Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Good Life

While attending Fresno City College years ago, I took several English classes; one of the two most influential instructors I had classes with was named Bill Riddlesprigger. RIddlesprigger was an English 1A instructor. He was always saying these detailed stories about events in his life, usually it would correlate to what the class was reading.
One short story we read that I fondly recall was called “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, the title of that story stuck in my mind, but not nearly as much as the tale Mr. Riddlesprigger confessed to a classroom of Jr. College students  
The story written in 1930 by Katherine Anne Porter tells the tale of an elderly woman who is jilted in her younger year & her later. At the end of her life, as she lay in bed, a priest at her side, prepared to offer Granny Weatherall  a blessed departure as she leaves this world with her bridegroom (Christ).
However, as long as she has waited for her groom, again he never arrives- she is jilted this time not at the alter but at the thresshold of life and death. She was ready to pass on & does not; she was ready to be a bride twice & again, still, is not. Another said cry for Mrs. Weatherall whom by now has literally, weathered it all.
Mr. Riddlesprigger went on to say that he too was once jilted and that that having happened to him was by far the best thing that could have occurred, because life had different plans for him. He had this great dry sense of humor and made light of Grannie Weatherall and sentences describing her dismay over another jilting. There were periods in that class where all we would do was laugh, nevertheless, learn by his stories sprinkled with dry-laidback-humor.
The last thing I remember about him happened the final week of class. He asked how many of us students were continuing on to University in hopes of an English Degree, myself and a few others raised our hands. He told us how after graduating from Fresno State with a BA in English and having just finished a Shakespeare class that he was so excited all he wanted to do was talk Shakespeare. So he went back to the West Side of Fresno and the first chance he got which was at a bar, he started talking about plays like Othello and Hamlet and immediately noticed that everyone he dared share his passion of literature with seemed bored and uninterested .
So he went on to get a Masters and teach. His last words were something like, so now people have no choice they must stick around, and act interested because they are my students and want a passing grade. We all laughed.
I’m sure he didn’t think that a twenty-something student, who always ran a little late to class, sat closest to the door was taking in every word he spoke, every advice-filled speech he delivered but, I did. I eventually went on to Fresno State and majored in English, there were certain instructors along the way that made a huge impact on me and  Mr. Riddlesprigger was one of them.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting front and center at my son’s high school basketball game at  Edison, next to me sat a middle aged man and his family, we got to talking  and it turns out he is the brother to my former teacher Mr. Riddlesprigger. We spoke for a while about him, I told him my fond memories of his brother, my former instructor. He also informed me that his brother had passed away nearly two years ago. He told me before the basketball game ended that he enjoyed me sharing what an impact his brother had made on me and that he often missed his brother, “My brother led a good life”, he said.
Mr. Riddlesprigger was a leader in the Fresno Community, a brother, family man, storyteller and instructor. It is so interesting how life sometimes plays out. You never know who is listening to you when you speak. So live good, treat others well, give encouragement rather than discouragement. Your words just may be what someone needs to hear.

RIP Mr. Bill Riddlesprigger.

Tomorrow was far away and there was nothing to trouble about. Things were finished somehow when the time came; thank God there was always a little margin over for peace: then a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck in edges orderly.                
                    ~~The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
 -By Francie



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