In 1971 my fifth grade teaching colleague and mentor was Mrs. Lucille Johnson. We worked in a small four school district in a Los Angeles suburb. Lucille was aptly named by my team teacher as the, “Teacher of Doom”. She wasn’t the best teacher in the building; however, her presence was by far the most dreaded. All students, teachers, principals, and all the administrators respectfully feared her.
Lucille was an older, single, childless teacher who treated and loved her class as if they were her very own children. In her classroom love and respect for learning was a mutual relationship between Lucille and her fifth grade pupils. She was a teacher from a long forgotten era in education, the 1950’s. Her teaching style was from a time when the teacher was always right. Even on the rare occasions when the teacher was wrong, they were still always right! She was strict, direct, and compelling. Mrs. Johnson was small, even diminutive in stature, but she was a mighty presence on campus. Her impeccable professional attire was usually accessorized with a string of pearls and she always wore a pair of black strapless spiked high heels.
She always prevailed in her unwavering opinions, whether they were simple or grandiose. Mrs. Johnson defeated all challengers. Any and all challenges to her authority and all verbal disputes were futile efforts. She was the teacher that no one dared to cross. Newcomers quickly learned the lesson the hard way. Understandably they too never risked arguing with her twice. Occasionally a foolish student or a slow thinking administrator did challenge her, but only once. After the humiliation of a severe tongue lashing, usually publicly delivered and ending with a lovingly warm stern smile that could melt your heart, her expertise was never questioned again.
In her heart of hearts Mrs. Johnson knew that the teacher is always right. She knew that the student is always wrong or at best misguided. The whole world was her classroom and every disagreement was a teachable moment. For her the smallest attempt to question her thought process or any typical misunderstandings necessitated immediate on the spot correction. It was her sacred appointed responsibility as a teacher to sternly correct everyone who differed with her publicly or privately. Her correct interpretation of the facts was necessary to instruct and to clarify all disputes. She viewed correcting the misinformed or misguided as enlightening them with the true facts of the situation. Her lesson for the young or old pupil was intended solely for their betterment as a human being. By the time her long winded drawn out session mercifully ended the offender always submitted to the authority of the 1950’s style teacher. Mrs. Johnson had the consummate skill of an old fashion teacher; one schooled in the fine art of public mortification. Scolding that left the victim sitting gloomily under a cloud of doom.
All the teachers viewed her “teachable moments” as an upbraiding. None of us were so brave as to share our opinion with Mrs. Johnson. We always kept our opinions safely sequestered among ourselves.
I had great admiration for her fearless expertise in winning all confrontations, major or minor. She always won all challenges to her point of view from any opponent of any age. Whether it was with a pompous District Administrator in a faculty meeting or in the school halls with a budding student psychopathic future murderer. I witnessed her going toe to toe with one of my former special education pupils with anger issues. He’ll die prison because in a blind rage he murdered some guy with a chair. She tried her best to correct him. Mrs. Johnson was determined to save everyone with her brand of an old fashion teacher’s tough love. It was a District phenomenon that a small in stature fifth grade teacher could informally rule the entire School District. All the District personnel, all of her parents and of course her students seemed to know not to irritate or argue with Mrs. Johnson. The word got around. She always wins. In a strange twist of logic, we all accepted that her way was the right way, at least in the public arena.
Lucille was a mentor and a friend. She liked me. She thought I had potential! We connected at the deepest level, that of friendship. Maybe she knew I admired her survival skills in the untold nasty politics of teaching. Maybe she knew of the deep respect I had for her knowledge of life in a bygone time. Maybe she felt my appreciation for her consummate verbal skills or possibly she knew that deep down inside I was a little frightened of her.
Teach the people to Crawl!
It was January 9, 1981 and Mrs. Johnson was on her deathbed in a stuffy La Habra, California hospice. Lucille and I shared the final moments of Lucille Pierre Beardsley Johnson Shaughnessy’s life (she had three husbands and no children of her own other than her classroom kids). Our conversation covered the usual polite topics typical in this situation; our mutual friends, my family, and our school colleagues. She abruptly changed the topic. Seemly out of the blue she had an intense desire to talk about my marathon running and to tell me something vitally important; a burning desire to tell me something that she knew about modern food’s effect on people’s health.
