Giacometti Is Dead or Harold Joe Waldrum

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We walked into the classroom. There were probably 50 of us, maybe more.  Mr. Waldrum was standing on the podium, his black eyes deep as ever, solemn and still.  No one spoke, even though as I look back we were really only children.  Children between 13 and 17.   Young adults, we call  kids that age.  By now I realize that we were, in fact, children.


Mr. Waldrum had written that on the black board in very large letters.  And no one spoke.  As I remember it, we all sat there in a very long silence.  Then, Mr. Waldrum picked up his baton and we began to tackle the Bach.

Years later, in my 20’s, I was entering an art museum in  Pittsburgh when, as if I had been lunged at, as if I had run smack dab into an old friend totally without expecting it, caught off guard, my breath taken away,  there he was — Giacometti — a man walking.

That was how it was with Mr. Waldrum.  He taught me how to see.  He taught me how to think in different ways and how to recognize things I had always known.

He was always Mr. Waldrum to me.  I thought he was old.  He was probably 35.  There was something of Abraham, Isaac and Moses about him in my mind’s eyes.  A prophet.   A seer.

Then there was Chirp, his wife.  I believe they were about the same age, but I thought that she was young.  It would have caught in my throat equally thick should I try to call her Mrs. Waldrum.  Her large, dark eyes, and high cheek bones, her perfect head in its tight, dark bun. Oh so beautiful, and funny and quick and brilliant and hospitable to me.

As I look back, I did, as my Mom warned me NEVER to do with anyone, I “wore out my welcome,” surely.  But the respite, the  light in my brain that radiated around them in their home was more than I could bear to stay away from.

And so as I gasped in a dizzying thrill at seeing my first Giacometti, I lingered there with that walking man.  And he seemed, to me, quite alive.

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6 thoughts on “Giacometti Is Dead or Harold Joe Waldrum”

  1. Ah, Carol! Wasn’t Waldrum something else? Remember when he taught us how to pronounce the word “forte” correctly? Not the forte like in music, but the forte, like in your own personal strength. And, it was pronounced FORT, like in Fort Knox. No one knows that. No one knew it. No one knows it now. But we know it. And remember when he taught Jr. Williams about spit? How Jr. Williams spit on the floor and Waldrum said, really mad, “Who Spit?” And no one would confess and Waldrum was so angry and finally Jr. Williams said, “I spit.” And Waldrum said, “Come down here.” And he told Jr. what spit consisted of and what spit was used for and how your body couldn’t operate properly without spit, and gave this long discursive lecture, in simple terms but with great academic style and a well-modulated voice about spit. And, how Jr. Williams, who was the friend of no one really, was Waldrum’s friend for the rest of Jr.’s life, until Jr. got killed in Viet Nam? You told me that story! And, then years later, Waldrum told me, after I had seen him in Taos, that he had a whole series of paintings called Jr. Williams? Aren’t we lucky?

  2. Hi ladies,

    There is one window painting still in the estate collection and it is named Jr. Williams. It’s a window, beige and black.

    (A series? Don’t know anything about that…in all honesty, the man could exaggerate, usually for dramatic effect, or maybe he was telling the truth and the others in the series were somehow lost. Kriss’s memory might or might not be jiggled by this, I’ll direct him over here.)

    I had wondered why exactly Dad named this painting Jr. Williams and had hatched a few speculative theories. I figured he had some kind of encounter with Jr. while teaching high school – I did not have any recollection that Jr. was killed in Viet Nam. I am really so happy that Linda gave some background on this.

    A couple of years ago I scanned Jr.’s photo from the Lakin High yearbook and was hanging on to it, as it related to this painting.

    I see that Giacometti died on January 11, 1966. Carol, if I had to guess I’d say “the Giacometti incident” likely happened on the 11th or 12th, a Tuesday or Wednesday.

    (As you may have guessed I’m in a phase of piecing some things together. This post helped with that, so thank you!)

    Looks like you have some neat old Waldrums in your collection, Carol.

    Best wishes to you both,

    1. Carol, I wonder if both Kriss & my sense of humor might have been shaped some by having hilarious babysitters. I remember you doing some storytelling while accompanying yourself on the piano, and I’m not even sure you could play the piano…but for sure we begged for repeat performances.

      Hope you can see some windows for yourself one day.

  3. Carol…loved reading every word. Yes, “Mr. Waldrum” was highly intelligent, and a wonderful teacher. Kriss and Ruanna hear regularly, from ex-students who sing his high praises. You have a great beginning to your new endeavor. Keep going.

  4. Hi Carol,

    Last night I launched a freshened-up version (now! with more artwork!) of the website.

    I’m writing to ask your permission to reproduce your “Giacommeti is Dead” article underneath the photo here:

    And of course I would link back to your page as the source.

    If you’d rather I just use the link, I can live with that too. Let me know, many thanks, hope this finds you well.


  5. I was in Jr High and I was sent to the office. They put me in the board room and gave me my school work. I hadn’t done anything wrong that I could think of. I sat there most of the morning doing my work or probably not doing my work. There was a knock and Mr. Waldrum came in. He told me that he had been asked to talk with me. He asked why I was here and I had no idea. He said that I was there because I didn’t think like them and I didn’t act like them and he said, “Good Job!” I know you don’t do it on purpose but please don’t stop doing it. You don’t owe that to anyone. He explained that people who think like everyone else don’t create anything. I had always been a black sheep and Mr Waldrum in one conversation made that OK. He made me acceptable to me. He supported me consistently. I was a screwed up kid who needed that.
    Chirp was one of the best teachers I have had in any subject. She was fun and funny and an amazing motivator. I am a member of a good regional chorus today partly because of my good memories of the groups Chirp produced.

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