to the front row to
sit between her and the colonel. (Their fam-
ily has been sitting in the same row since the
1930
s). After a service that sent shivers down
my back with its similarities to my old church in
Newport, Ore., the Phillipses began with a mul-
titude of introductions, and I did my best to of-
fer the appropriate stiffness or gentleness in my
handshake, depending upon its recipient.
A good portion of those handshakes are now
hugs each Sunday. And while I have found a
seat to call my own—a little further back—my
Sunday strolls are a much-anticipated founda-
tion of my weekly routine.
Humidity,
hospitality,
and
humility
Marcus Luther ’12
was
ASUPS president in his senior
year, an RA for two years, ma-
jored in English, and was, we
observed, a darned good student
writer. When we heard he was
in Arkansas working with Teach
For America, teaching high school
English and helping coach the
baseball team (one of 82 Puget
Sound grads employed by TFA
since 1992), we asked him for a
report. Here’s what he told us:
Like a wet towel
just pulled out of a boil-
ing pot of crawfish gumbo—slapping me across
the face: That’s how I would describe my first
encounter with humidity in the South. I was
born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where,
sure, the climate can be soggy. But not like this.
Staggering off the third leg of my red-eye from
Eugene, Ore., I was nearly knocked off my feet by
the air in Memphis, Tenn.
If life is a series of expectations and realiza-
tions, I arrived at my Teach For America ex-
perience with a hearty spread of preconceived
notions and stereotypes about what I would
encounter. Beneath the “fixin’-tos” and “y’alls,”
I expected to be tossed into the racial hostilities
and economic depravities commonly associated
with this part of the country. Part of me felt a
sort of generosity in what I was doing—a nobil-
ity, even—by committing to teach two years in
the Mississippi Delta.
The past 12 months have consisted of a series
of images and experiences wholly antithetical to
the narrative I expected.
Ever since arriving
in Fordyce, Ark., a town
of 5,000 struggling to keep its footing in the
wake of a Georgia-Pacific mill’s departure, I have
been overwhelmed by generosity.
Knocking at the door of potential land-
lords—Col. Jim Phillips and his wife, Agnes—I
was welcomed with what I now realize was an
incredibly revealing exchange: