Forever Young

Their teenage voices hummed in unison, a soft buzz at first, barely audible. After 10 seconds or so – there was no exact science to it; these were evil geniuses, sure, but they were still teenagers, and really, plans at that age are uncool, man – the steady hum would grow, bit by bit, until the entire room provided a constant noise ready to drive the old man insane.

The old man, though, couldn’t hear it. Not at first, at least.

Which, I guess, was the point.

By the time he finally noticed it, the humming would occasionally be peppered with giggles as the teens tried (and failed) to contain their amusement. He looked puzzled.

“Class, can anyone here that?” he’d ask.

“Hear what?” somehow would question back with the type of mock sincerity perfected by high school sophomores across America.

He would fiddle with his hearing aid, turning knobs until he found the setting he needed, then he returned to his duties.

The class, of course, returned to its duties, which primarily consisted of tormenting this poor old man. They would speak in low whispers, causing him to again adjust his hearing aid, this time turning the volume up.

By then it was too late. The class would start talking in loud voices, almost shouts, that probably deafened and already near-deaf man. As his hearing aid boomed from the voices, the class erupted with laughter, another oh-so-clever practical joke successfully completed.

He was Mr. Young.

We were the class.

He was, without a doubt, the kindest, sweetest, most sincere substitute teacher in the history of Powell County, if not Kentucky, if not the United States. I can’t speak for other countries.

We were, without a doubt, assholes.

We should all hang our heads in shame.

Anyone who attended a Powell County school any time in the 1990s (and probably in the 1980s) got treated to the substitute teaching of Mr. Young, a retired minister who was in his 80s (at least) in my time. He might have even been pushing 90. It’s quite possible, and it’s not surprising. The man was a machine.

I mean that quite literally, of course.

We all remember Mr. Young’s “typewriter,” which was, in hindsight, the most awesomely awesome thing any substitute teacher has done. I don’t even need to use hindsight to know this. We sat there spellbound when he did it, knowing full well that this trick was both corny and entertaining (but mostly entertaining).

For the unlucky uninitiated (which can pretty much only be Powell Countians younger than 23 and non-PCers), Mr. Young’s typewriter consisted of him making clacking sounds by rattling his false teeth in his mouth while his fingers typed in mid-air. Once he got to the end of the “page,” he would place one finger to the side of his nose, making a inhaling honking noise while he turned his head back to his left, thus allowing the typing to continue.

Keeping up with then-modern technology, Mr. Young upgraded to an electric printer, somehow wiggling his ear while either humming or getting his hearing aid to make a noise. It’s not that I can’t remember the detail of how he made it happen; I’ve willfully blocked it. Then and now, it was the work of magic. I’m pretty sure that if he were alive today, he’d have upgraded technology and do some sort of e-mail via WiFi, but only after also showing kids the typewriter.

If that wasn’t enough to make you immediately love him and realize his total goodness, Mr. Young was a retired minister, a fact many of his students did not know. I counted myself one of the fortunate ones, even catching him in oratory action a few times when he would guest preach at the First Presbyterian Church of Stanton.

You have no idea what it’s like to be 10 years old at church, only to see Mr. Young as your substitute teacher. I would get absolutely giddy, telling my grandparents “You will not believe what you’re about to see,” as I sat spellbound wondering the eternal question: would he do the typewriter trick?

He never did, and although I failed to understand why as a child, I can see now that a stoic Presbyterian church might not be the most appropriate place for Vaudeville-style humor. Actually, that’s not true at all – I still think he should have performed for the congregation, perhaps as the offering was being taken. It was definitely worth more than a tithe.

Mr. Young died a few years back, and Powell County’s schools are worse off for it. I’m not sure how much we learned during the days Mr. Young would serve as our sub other than new ways to play pranks, which is a shame. I think, though, that even then, we knew we should feel bad about the little jokes, but when you’re 15, you pretty much feel powerless to stop the wave, so you press on, even at the expense of a kind old man.

So now, here I am, 34, with a fully formed conscience that today sits feeling a bit guilty. I think we all should. We were just kids then, but we’re adults now, so today, I say this (and I encourage you to join me): Mr. Young, on behalf of Powell County, I’m sorry.

And knowing Mr. Young, he would forgive us.

Then he’d do the typewriter trick.

