She Was One of the Best

I never cared much for science in school. Biology involved way too much memorizing of terms and Physics was impossible for my brain to actually visualize. I enjoyed Chemistry because it was like a beautiful puzzle where all the pieces seemed to fit nicely together. Only once did I have a teacher who made me feel excited about science and that was in what we called Junior High back in my day. That’s when I encountered an educator named Mrs. Colby, a delightful woman with so much passion about all things related to science that her fervor was contagious, and I caught the bug. 

I was in Mrs. Colby’s class during the early days of space travel when flights lasted only minutes and technology was still rather crude. NASA was being built in Houston and the original astronauts were buying homes down in the Clear Lake area while being feted around town as heroes. For a time there was a temporary NASA facility not far from the school where I listened to Mrs. Colby rapturously explaining how the rockets that would carry them into space actually worked. It was the first time in my life that I actually cared about such things. 

We learned about our own atmosphere and what it meant to travel fast enough to break through our protective covering of oxygen into the weightlessness of space where there is no air. Mrs. Colby made all of those facts sound incredibly fascinating like science fiction that had somehow become real. I remember feeling a sense of history and great importance in her lessons, so I clung to her every word. 

One day she rolled a television into the classroom and prepared us to watch John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth. She so giddy with excitement that I realized we were about to witness something quite extraordinary. I watched with the greatest anticipation and wonder that such a feat was even possible. I believed in that moment that Mrs. Colby was giving me a great gift of being part of something that I would remember for the remainder of my life. In that moment I thought that she was magnificent with her explanations of what was happening and her joy in humankind’s ingenuity. 

Mrs. Colby was a very rational woman who taught us to think. Perhaps that is what I remember most about her. She showed us the value of the scientific method and demanded proof for our hypotheses and statements. She spoke to us of the painstaking processes that led to great discoveries. She helped me to understand how very complex all systems are and how unraveling truth is critical to our existence. Somehow I don’t recall all of the facts that she taught us, but I do remember her admonishing us to be willing to look beyond the seemingly obvious by taking the time to do our research and apply logic to every situation. 

I never saw much of Mrs. Colby once I moved on to high school. I had classes with one of her sons, but never thought to ask him how she was doing even though I often felt so much gratitude for what she had taught me. The years passed and I lost track of her and her son. I often spoke of her and her influence on me and my memories of her were always so warm. At my fiftieth high school reunion I learned from her son that she was still alive and as passionate about the world as ever. It made me smile to think of her advancing into her nineties with her brilliant mind still observing the world around her. 

Last week Mrs. Colby left this earth for the great unknown. I’d like to think that she experienced some grand feeling of floating weightlessly into space toward new adventures in her next life. I imagine her analyzing her situation and wondering what made her transition possible. Like a true scientist I believe she would have been fascinated and delighted by the process and wishing that she had a way to tell us all about it. 

Some teachers leave a lasting impression on us. Mrs. Colby was one of those people for me. Junior High was a horrid time in my adolescent life. I felt awkward and lost in rather typical ways. For the most part seventh and eighth grade are enshrouded in a kind of fog in my mind. My math teacher in eighth grade terrorized me even though she was probably a nice lady. I can’t even remember anything about most of my other teachers. I waded through the gawkiness of those days with a kind of dread with the exception of the hours spent with Mrs. Colby. She broke through my self absorption and presented a way of viewing the world around me that was filled with optimism and possibilities. She focused my mind on the joys of learning and exploring and creating. She was in a word quite wonderful. 

I wish that I had been able to convey my deep appreciation to Mrs. Colby while she was alive. I suspect that few of us take the time to actually thank the educators who have meant the most to us. Mrs. Colby was that rare teacher who changed the trajectory of my life. For that I have always been grateful. I will never forget her and I hope with all of my heart that she is now resting in blissful peace. I’d like to believe that she is now on a grand adventure and finding answers to the many questions that she so often posed. Godspeed, Mrs. Colby. You were one of the best.  


4 thoughts on “She Was One of the Best

      1. Here is my eulogy:
        Decades ago, as an adult no longer living with my parents, I would ring them up on Sundays, when they lived in Houston, to see how they were doing. My father almost always answered, and after we covered our bases, he would instruct, “Say a few words to your mother.” And I would, of course, but it would always be more than a few words.
        My parents moved from Houston to Wimberley in 1977 and my dad transitioned in 2002. Aware that people sometimes decide to stop living when their partners leave the physical, I resolved to call my mother daily for a while so I’d know how she was getting on. Fast forward nineteen years: I checked in with her all but a few days from then until last Friday, and mother hung in there through good times and bad.
        My siblings and I visited mother in Wimberley regularly after dad’s passing. We even coaxed her back to Houston for a Thanksgiving once, but most Thanksgivings were occasions for the Houston-based tribe to head to the hill country, along with Easter, and Christmas, and summer. She saw a lot of us, which is one reason why she remained vigorous—the matriarch enjoying the company of her offspring and continuing to sample what life still had to offer her. These were generally good times, and she stayed sturdy and mentally lucid as she advanced in years.
        Over time, naturally, age began to take its toll. Mother stayed attuned to the present, but physical limits began to dictate adjustments, like hearing aids, a pacemaker, and a rolling walker. In recent years, even as her mobility grew more limited, mother wished to live out her days in her Wimberley home. Angels for Elders were engaged to assist and watch over her during the week even as we, her children, continued alternating weekend visits. Ultimately, she would spend more than half of her 94th year at an extended care facility in Houston, where her offspring could visit her daily.

