Walking up Warren Ave., counting the cracks in the red bricks, crossing Monument and continuing to the corner where Mrs. Furlong was waiting to help us cross to The Little Red Schoolhouse. The monkey bars, wooden merry-go-round, a few swings and the Gentle Giant awaited us.
Walking into the school, especially the basement, well--there was that distinctive smell. Steam from the boiler room, cleansers from the bathroom, pipe smoke and slightly burnt coffee. The first floor was all arts and crafts, the rubbery smell of pink erasers and chalk dust. The top floor was the mimeograph machine, ("ah, fresh dittos"), and, at lunchtime, the wheeled out meals du jour with the smells filling the halls.
These were the smells of home away from home; of security, of safety. Quite honestly, of love. Long before anyone thought it would take a village, Malvern was that village and, in the center of it all was Mr. Hibberd.
When I talk to people who have emigrated to Malvern in the past ten or so years, they adore the 'quaint' and Victorian Malvern appeal, the chic shoppes, and the Edwardian lampposts.
For those of us who grew up as "Malvernites" (pronounced: "Mal-vren"), we inwardly chuckle at the trendy charm Malvern exudes. For years, our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles would not consider themselves 'trendy' or 'modern' by any means. But we were lucky. We were all neighbors. Shops and lampposts had nothing to do with it. We talked to one another, reached out to each other, watched out for each other no matter race, religion or creed. And, in the hub of the wheel was Josh.
Nowadays, the media would have had fanfare with "Malvern Past." A teacher who visited his students' homes? A teacher who piled kids into his vehicle, no seatbelts or car seats mind you, and drove us hither, thither and yon so that we could experience the world. A teacher who allowed cork gun fights ala Stonewall Jackson style, and paid for all trips and ice cream out of his own pocket. A teacher who bought the PTO "Ladies," yes, not moms, not volunteers, the "ladies," trinkets of thanks after a field trip. A man who could easily get along with dads, grandfathers and uncles sharing stories of hunting, fishing, serving their country. A man who considered anyone in his charge one of his own. And, if any of those came within harm's way, a man who was not afraid to step forward and speak up.
Spelling bees, geography bees, reptile cages, 45 rpm records at lunch, dodge ball (complete with Hibberd as target), basketball (remember Mr. H. continually pulling his pants up and the shirttail hanging out?), softball, and receiving RIF books as prizes. Most excitingly, being asked to take some sacred item to "the principal's" office: the boiler room.
His was a classroom of Life. He was larger than life. And, instead of fearing him, questioning his approaches, disrespecting his profession--the village of Malvern considered it their honor to have this educator in their midst.
Hibberd, a modest man, referred to his tenure as a "four-decade vacation." Yet, he lived his live never off the job. Even during his stay in Martha's Manor, visits and conversations revolved around family updates, current events, and today's educational climate. Mr. Hibberd would sit in rapt attention listening to stories of our children, our grandchildren and their accomplishments. He basked in the glow of our achievements and chuckled at our stories. He was the finest of storytellers primarily because he was the greatest of listeners. Patient, understanding, always looking for that educational moment, that opening where he could either acknowledge or provide knowingness.
Edith Wharton wrote: "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."
Mr. Hibberd was our mirror. And the light that is reflected will continue to shine in his honor. You'll clearly see it in Malvern.