My Favorite Teacher’s Favorite Cough Drops
In second grade, my teacher was Mrs. Marion Fasching. I loved Mrs. Fasching because she was kind, gentle, firm, and everyone knew who was the teacher and yet we just loved being good for her. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I get teased about my love for cough drops. I am convinced it is my way of staying connected to Mrs. Fasching. She had this deep love for Luden’s cough drops.
She had a cough drop in her mouth all day long. I’m sure it kept her vocal cords lubricated so she talked all day long. Not one day during the whole school year did I ever see her desk without a box of Luden’s cough drops on it.
My mother was a bowler as was Mrs. Fasching’s husband, Bert. My mother and Bert decided to play in a tournament on a Sunday afternoon at the local six- lane bowling alley in Beach, a neighboring North Dakota town, eight miles away. I was so excited when my mother told me that Mrs. Fasching was going to the bowling alley too. I remember sitting down, as did Mrs. Fasching, and the first thing she did was take out her box of Luden’s cough drops. I could not have cared less about the bowling that day because I was totally focused on Mrs. Fasching. Have you ever had a teacher that you liked so much you wanted to do what they did, eat the same kind of cough drops and all? Every time I see a box of Luden’s I think of Mrs. Fasching.
Her Scary Husband, Bert
Her husband Bert was my barber. Bert had the old-fashioned barber shop with the lighted pole on the outside of his shop. For some reason, Bert scared me. I experienced him as a threatening presence. He dressed like a doctor, always wearing a white coat. It was waist length but he looked to me like a doctor. He wore glasses with his hair always perfect and he had a serious disposition. And, I need to say, he rarely smiled. All of the traits of a doctor in my experience at the time. Bert had a gruff way of communicating not only to me but my mother. I always thought it was strange he would call my mother, “Gannon,” rather than by her first name. I would have expected that if she were a he, but obviously she wasn’t.
The Dreaded Trip to the Barber
My mother had to bribe me to go to the barber. I would find every excuse in the book to avoid going to see Bert the Barber. Bert was always kind of rough when he cut my hair and I always thought he was going to cut off my ear and not feel very badly about it if he did. He would take his combs out of that tall glass container filled with blue water which was supposedly a disinfectant. After spraying my hair with water, he would take that comb and roughly straighten my hair in order to cut it as if I had a bowl on my head. I think you get the picture.
Every time my mother took me to the barber, she would have me sit in the barber chair and then take the back door of the barber shop which led to a maze which eventually led to the back door of the local café. She would bring me a Coca-Cola glass of orange pop and a chocolate iced, chocolate cake cookie. I have never seen a cookie like that since I left for college. That was the specialty of the local Palace Café. There was something about all that sugar that anesthetized my scared little soul.
A Man with Too Much on his Mind
To make matters worse, every single day, except for Sunday, Bert would walk the mile from his home to his barber shop. I would watch him walk and he always looked at the ground, rarely looking up. He had the look of someone who had their mind on serious matters. My second grade mind didn’t realize all that was on Bert’s mind. Their son, Leroy, was in the Vietnam War at the time. Bert never talked about it in the barber shop but I can only imagine what Bert must have been thinking as he gingerly walked back and forth each day to work. So much of my childhood is so fresh in mind.
The White Government Car
I will never forget seeing the white government car come to town with two military men inside. In a town of 1200, with no stop lights, and one main road going through town, which we creatively called “Main Street,” it wasn’t hard to pick out cars you normally didn’t see. I saw that white government car pull up in front of the Fasching home one day. I was playing in the city park after a day of school, it was early fall. The next thing I remember is seeing Bert in the passenger seat of his cousin’s car. I can still see the look on Bert’s face, driving by the park very rapidly, trying to get home as soon as possible.
The military men, dressed impeccably in their military uniforms, were there to inform the Faschings that their son, Leroy, had been killed. He was in his 20s and naturally the Faschings were devastated. Mrs. Fasching was so distraught with grief that our school temporarily replaced her with a long term sub. I remember Mrs. Fasching left in early September and didn’t return until the day of our Christmas party. We were told she was coming back for the Christmas party so I very proudly bought her a gift at the Beach, North Dakota “Dime Store.”
The Gift and Anticipation
The Brengle family owned this quaint little store and I walked in and knew what I wanted to get Mrs. Fasching. Because she was a woman of devout faith, I saw this bevy of crucifixes hanging on the wall. I picked the one which featured one particular color as the backdrop to the crucified Christ. It was the same color as the boxes of Luden’s cough drops. Mr. Brengle wrapped it up nicely for me and I carried it so proudly to the car and ultimately to home. The anticipation of seeing Mrs. Fasching and the excitement of giving her a crucifix which represented her deep faith gave me something to look forward to in ways that bless my soul even remembering it.
A Much Awaited Reunion
The next day, Mrs. Fasching started the day as we always did, with prayer. Yes, it was a public school and yes it was voluntary participation but she always led us in a time of silence and was the one to break the silence with, “Amen.” She then shared how glad she was to be back and that losing her son in the war was so difficult for her. She told us how sad she was. And then she said, “One night, in a vision or a dream, my son Leroy appeared to me, and said, ‘Mom, all is well for me. I am in heaven. Everything is good. I am at peace. I want you to go back to school because the children need you’” Mrs. Fasching said, “I am so glad to be back!” We clapped and cheered.
That afternoon, we all presented our gifts to Mrs. Fasching. I couldn’t wait for her to open my gift. I will always treasure her response when she opened the neatly wrapped awkwardly sized package. When she opened it and saw the crucifix she cried. She said, “Jeff, I am going to have the priest bless this crucifix and put it up in my home and it will always remind me of the day I came back to school because Leroy appeared to me in a dream.”
Years later, when Meredith and I were in Washington, DC for the National Prayer Breakfast, we went to the Vietnam War Memorial. We found Leroy James Fasching on the memorial wall.
The Wisdom from Wibaux: Teaching, Helping, Healing
The Wisdom from Wibaux is I learned how important teachers are to us and the lessons they teach us far exceed reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teachers like Mrs. Fasching impact us for life! If you are a teacher, thank you!
Another nugget of Wisdom from Wibaux is I learned from Mrs. Fasching to be open to the realm of mystery and the super-natural aspects of life. Whether she had a dream or vision doesn’t matter all too much. Whatever she experienced, catapulted her back into the classroom which is exactly where she needed to be. We heal primarily by helping.
Finally, Bert’s curmudgeon personality taught me wisdom about not judging someone’s disposition too prematurely. Can you imagine, and yes, some of you genuinely can because you are where he was, what it is like to have a son or daughter serving the USA in a place where they are in harm’s way. I often think of the stress Bert must have been carrying only to realize his own worst nightmare, losing his son to war. It is no wonder he looked down as he walked.
And, at the risk of sounding cliché, Mr. and Mrs. Fasching genuinely leaned into their faith to get through (not over) the deepest valley of their lives. After Mrs. Fasching came back to school, to my knowledge, they never missed daily mass. As I have been saying in my current sermon series, “Before you die, ask yourself, from what do you run, and to, and why?”
–Rev. Jeff Gannon