Joseph Magill Harlan died Where He Wanted It, Spring Garden, on May 31, 2022. He was born in Ross, California, on 3/15/1941. Within two years, his family had moved to Potter Valley, Mendocino Co., Ltd. Then to Ukiah. He spent his entire youth jogging down the hills, fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping. No different from his whole life. He was hired in 1967 by Plumas Unified and spent the next 30 years teaching at Quincy Jr/Sr High School. Throughout those years he taught Spanish and world history and taught with Bob Hess with the Yearbook. It is also trapped in a number of other chapters such as the beginning of the lumber shop. He also saw the writing on the wall and brought the first computer in 1980 when Apple began giving computers to schools. With such a humble beginning, he’s managed to create a desktop publishing class with plenty of help from top funders, grants, and parents. Retired in 1998.
The community’s response during his illness and death, and sharing memories about my father once again reminded me that when your father is a teacher, it will never be yours alone. They don’t just belong to your family and close friends but they belong to the community.
For this community, Senior Frito was long after the reason for the nickname was forgotten. He was the guy who made the field gate at home soccer games, and waited for your parents to pick you up after a junior dance. The guy who lifts weights has been with him every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3:30 to 5 in the small weight room to get into the 300 club. His class was covered in stickers and he changed them regularly.
He was the guy who taught them to shout “Guru Litad” in gringo accents (I know the verb isn’t quite right) every morning (I can’t imagine the trouble this day would cause him!).
He may have taught them to “throw the real punch”, or how to trick an adult (that was a finalist in his critical thinking class once – amazingly counterproductive to him). He was the guy who disrupted your donut streak, ditching apple pie just for the joy of scaring you. They were half the couple who hosted you, and gave you a room if you needed it, or just a space. He has taught many children over the years how to conjugate a Spanish verb, how to dig a hole, how to write the motto, and where Ukraine is on a map.
He taught me all of these things, too. But he also taught me a few things about teaching. He taught me that it is about society. Show up when you can, say yes whenever it makes sense if it helps students. That the day is not over when the last bell rings, sports, drama and music are important and you should be there to celebrate with the students as they perform. And you do what you can to make sure these things happen. To keep management informed, but more importantly it taught me how to get around the barrier and that sometimes you didn’t ask – if it was for the kids. He taught me to appreciate the vacation – it was for restoration, and that summer included. It filled you back. My father loved his job, and many children loved him as a teacher, but it wasn’t his life. And on that note – the more personal, but it’s also about the teacher he was.
My father taught me to sit in silence to watch the world. To watch the fisherman at dusk on the river, the fish rising, the shadows on the granite wall. He taught me to look for the unexpected. As I sat in the Margherita Flat accepting the idea of farewell not only to him, but to my childhood home, an otter came slithering over the stream. The unexpected. Or a mountain lion across the field off the roof of a hunting farm. Snake raiding the bird’s nest.
He taught me to listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, the slap of a beaver’s tail on Lake Grass, and the crashing waves.
He taught me that you show love in the little things, not the obvious.
Poppins the Penguin’s gift 20 years after the little stuffed penguin stopped going for a trip to Hartmann’s Bar. Poppins were a staple of our travels after my dad chased my rolling suitcase down a steep hill before it plunged into the crossroads of the Feather River – Poppins marked the way and we got lucky. So for 15 years the Poppins have made the journey.
Little “treasures” brought home to my mom’s yard long after she no longer needed rusty wheels or gears.
In the memories that made us laugh even when they were still kindly pissing off my mom (laughs too).
In the traditions that we have. I have a lifetime of these.
But this is the guy the community has had for 6 years in their school, and he reminded me last month that he’s just not mine. This community has surrounded my mom and me with love and support. And those memories we love.
There are no planned services. If you like, please donate to a favorite charity, do a good deed, grow vegetables, say allegiance in Spanish for the last time to the man.