My brother Jack found inspiration in Mrs. Thompson’s mechanical drafting class. Like other restless adolescent males in the 1940s, he thought mostly about girls and baseball until he discovered his talent in Mrs. T’s popular class.
She presided over her domain, a well-lighted room at the end of a ground floor hall at Hamilton Junior High School in Baltimore. Directly across the hall, adjacent rooms housed classes in woodworking and sheet metal. These, like Mrs. Thompson’s drawing class, were populated exclusively by boys. On another floor, girls learned how to make aprons and dresses and create casseroles in similar labs. For one eighth-grade semester, everyone switched — girls took shop, and boys learned to cook and sew.
Mrs. Thompson’s power over her roomful of boys was legendary. They both feared and worshiped this stocky, no-nonsense grandmother who showed them how to think, respect accuracy, and express their ideas clearly. Under her patient guidance, Jack discovered his talent for seeing shapes and physical relations between and among objects, then expressing them accurately with pencil and paper. This turned him on, and he persuaded our parents to enroll him in an after-school drawing course at Baltimore’s Pratt Institute of Art.
To what extent did this youthful self discovery influence his adult years? When World War II ended, Jack joined the Army and was assigned to its Signal Corps, first as a telephone linesman, later as a special services photographer stationed in Okinawa. He then spent most of his postwar civilian life in law enforcement. He married and became a devoted parent and grandparent. A stroke and cerebral hemorrhage felled him, and he died in 2003, a few weeks shy of his 74th birthday.
Jack never became an artist or draftsman, but he loved classical music and theater, and the technical behind-the-scenes aspects of both fascinated him.
Great teachers influence our lives in many ways, not all of them obvious. A free spirit inclined to make his own rules as a teenager, Jack the adult followed paths requiring discipline, respect for accuracy, and attention to detail. Should we attribute any of this to Mrs. Thompson’s influence?