I am about to lay on you a story full of humor, lies, and distortion… but I wanted to warn you first. This is real-life story about someone near and dear to my heart. You can laugh all you want… but please don’t think ill of Mother Mendocino.
She was a Science Teacher. Appropriately enough she taught seventh grade Life Science. And she taught students about life and love in ways that no other teacher was ever able to do.
I met Endira Mendocino the very first year I taught in the little South Texas town of Cotulla. They hired me to teach eighth grade English. And from the first time I saw her until the very last time twenty years later, she always looked exactly the same, like a plump little Wish-nik Troll Doll with frizzy hair. The picture I drew from memory clearly looks more like Al Franken, the Senator from Minnesota than it really looks like her To draw her accurately from a photo would be more like an insult than a portrait.
Her great beauty was entirely on the inside. And I, of course, am not the only person who was ever made privy to this wonderful secret. She was a teacher who cared passionately about kids. She had been a Catholic nun before she became a teacher. And she brought the Bible teaching of the rod of discipline to her students. But not the rod of whacking. She was not one of those Catholic school nuns who whacked your knuckles with a wooden ruler for every perceived sin. Rather, she used the rod of discipline as it was meant to be used by the Bible writers who wrote about it. The rod was used to sight along straight lines for laying brick building foundations. It was used as a line of sight for making paths straight, not for whacking feet at every misstep. And this is how she taught students. She modeled good behaviors for them, how to speak respectfully to your elders, how to meet anger with calm and reason, how to think through a problem and sort out solutions to find the best one. She did as a matter of course on a daily basis things it took me years of trial and error to figure out how to do in a classroom.
Kids would do anything she ever asked of them. And they didn’t do it out of fear. Oh, she did embarrass them frequently. If a boy in her class became extra-wiggly and acted out at all, she would make him hold her hand for a few a minutes, and she would refer to him as her “boyfriend” when she reminded the class how you properly go about listening and learning. But those few minutes of red-faced humiliation imprinted on the wiggler’s young psyche that problems are best confronted not with anger and punishment, but with love.
She never married. She never had a romantic relationship that any of us ever knew about. But she definitely had family. We were all her family. Her students and fellow teachers all loved her and treated her like a loving mother, hence the nickname “Mother Mendocino”. And when her diabetes and kidney problems proved too much for the miracles of modern medicine and dialysis, she took an early retirement and quietly passed away. The whole town mourned her. But she is not gone. She lives in all of us. The lessons she taught were paid forward by all of us who knew her. And so I offer that little bit of her here and now to you.