A Letter to Benjamin
An Account of Ellen Sue Crumpton
as seen through the eyes of
her student, co-worker, admirer, and friend
Traci Marich Sneed
Some things in our lives are constants, somewhat like the moon. While the moon isn't always visible and sometimes only seen in parts, we know it is there. No matter what stage we see, we know for sure that before long we will view it in its complete splendor: full, round, bright, and beautiful. Your grandmother has been a constant in your life since your birth. Sometimes you only heard her voice on the phone or only saw her image in a picture or on a screen, but you knew you would actually be with her again before too long, whether you traveled to her house or she made a trip to visit you. Sue Crumpton has been a beautiful constant in my life for 45 years. However, life as we know it is not a constant. To use the math teacher's term, it is a variable. There will always be change. Change became a reality for us with her passing last week. (So do not lose heart...for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Right now everything about Sue is vivid and crisp in our minds, but in time, memories lose a little focus, and maybe the colors fade a bit. For that reason, I thought I could honor her best by writing down and sharing with you things - facts, details, effects, etc.- about her that you might not know or that will let you see and know the person I call my hero. Perhaps in the future these things will trigger your own memory and help you recall and picture her more vividly. (I thank my God every time I remember you. Phil. 1:3; The memory of the righteous is a blessing... Prov. 10:7. )
When I was in 7th grade at Jackson Junior High, our math teacher announced that her schedule had been changed and we would be getting a different teacher. (Once again, things change.) Panic set in! Change? I never liked change. I was comfortable. The day of transition arrived and standing behind the desk was the new teacher. She plopped her briefcase on the desk, clicked it open, and with a grand smile said, "Ta Da!" That was it: a simple interjection, a non-word, merely "Ta Da!" but I was put at ease and at peace. That introduction is seared in my brain and heart, probably because that day I met the remarkable Mrs. Crumpton, a woman I would grow to respect, admire, love, and call friend.
I have often referred to Sue as God's teacher. She didn't just relate subject matter, she taught life lessons. By example, her students learned how to treat others, how to behave, how to live. She not only loved teaching, she loved her students. She got to know us. I vividly recall standing at her desk one day when she took me aside and said that since I was such a good math student, she wanted to show me another kind of math - algebra. She worked a few problems for me and then asked me what I thought. Truthfully, I didn't take well to the algebra, but the life lesson stuck with me. She had let me know she saw value in me, ordinary Traci, and that I mattered. (The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. Prov. 16:21)
Before long she asked me if I would babysit her daughter. She trusted me with her most precious possession! The first time I kept Christi we went outside for a bit. I didn't realize that the door locked automatically. We couldn't get back in. (Panic again!) A neighbor tried to open a window for us, but he broke it instead. Upon returning home, there was no harsh word or disappointment in her eyes. Typical Sue. She always took things in stride and in a loving perspective. She was more concerned with my feelings. More important for me, she continued to have me babysit Christi and referred me to her friends. From her I learned how to react (and how not to react) to life's little disruptions as well as the value of trust in a relationship. (Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Phil. 4:9)
In 1979 I got my first teaching job at Jackson Middle School. What a blessing to be placed in such a nurturing environment surrounded by amazing teachers and administrators. And especially, what a gift to become a colleague of Mrs. Crumpton - it took me a while to start calling her Sue. She became a mentor to me. She was an ideal co-worker who set the standard by which an effective teacher should be measured. Working with her, I learned that she was filled with incredible knowledge, and not just math and educational pedagogy. She was a great conversationalist. Proverbs 15:4 says "the discerning heart seeks knowledge," and that was Sue's heart. It was evident that she was always reading and learning and then sharing that wealth. If I had a concern or needed advice, she had a thought or suggestion to address it. When I quit teaching English and started working with at-risk students, she asked me all about my new assignment. The next time I saw her, she had a book in hand that she thought would be helpful. It was filled with yellow sticky notes marking passages she found especially pertinent to my new task. Of course it was a perfect resource for valuable information. (The lips of the wise spread knowledge. Prov. 15:7; Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel. Prov. 20:15)
In 1987, I shared with Sue and mutual friends that I was getting married. Mine would be a rather simple affair with a cake and punch reception. Before long, Sue called me at home and asked what she could do to help. I've never been good at asking for help, but she questioned and prodded and figured out just what to do. She and Joe picked up the rented dishes for the reception, took them to the church, enlisted the help of several other teacher friends and their spouses, washed up the dishes after the reception, and returned them to the rental business. That was amazing to me. Who else would do such a thing- especially a teacher on the first day of Spring Break? (For I know your eagerness to help...and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 2 Cor. 9:2; Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Cor. 16:14)
While I could never measure up or consider myself her equal, we did have some common ties. We both had Oklahoma roots and went to the same college, our beloved Southeastern Oklahoma State University. In fact, we discovered we had both been students in Dr. Carl Ball's English class. Quirky, odd, brilliant Dr. Ball. We laughed and shared experiences and agreed that he was the type of professor only understood and truly loved and appreciated by us word-loving bookish types. That discovery led to a day trip to our alma mater along with fellow teacher and friend Monica Rogers Dubisky. We attended a reception for a retiring office worker, walked around campus, and ate lunch at the old George's drive-in. I cherish the memory of that adventure.
