THANKS FOR THE STORIES, MR. WOODS!

Here are some more memories from A Logger’s Daughter. V.G. Woods was a beloved teacher at Granite Falls High School for many years.

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V.G. Woods (center front) and fellow teachers in 1944. His wife Agnes is to his left.*

  V.G. Woods smiled a welcome from behind the wheel of the big yellow bus the morning I, a frightened but excited five-year-old, climbed aboard to begin my career as a student. I didn’t know then that V.G. had taught forever in our small town’s high school, or that this bus route was just a side job. He was tall and thin. Scanty dark hair camouflaged a shiny, freckled pate. But for the brown eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses, I’d have been terrified of him.

  The first day of school proved overwhelming for a shy little backwoods girl. After the long bus ride home, I wanted nothing more than to get back to Mother and my little brothers and sisters. V.G. folded back the door for me to exit. I hopped off the bus, curls bouncing.

  He grinned after me. “Good-bye, Blondie,” he said.

  Blondie! That was the last straw. I turned, bristling with indignation, glared, and gave him the most cutting reply I could think of:  “Shut up!”

  Then I raced down the driveway and into my house, where I sobbed to Mother that the bus driver had called me a bad name.

    Mother smiled and told me he was only teasing. She told me what to say next time it happened. The next evening when he called, “Good-bye, Blondie,” I answered, “Good-bye, Tall, Dark and Handsome.”  He threw back his head and laughed. That began a friendship that lasted all the way through my elementary and high school career.

    The Granite Falls School District was small, a place where new teachers came for two or three years to get their “teaching legs” under them before moving on to bigger, better-paying school districts. V.G., who’d grown up in the area, and his wife, the high school librarian, were among the few who settled in to become a long-term part of both school and community. As such, V.G. assumed a vested interest in his students. Because he taught all the high school math classes, and our only foreign language, Latin, he had most of the students at one time or the other. Our other teachers were Miss, Mrs., or Mr., but everyone called him V.G. (or “Veege” behind his back.)

    V.G., a loyal alumnus of the University of Washington, knew a lot about our local history. “Have you ever found fossils around here?” someone once asked at the beginning of Latin class. V.G. forgot the lesson plan and spent most of the class period telling us about the summer he helped lay out a road for the Forest Service and his discovery of rocks containing fossilized seashells on a nearby mountain. I was hooked on geology!

  This proof that the very mountains where I lived were once part of an ancient ocean bed perhaps didn’t have much to do with learning a fossilized language. But as V.G. helped us uncover the Latin foundations of words we use every day, I learned that words had beauty, precision and power…concepts basic to my budding interest in writing.

    Another day a student in geometry class winked at the rest of us. Then cleverly, (he thought) he distracted V.G. from the lesson at hand by asking if he’d ever met any of the Indians who once traveled the nearby rivers. V.G., allowing us to think he’d swallowed the bait, launched into a story about old Pilchuck Julia, nearly blind, who still lived near town when he was a young man. She wove beautiful baskets by touch. As my imagination reconstructed Pilchuck Julia’s lost culture, my interest in history and anthropology took root.
 
  Often V.G. told tales of his pranks as an underclassman at the university in Seattle. He described the beautiful campus and the exciting mix of learning and fun. For most of us, college was not even a dream. But V.G.’s portrayal of college life opened up the world beyond our little logging town. Doing extra class work at home seemed an even exchange for his stories.

 “Joan, where do you plan to go to college?” V.G. asked one day after geometry class.

 “College?” I stammered. My parents struggled to feed and clothe us. College was out of the question.

 “Yes,” V.G. replied. “You’re a good student. You can go far. You should be making plans for your future.”

  That conversation started me dreaming. Maybe I could pursue an education. Maybe God would make a way. In many further conversations, V.G. lobbied hard for me to attend his beloved University of Washington. I chose a smaller, church-sponsored college instead. Nevertheless, he encouraged me to pursue my dreams and was pleased when I followed in his footsteps by graduating with my teaching degree.

  V.G. lived by Galileo’s premise:  “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”  I’ve forgotten most of what I knew of math and Latin, but by V.G.’s story telling, he taught us the power of story to spur accomplishment, to further cultural understanding, and to communicate ideas.

    V.G. retired and grew old in the same house he’d always lived in. One icy winter evening, his car slid into a ditch near his home. Dazed, he staggered onto the highway, was struck by a passing vehicle, and died.

    He’d invested his whole career in our community and “his kids.”  Many of his students went on to graduate from college. Their careers have taken them all over the world. But I’m sure his greatest reward came in knowing that he inspired his students to reach beyond themselves, to be the very best they could be.

*Photo courtesy of Granite Falls Historical Museum