Robert Hyde: Saying Goodbye

David Van Wyk

 

I am sitting in a Huddle House in A-rab, Alabama, eating lunch because I managed to be early for Robert Hyde’s funeral by about three hours. Nobody knew how long it would take to get here. I called one funeral home to get the number to the other funeral home; then I called Arab Memorial Chapel and got the directions, which included the phrases “a little piece” and “north of Wal-Mart.”

 

Initially, it is difficult to believe that a man like Robert Hyde would come from a place like this, but as I look around, I can see it. We come back to the places we have run from in one way or another, and somewhere in the midst of competing auto-parts stores, family diners, country churches, and kudzu, Robert’s body will be laid to rest this afternoon.

 

His friends are coming from all parts of the country to this place, one where we have never been and one to which we’ll likely not travel again.

 

I met Robert a few years ago when he joined our faculty at Coffee High School. He was hard to see in the halls and had to wear his pant-cuffs rolled up several times. He was my friend. As displaced members of our faculty, we spent our planning periods hiding from people who asked us to cover their classes “for a minute.” I railed against the time that he spent doing beautiful but pointless lesson plans, and he kept on doing them because he felt like he should get them in. Sometimes Rick Smith, our brilliant Calc teacher, joined us and brought his rare-earth volatility to the discussion. The answers to public education’s many troubles lay somewhere among the three of us.

 

Robert was the first foreign language teacher to go through the Blackwater Writing Project, and, in the course of just a few weeks, he was integral to our community, releasing Pooty-Tang on our Blog and in his creative writing—much to Latahshia Coleman’s chagrin. He was gleeful and creative. His last email to our staff of directors, labeled “Apologies,” read: “I am sick, very sick with fever and shortness of breath.  I will have tests run on me today.  I am sorry for missing class.” We didn’t know. Donna Sewell mailed him a care package from all of us, and we ordered him a T-shirt. But I will not remember him this way.

 

More than any of his other accomplishments, his kids loved him and would have followed him into hell[1] had he asked that they accompany him. Only a handful of teachers that I have ever known have achieved that sort of cult following: Duane Tony and Brad Riner are the two who come readily to mind, but Duane has since disappeared into the mists of Thailand, and Brad has gone over to the dark side of the administration. Brad will be here today. I am glad of that. I don’t know that any of us from Robert’s other world will be able to convince his family or his friends of the magnitude of impact

on our lives and the lives of the kids in our community, but at least we can be here and speak mutely.

 

After the funeral this afternoon and as I head down South 231 this afternoon and eventually back to Athens, I will remember Robert’s unassuming greatness. I hope to see him when my travels come to an end sooner or later and I come home again.

 

 



[1] Otherwise known as the French language.