By Brian Bloom
It was a thunder-filled day as my then seventh-grade teacher Max Poe ushered me out of his classroom to the “chair”. Located on the edge of a vacuous study hall, the chair was Mr. Poe’s one-on-one space where teacher and student could be free of classroom constraints. Lightening flashed across the darkened sky, followed by a booming roar.
“Your choice,” I remember Mr. Poe telling me as he lit up his now-famous cherry tobacco-filled pipe. “The Preamble to the Constitution or the Gettysburg Address, which did you memorize?” he asked.
“The Preamble,” I stuttered, fully aware how unprepared I was for this interrogation.
“Begin,” he ordered as he leaned back to hear a seventh grade rendition for the thirtieth time that day.
Stage fright – if you could call it such when the audience was but one – took hold of me.
“I can’t,” I stammered as frustrated tears whelmed up in my eyes as I searched a failing memory for a place to start.
“Sure you can,” he quietly said, aware how distraught I had become. “Four score…”
“That’s not it,” I said. That’s what Lincoln said. “The Preamble starts ‘We the People…’”.
“It does?” he laughed.
“… of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union,” I rambled, rushing through the one sentence lead as if a prize would be offered if I finished in a single breath.
“And your done,” he said, his large hand resting on my shoulder.
“Done?” I asked, unaware I had actually fulfilled the day’s assignment.
“Brian,” he said, smoke folding around his balding scalp. “You need to believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.”
Max Poe was my favorite teacher. If you believe the hundreds of Facebook postings from every corner of this country you learn Max Poe was the favorite teacher of hundreds, nay thousands, providing them the encouragement to learn.
Max Poe was also one of my favorite friends. Max’s mother Mable spent more than a decade as our family sitter, corralling five boys whose parents both worked. Max’s son Barry was closer to a brother, learning the journalism ropes from my father before obtaining a degree and taking the sports helm at Iowa’s third largest newspaper.
Countless Saturdays were spent in the Poe household as Barry and I played basketball and whiffle ball, football and golf in an overused back yard.
Saturday Max Poe died from Alzheimer’s.
One in eight adults, 65 and older, suffer from Alzheimer’s. That number equals more than 5.2 million across this country.
It’s the sixth leading cause of death and constitutes 60-80 percent of all dimentia patients nationwide. Alzheimer’s is always fatal.
Every 68 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By mid-century, it will be 33 seconds.
It is a statistical nightmare.
Max Poe was not a statistic.
Max Poe was my basketball coach, seeing something in a then 4’8” frame that eluded others. Max Poe was my football coach, teaching me there could be glory as a center. Max Poe was my track coach, betting the entire team that I could outrun the school’s best sprinter in a half-mile endurance challenge.
Two years ago, back for a hometown Veteran’s Day visit, I got a chance to thank Max for all that he did.
“Well now,” he said, confused about the emotional hug I offered.
“You taught me the Preamble,” I said.
“Four Score and seven years ago,” he laughed… his eyes still searching for my identity.
“That’s the Gettysburg Address,” I said.
“I knew you would know it,” he replied.