A few days ago, I found myself at an elementary school assembly. There was a young man, apparently the music teacher, leading a group of kindergarteners in a song about being an animal, if I recall. He was magnetic and enthusiastic and a tad flamboyant and he reminded me of my own grade school music teacher, Mr. Bradley.
Mr. Bradley was tall (at least he seemed tall at the time) and lean and silver-haired. He wore clogs and turtlenecks and was the most sophisticated person I’d ever known. He taught us songs in foreign languages (Frère Jacques) and songs about European landmarks (London Bridges) and he gave us, at an early age, a window into a world far away from our little Kansas farm town. He was the vocal teacher and orchestra teacher and since I sang in the choir and also played violin, he figured prominently in my grade school years. Like the young teacher I witnessed a few days ago, he was magnetic and enthusiastic and a tad flamboyant.
Mr. Bradley was the first gay person I ever knew, although I did not know it at the time. I remember in junior high, a classmate told me about how he’d once called Mr. Bradley a faggot to his face, bragged about it actually. I asked if Mr. Bradley was gay. He said, “Yes.” I asked how he knew and he told me his Dad who was also a teacher had told him.
When I was in high school, Mr. Bradley moved from Independence to somewhere in Texas. A few years later, I heard that Mr. Bradley had passed away. I’ve talked about formative teachers on my blog before and Mr. Bradley falls into that category. And of all my teachers from my hometown, he is the one I know the least about. In my adulthood, I’ve wondered why he taught in Independence when the call of the world was clearly beckoning to him. I’ve wondered if he had a great love or any loves at all. (I’d never heard talk about him having a boyfriend or partner.) I’ve wondered what prompted his move to Texas and if his final years were happy ones. I hope so.
I also wonder if he knew that I was going to grow up to be the (sometimes) magnetic, enthusiastic, tad flamboyant man I’ve grown up to me. Did he see something of himself in me? I know there are some people in the world that think gay people should not teach. There might be people who read my blog that think gay people should not teach. But I am very grateful that the Universe placed him in my educational path.
Mr. Bradley, I really wish you were alive today. I wish you could come visit me in Los Angeles and I’d take you to see Follies at the Ahmanson and jazz at LACMA and we’d walk the grounds of the Huntington Gardens. We’d get tickets to the L.A. Philharmonic and grab a drink at the revolving roof top lounge at Westin Bonaventure and as the world spins around us, I’d tell you how special of a teacher you were. I might confess to the school boy crush I’d had on you. You might tease me about how ridiculous I look in my man clogs and I’d tell you that it’s all your fault I wear the darned things. And then we’d laugh and order another round of Cosmopolitans. And when the check came you’d grab it and I’d steal it from your hand and say, “No, this is on me, I owe you.” And the fact is, even though I’ll never get to tell him that, I do owe him.