Henry Weisberg was my English teacher in 11th grade. Even though I became a math teacher, it was always my English teachers that I revered. And he was my favorite.
He had a gentleness and kindness.
He used to write on the blackboard Shakespeare quotes that I would memorize, and I can recite them to this day. When we finally read the play and one of those quotes turned up in my reading, it was always such a splendid surprise. He made everything alive in class.
He would read to us. He read Poe’s, The Telltale Heart with such expression that it made that already terrifying story come alive right in front of us. I liked to go back to visit him years after I graduated. And I always requested that he read the Poe story to me and he did. Much of my love of literature sprang from Mr. Weisberg’s influence.
Once when I had won the school’s I Speak for Democracy contest, and I was to go to the celebration for the city’s school’s winners, I asked that Mr. Weisberg be my sponsor and go with me. I vividly remember that when he had to face me to tell me that he had a prior commitment and had to disappoint me, he tenderly fixed the lapel of my coat which had folded under. That simple gesture mitigated my sadness that he would not be going as my sponsor.
Many years later I decided to look him up. It was more difficult than I expected to find him. There was no internet then. Every avenue would give me a clue but I could not find him.
I began calling the phone number of my last option. No answer. I persisted, and finally, days later, someone answered the phone. Would it be the correct house?
“I am trying to locate Henry Weisberg who taught English at Lincoln High School in the fifties.”
“You found him.” a woman told me. (At last.)
“I have been calling since last Thursday.”
“I can’t believe you said that,” the woman responded. “My husband had a heart attack on Thursday.”
“Don’t tell me, please.” I said in fear.
“No, he is fine. He will be home in a day or two.”
She told me where he was recuperating.
So I wrote him a letter on pretty hearts and flowers stationary:
Dear Mr. Weisberg,
I spoke to your wife on the phone Tuesday and she told me you were in the hospital. I hope by now you have received [my] package. When you read this letter, you may begin to understand how sad [I] feel that [my] Mr. Weisberg is not well. Please rest and do what your doctors tell you. The world has precious few great men around…
[Your wife] said it would be all right for me to write.
It would be a pleasure if, when you are better, [I] could get in touch with you.
So you must concentrate on healing yourself, now. You KNOW I am sincere when I say, “Get well soon.”
Well, he got out of the hospital and I made an arrangement for a visit. I went and it was marvelous. I got the chance to tell him how much he influenced me and how I know all of Shakespeare and named many other authors. I told him about my literary life and how much I owed him. It was marvelous. When it was soon time for the visit to end, I was thinking that I didn’t want it to be over. He read my mind. “Every Monday I meet with some scholar friends and we discuss lots of things and I think you would love that. Why don’t you join us this Monday?”
I was all set to go and so looking forward to it. On Sunday I got a call from his wife.
“Don’t tell me, please,” “Yes. He died peacefully last night. You made him very happy with your visit.” Ohhhhh.
I went to the large funeral and wept.
I thought what if I hadn’t looked for him until too late?
I received this handwritten note a week later from his wife:
Your letter, telephone calls, beautiful basket of goodies, and your visit couldn’t have come at a better time. You brought much happiness to Henry. Thank you for being so kind and thoughtful.”
There is a message here. Be sure you learned it.