Another dear-to-my-heart action concerns my baby sister Tiffani. Tiffani had not had the good fortune of being one of Sue's students. Tiffani told me that when she got her first teaching job, Sue sent her a card wishing her well and encouraging her in her new profession. Several years later when Tiffani was chosen Elementary Teacher of the Year for Grand Prairie, she again received a touching congratulatory card from dear Mrs. Crumpton. Many of us think about doing things like that, but those thoughts usually lie dormant and become no more than good intentions. Sue followed through. What a way to let someone feel loved and appreciated. (A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Prov 25:11; A person finds joy in giving an apt reply- and how good is a timely word! Prov 15:23)
As I have said, I learned so much from Sue by watching the examples she set and observing how she handled life and its mountains and valleys, including the dreaded C-word: Cancer. That was tough. Physical life would never be the same. It was an earthquake whose tremors and after-effects didn't stop. Yet, she faced it. She read up on it and didn't complain. I continued to see the even-tempered serene spirit I had always known. She talked openly about it and not just about it. She continued to ask me about myself, my parents, my husband's health, my cousin's same cancer, etc. You see, to me one of her finest traits was that she inquired and then listened. She didn't listen out of duty; she listened out of concern and care. Listeners are so rare in life. She made me feel loved and special while she herself continued to endure pain and uncertainty. (Let the wise listen and add to their learning... Prov. 1:5; Let every person be quick to hear... James 1:19)
Well, I could go on with more encounters. As you can see, I adored and loved Sue. I loved her laugh and sweet voice. She was one of those people everyone claimed as friend. To be in her company was like sinking into a favorite comfortable chair. And while that is such a casual analogy, I also revered her in a more formal way. One of my favorite passages in To Kill a Mockingbird is in Chapter 21 when Atticus completes his case defending Tom Robinson. As he begins exiting the courtroom, Scout looks around and sees that everyone in the balcony and all around her is standing. The Reverend Sykes nudges her and says, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father's passin." It gives me chills. They are filled with awe, appreciation and respect. Those are my feelings today for my Mrs. Crumpton. After in-depth thought and reflection, I have concluded that the reason Sue stood apart from the rest of us and what made her extraordinary is that she had achieved and projected what we are all told to find: JOY. To live as Christ wants, we are to accept our circumstances with thanksgiving and with joy in our hearts. Sue did that. She lived in and with joy, and she kept that joy throughout all of her life experiences. We saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, felt it in her presence. (But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. Gal. 5:22)
One of my new favorite Bible verses is, "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall." Mal. 4:2. Now, I have never thought of Sue as one who did much leaping or skipping, but I like to think that as she was leaving this world and letting go of her recent pain and hurts, that as she passed through those Pearly Gates a broad smile crossed her face and she belted out a loud, "Ta Da!!" in the majestic presence of our Lord.
Sincerely and with much love,
Traci Marich Sneed