Her conversational tone became intense. She demanded that I follow her final instructions and complete a teaching assignment for her. One she could no longer complete. The message was delivered as an unshakable admonition that only a fifties teacher could deliver. She revealed it in the unwavering conviction of someone who knows a vital top secret, “Bob, the food isn’t right anymore! It’s making the people sick. The poison is in the food and water. It’s in the cans and bottles. They’re putting it in everything that the people eat and drink. You got to teach the people how to crawl! Bob you’re a runner, you can run marathons! You can do it! You’re a teacher! Teach the people to crawl!”
Perhaps I was too young at the time, a healthy man in my thirties, to comprehend the full meaning of her admonition. I needed to age and be in the position of finding a lifetime of great health slowly fading. Years later when I was running slower and feeling bloated her words began to settle into a deep understanding. It took a long time, over thirty years before the awareness process unfolded. Comprehension and knowledge of the deep meaning behind her frantic words, “Teach the People to Crawl!” finally dawned on me like bright morning sunshine on a mountain trail.
Ice Age Diets, I just wanted to feel good again one more time before I died
Soon after I retired in my early sixties I no longer felt great. I wanted good health back one more time before I died. I began reading and researching the typical American diet of a hundred years ago, the early 1900s. The diet seemed very nutritious and the people were healthy when not afflicted with pathogens or trauma. The Industrial Food Chain Revolution that came after the Great War was putting detrimental substances in our food supply. Inadequately researched substances, with assistance from the food lobby, won government approval. Chemicals with incomprehensible formulas were being added to our foodstuffs. The very profitable additives were added to preserve and enhance the food flavor. These unhealthy ingredients were being included in the all the cans, bottles, and almost all packaged products found in stores and supermarkets.
The problems with our modern diet are well researched. The noted increase of obesity and other health issues make it obvious to the casual observer that the current consumption of fast and easy to prepare convenience food is problematic for good health. Little discussed and generally unknown to the younger public is the fact that people who grew up before the Great Depression were slimmer and in better general health than our modern population. Our life spans are longer than our grandparents principally due to good sanitation, antibiotics, immunizations, and better emergency medicine. The Teacher of Doom, like many of our grandparents ate a more nutritious diet before World War Two. Studying the last century’s diet shed light on Lucille’s admonition that something is wrong with the food. She knew that food was better when she was young.
I started to dig deeper into diets before the 1900s. Doing more research and going back further in time to the unwritten antiquity, I explored possible human Ice-Age Diets. One-day sitting at my computer reading a summary of author Ray Audette’s work discussed in Neanderthin nutritional enlightenment became apparent. The Paleo Diet could solve my problem. It was the way to feel good again.
I seemed to have had heard a light switch click on in my head as a light bulb flickered alive. I remembered and finally understood my mentor’s message expressed to me during her death bed pleading long ago. Mrs. Johnson, the “Teacher of Doom” understood that good health was embodied in the nutrition of her youth. I discovered an even better diet in the ancient foodstuffs consumed in antiquity. The Paleo Diet was the simplest solution to my mentor’s awareness that the people were unknowingly being fed an unhealthy diet. The typical modern diet is a strange cocktail of unpronounceable chemicals, fillers, and additives camouflaged in a neat pretty package. It is product deceptively covered with healthy looking people.
I regained good health in my sixties by ignoring the modern food chain and experimenting with the basic idea of an Ice-Age Paleo Diet. By simply subtracting food items known to have been added to the human diet in the last ten thousand years I began to feel good and run great again.
I wasn’t able to follow the purest form of the Paleo Diet. I had to modify my dietary practices out of consideration for my family, social norms, and occasional yielding to my human weakness. By thoroughly testing the Paleo Diet I learned that eliminating all wheat was the most valuable dietary change. Other than race day nutrition I eliminated sugar to the maximum extent possible. Finally, by eliminating all other grains, all starches, all packaged food, and all canned food I was delightfully gratified with the results of being healthy. I felt excellent after a few months on the Ice-Age Diet. It was the same good health that I remembered in my forties when I was running one-hundred-mile endurance races in the old gold country of the California High Sierra Mountains. It is unbelievably wonderful to feel fantastic again one more time before I die.
The Teacher of Doom: My Journey to Better Health and Running is continued in the Notebook:
In the NOTEBOOK begins the journey to Better Health and great walking, jogging, or running, “Learn How to Crawl”, and becoming a Fellow Traveler. Read more of the details of my encounter with my mentor Lucille, the Teacher of Doom. She inspired Paila of the Mastodon Clan and my diet suggestions. Learn the details of the Ice-Age Diet, the one that returned the health of my younger self and find out why and how I developed PaleoShoes, Barefoot…with Sole®.