Sole Focus

News, Views, Rantings & Ramblings by Carey Parrish

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Location: Georgia, United States

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Teacher, My Friend

I lost a dear friend this past week. She was a wonderful woman who set an example of dignity and good values for everyone she encountered. Her name was Bessie Lou Epperson but she went by Becky. I remember once she told me that she never liked being called Bessie and that Becky was more the name for which she felt suited. So Becky she became and Becky she was known to everyone.

She was born on October 9, 1927 in Clinton, South Carolina. She had four sisters and she was close to all of them. Her father passed away when she was a teenager. Her mother died several years afterward. She grew up nourishing a love of books and knowledge. After finishing high school, she attended Berry College in Rome, Georgia where she graduated in the early 1950’s with a degree in elementary education. Moving to Dalton, Georgia, she married and began a career in teaching, earning her Masters Degree in Education a few years later.

Mrs. Epperson was soon known to all her students as a tough teacher who loved Georgia history and who required everyone in her classes to put forth their best effort. She was my mother’s teacher and then many years later she was mine as well. Her lessons were not easy. I remember having to keep a notebook in her class for the entire year and the contents of that notebook counted a great deal toward her students’ final grade. It was no easy task keeping this notebook either. You had to constantly pay attention in class, read all your assignments, complete every written exercise given to you, and pass the tests she herself wrote; tests that you’d never pass if you didn’t do all of the above in a satisfactory manner and have your notebook in pristine condition for each examination. I still have my notebook from her class. I worked too hard on it to throw it out.

I developed a healthy respect for Mrs. Epperson and I soon saw her as my favorite teacher. She was very kind to me and she encouraged my own love of reading. I was by the eighth grade reading adult books and often we would swap books between us. Mrs. Epperson always told me to broaden my reading scope. She saw my own desire for knowledge as a gift that I should nurture. I have an old paperback book that I loaned to her and when she returned it to me she had written me a note inside the back cover, imploring me to “always read.” It was with sadness when my middle school career came to an end and I moved on to high school, because Mrs. Epperson wasn’t going with me. I knew I would miss her, and I did.

We kept in touch over the years after I left her tutelage. When I was an adult we started visiting each other and I went to church with her for many years. By the time she retired, after a remarkable career of thirty-two years in public education, the majority of which she spent at Valley Point Middle School, she went on to teach GED classes and she also worked as a substitute teacher for another decade. Education was her calling and she didn’t let anything stop her from sharing her knowledge with others.

Even after she stopped teaching altogether, she continued working through her church as a volunteer for the benevolence program there. She also taught Sunday school classes for a long time. She loved children and she loved to see that spark of brilliance in their eyes when something fascinated them. Mrs. Epperson never lost her own love for knowledge and reading either. I remember sitting with her in church over the years and she always had a notebook in which she made notes on the sermon, which she would undoubtedly refer to later as she reread the passages from which the minister took his lesson. She knew her bible too. She could quote you any scripture that anyone asked her about and she was well versed in biblical history, not to mention the origins of the Church of Christ which she dearly loved. She never spoke on any subject of which she didn’t have a working knowledge. Her faith was very important to her and she would proudly share how she felt about it with anyone who asked.

Mrs. Epperson, for all her triumphs, didn’t always have a happy life. She was married and she had three children, one daughter and two sons. In the early 70’s she and her husband divorced and I don’t think she ever quite got over that. To her marriage was sacred and the fact that her own husband ultimately left her for another woman was something that she naturally had a hard time accepting. At the time her children were still at home, making her suddenly a single working mother, and yet she persevered, determined to give her kids the best she could provide for them. She didn’t always have an easy time raising them on her own. Her ex-husband supported them and he was around for his visitation with them, but being by herself with them for the majority of the time presented its own unique problems. Mrs. Epperson refused to bend under the pressure. She did what she had to do and eventually all three of her children grew up to be responsible adults.

In her later years she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and this eventually led to renal failure, requiring her to be on dialysis the last few years of her life. She also suffered a minor stroke which made walking difficult for her, but she used a walker to get around and she continued going to church regularly, refusing to let her physical limitations prevent her from doing what she wanted to do. She had to give up driving as her eyesight suffered from the diabetes too. Reading became difficult for her, in spite of her eyeglasses, but she used a magnifying glass to continue her love of books. Through the assistance of friends and her children, she remained in her own home, comfortable as she dealt with her health issues, never letting them get the best of her spirit.

On the night of February 2, 2010 Mrs. Epperson apparently got ready for bed and turned in for the evening. The following day her youngest son went to visit her and found her still in bed, peaceful, having passed away during the night. She was 82 years old.

I like knowing that she went so easily. That she simply went to bed and left this life as she slept is a comfort for those who knew and loved her. It seems very fitting in a way. After all, this was a woman who lived life on her own terms. She loved her home and she never left it unless she had to be hospitalized. All her things were there. She had everything she needed. I’m glad she got to spend her last day at home and then make her graceful exit from her own bed, her dignity and her independence intact.

Mrs. Epperson was someone I admired and respected. I loved her very much. Having had her as a teacher in my childhood was a great benefit to me during my formative years, but having her as a friend when we were both adults was a treasure that I shall always hold dear to my heart. Life certainly didn’t turn out the way she thought it would, and who among us can say that it has, but she was strong and she had her faith, and through these indomitable traits she found happiness, purpose, and fulfillment in her life. Those who knew her were blessed by her presence in our lives. She was a wonderful woman, very maternal, devoted to the end, and she imparted to all of us who loved her the gift of having learned the secret to being happy through her own example of never giving in to anything that stood in the way of a goal she set for herself.

Mrs. Epperson, thank you for being a part of my life. You were my teacher. You were my friend. You played an important part in my becoming the man I am today and I will miss you very much. I love you.

And this is my sole focus for now…


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