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11 thoughts on “Forever Young

  1. You may not know this, but Mr. Young was my neighbor and middle school substitute teacher. His wife was a retired nurse. You are right; he was the sweetest and most kind man. His wife was as equally as kind and gentle. I remember once I fell on a slate rock in the creek in front of their house and Ms. Young doctored me up. Occasionally I would go to church with them on Sundays. I remember when he died and when his wife got sent to a nursing home. I also know quite a bit of his personal life. Despite many challenges this man faced, he kept his head up and even raised two of his very challenging grandkids. I miss Col. Sander’s too.

    On a side note: Mr. Young was the one to teach my 7th grade class in public speaking that a female dog is called a bitch. Weird? Maybe.

  2. A truly great tribute to a kind hearted, gentle man that seemed oblivious to the ridicule that he was put through. I too am ashamed of my actions back then and wish that I could take back everything that I did. I hope for his sake that he was blissfully unaware and not just pretending that he didn’t know what was going on around him. RIP Mr. Young

  3. I don’t think I ever made fun of Mr. Young, but if I did, I am very sorry for it. He was such a sweet old man. I remember the typewriter thing he did too! It was great. This is a sweet story you have written. I am sure he would forgive you.

  4. Although I was blessed with having Mr. Young as a Substitute Teacher many times, the memory that stands out in my head was when he asked us if we wanted to listen to music while we did our work.. Of course we did. That was a treat that we didn’t normally get. After a unanimous “YES” Mr. Young walked over to an ancient looking radio and procedes to press play on a tape player. We weren’t sure what to expect, then the music began to play. What was this stuff? It seemed to be music that was probably popular when the radio was first invented.. None of us recognized anything we were hearing! Then, a song we all knew came on… Deep in the Heart of Texas! Oddly enough we were all so excited to recognize something, that a few asked to hear it again. Since he couldn’t hear the request,(probably because we already made him turn his hearing aid down) I stood up, marched over to the desk and asked If I could rewind the tape. He smiled that sweet smile as if to say he was happy we liked it and nodded. Little did I know he didn’t hear a word I was saying. I walked over to the radio, started to put my hand on the {stop} button, when a close to 90 year old man jumped up out of his chair and yelled at me. I don’t know if it was the shock of seeing him move like a cat or actually finding out that he was capable of yelling or maybe the combination of both, but I was frozen! Every face in the room seemed to drop and you actually could’ve heard a pin drop. I walked back to my seat still stunned by the events that just took place. I thought I had his permission and he thought we were being the Terrible Teenagers that we usually were. Although it wasn’t at the right time, we all got what we rightfully deserved. Scared by Mr. Young. It gave us a new respect for him, It showed us that he was actually capable of standing up for himself. While I like to believe that no one in that class would have EVER messed with him again, that was unfortunately the last time he was the substitute teacher. At least for me. If memory serves me correctly, even though we were all shaken, He still ended the class with the typewriter and all was forgiven. I hope he knew what an imact he had on the youth of P.C. and how much he was loved. Even though we never showed him.. Rest in Peace Mr. Young. ♥

  5. What is the connection between Mr. Young and Col. Sanders? And, by the way, Kevin, I didn’t know that you were a fellow Presbyterian. Love the story.

  6. Betsy, Mr. Young looked just like Col. Sanders. I think I remember him saying something about being in a look-alike contest. If you go back 10 years you can find him in an issue of Kentucky Living.

  7. How neat – maybe every high school has their own version of Mr. Young. We have Granny Graves and she’s in her 80’s. What a spitfire. As a current faculty member of my former high school, I have a unique perspective on those kinds of things. 🙂

  8. great, great, great story kevin. loved that someone finally created such a lovely tribute to a wonderful man. and you’re right……we were all assholes!

  9. This is an excellent tribute, Kevin! I remember one time when Mr. Young was watching our class we were being rowdy and basically ignoring his requests to be quiet. If I remember correctly, he didn’t really mind what we did as long as we didn’t get out of hand. He yelled at us to be quiet and you could actually feel disappointment from him – not anger. I remember the collective shock in the room because we had all taken his kind nature for granted for so long and in hindsight I feel so horrible that we pushed him to have to speak to us that way. No matter what, he brought happiness to the school on the days he subbed and we all should take his example into our adult lives. No matter what is thrown at you, you should face it back with kindness and forgiveness.

  10. Oh, I loved Mr. Young! I was always annoyed at those that teased him because, honestly, if you were going to have a sub, the he was the best. So sad to hear he passed away, but he touched a lot of lives.

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