“I Love You, Mrs. Blackburn”

By Curtis K. Shelburne: CNJ columnist

One of the finest gifts pastors and authors and, for that matter, friends of many sorts, can do for us is to help us think new thoughts and learn new things. One of the most important ways they do that is by reminding us of old but true things we’ve already learned.

I think that’s one reason I enjoy the writing of author and Quaker pastor Philip Gulley so much. His latest book is entitled, I Love You, Miss Huddleston, and centers on his growing up years.

Gulley grew up in Indiana and still lives there. I’ve spent enough time in Indiana myself to know it’s a place well worth loving. When Gulley mentions McCormick’s Creek or Turkey Run State Parks, my ears perk up. I’ve spent some fine time in both places.

Speaking of ears, Gulley’s and mine seem similar. His picture is on the cover of his book. I’d guess it was taken when he was in fourth grade or so. We both were blessed with ample ears, to say the least.

We also sported the same spectacles, plastic-framed, black or dark brown at the top with attractive swirls in the clearer part near the bottom. Big lenses, the better to see the board with. Gulley must have had the same experience in public school up in Indiana that I had in public school down in Texas. The school nurse nailed me in third grade. My choice? Those cool-looking glasses or a scholarship to a school for the blind.

In my fourth grade pic, I’m wearing the same sort of knit shirt Gulley wears in his, buttoned up in truly dorky fashion all the way to the top.

Gulley writes books and preaches. I preach and write books. His sell thousands of copies. Mine sell . . . Oh, well.

If I’d written the book, I’d have named it I Love You, Mrs. Blackburn.

Mrs. Blackburn was my second-grade teacher, and I was hopelessly in love with her. So was her husband, I guess, because she left school to have a baby, and left me brokenhearted. That must have been why I got sick and missed the unit on Roman numerals. I’m still a little shaky on combining I’s and V’s and X’s numerically to this very day in the year of our Lord CCCCCCCCCCCCCXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXQLVIIIIIIIII.

Some of the most important things we learn in school have nothing to do with tests. Mrs. Blackburn loved all her students, drat it! Not just me. Loved us enough to teach us well. And her replacement, though very disappointing to me romantically speaking, loved us, too, and nursed me through my depression, illness, and on through second grade, albeit with a weakness in Caesar’s ciphering.

It’s good to love learning and to long to learn more. And the best thing we can learn is to truly love people, even if loving hurts.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at