        The beautiful, sweet, resourceful, intelligent, stubborn and loving spirit that was and is Marie shone on in precious moments to the very end of her physical life.
        Marie was an only child, but had some cousins to romp with when she was growing up. Before coming to Houston with her parents, she experienced East Bernard and Corpus Christi and Beasley.
        At Sam Houston High School, Marie was a member of the National Honor Society. One of her yearbooks notes that she loved anything chocolate. That would be the case when she was older. She was always fond of sweets and desserts.
        After high school, my mother met my father, who’d served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, at a CYO dance. They were married in 1947. Marie and Paul Patrick Colby raised three sons and a daughter—Paul, Fred. Teresa and Jim.
        Mother was a top-notch homemaker. All her children learned to be good providers, responsible adults, and excellent cooks.
        There were always flowers growing on the back porch and the front porch at our house on Rapido Road when we kids were young, and there were always flowers growing on mother’s back porch in Wimberley.
        When I was in school, mother was a science teacher. Being in a class in which your mother is a teacher is an unusual experience. Marie’s keen interest in the space program in the early sixties inspired me hugely. I delighted in going with her to NASA facilities to get films to show her classes. A number of her students have spoken to me as adults, recounting what an influence she was when they were learning and growing.
        Education was a big deal for mother, in every sense. When we kids were growing up, she purchased a multi-volume set of the Great Books, not then cheap, as a resource for us. Throughout her life, she was a reader of newspapers and she subscribed to many periodicals. Only weeks ago, she was still watching news on television with me when I came to see her at Clarewood House.
        By the time I was finishing college, mom & dad had moved from our little house on Rapido Road to a bigger one in Garden Villas. After mother’s father died, her mother came to live there with my parents.
        By the time I married, my mother and father and grandmother had moved to Wimberley. While on our honeymoon, my wife and I visited them there. My parents would return to Houston to visit us or attend events like weddings of my siblings and graduations of their grandchildren. My mother loved nephews Chris and Joel and nieces Bridget and Sarah dearly, and especially loved treks of the entire clan to Wimberley at Christmas time.
        While my father was still alive, the family started a tradition of renting a beach house for a week in the summer. Mom came down to Jamaica Beach for a couple of years after dad’s passing, and I relish the memory of her going for a ride in brother Jim’s boat.
        My brothers and my sister and I all enjoyed hopping on the riding mowers to keep the grass cut at mother’s home in Wimberley, but she would often tell us it was very hot outside. If it really was hot, she’d drive down to the creek where we were mowing with cold drinks and the like. Truth be told, she didn’t really want us to work much while we were there, but instead to just be with her.
        The digital age arrived while mother was growing older, but she never really adapted to it. She did not use email or social media. When she was doing the books for my parents’ business, Edu-Care Products, she would sometimes just turn off the computer when she was done, rather than properly shutting it down. She didn’t really get comfortable with using a remote control to change channels on her TV.
        But she did spontaneously engage people she didn’t even know, something rare in this day and time. And she retained a great sense of humor well into her nineties. She outlived most of her friends and most of her contemporaries, because she was not ready to call it quits.
        Marie worked in the music department of a Sears store before she got married. I liked knowing that, since I managed record and tape stores for some years after college.
        Mother was the secretary for the Kopecky family reunions. She kept track of births and deaths and news and contact information for all the relatives on her father’s side of the family. My siblings and I attended many of these reunions and observed our mother’s recitations of things going on at these large gatherings in East Bernard. Half a dozen years ago I got a bug to assemble all the data I could find about my ancestors for a book. These last few years, my mother helped me make sense of things I discovered, and added to what’s in the paper trail by telling me more about people I only knew the names of.
        Mother had dogs and cats she loved. My dog Junior loved sitting with her in her recliner, as did Chris’s dogs Marco and Tippy. The stray cats mom fed loved her too. And every spring, hummingbirds came to the back porch of the Wimberley estate to be fed and revered.
        From this day forward, I expect that every time I see a hummingbird, I will remember the grace and elegance of my beautiful mother.


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