FOLLOW THE VOICE by Lonna Enox
It had once been a hotel, and the lobby retained its plush, inviting atmosphere. I stood
uncertainly, and then approached a lady at the former registration desk. “I’m here to visit
a patient,” I said. “Ray Haynes.”
She smiled. “Second floor.”
Second floor, quite attractive with little tables tucked into alcoves and cheery framed
prints, had doors which one could enter freely but would need a code to exit. I hadn’t
expected that. About halfway down the hall, I peeked into a dining area. A lady looked
up from wiping a table. “I’m looking for someone,” I said. “Ray Haynes.”
She smiled. “Follow the voice.”
Thirty years ago, I’d hovered in the door of the large high school library, a first year
teacher. “What school will you be teaching in?” a lady asked, her pen hovering over a
“Heizer,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said. “Ray Haynes. Follow the voice.”
The voice that boomed across the library should have belonged to someone much larger
than the slim, balding man whose bushy eyebrows wiggled expressively. He held an unlit
pipe in his hand, and waved it to emphasize points. His companion, a man I judged to
be also in his sixties, noticed my approach but couldn’t halt the diatribe. “I don’t have a
clue who they have hired this time,” the voice boomed. “Probably some kid that hasn’t
any idea how tough teaching in junior high—especially Heizer—will be.”
“Excuse me, sir—“
He glanced at me. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Lonna Enox, your new English and Spanish teacher.”
In the silence that followed, Mr. Haynes took in my waist length hair and slightly
trembling lips. Finally, he sighed, shaking his head. “See?” he addressed the table at
large. “They’re sending babies now.” Then he turned to me, shook my hand, and asked
kindly, “Young lady, are you sure you want this job?”
He had his back to the door, but I would have known him anywhere. “Why can’t they
make batteries that last?” he grumbled, loudly enough so he could hear himself. Then he
continued with his opinion about modern workmanship. I touched his arm lightly and he
glanced over his shoulder as if he’d known I was there all along.
“Mr. Haynes,” I hollered into his ear. “Do you remember me?”
“Well, whether I do or not, I’ll not turn away a good-looking woman. They don’t stop as
often as they once did.” He smiled. “Sit down over there and stay awhile. I’m working
with this darn hearing aid, but it doesn’t help much. Guess your ears wear out when you
Could he be that old? He looked just the same—maybe a bit more fragile. When we’d
met five years ago for a faculty reunion, he’d been full of stories about school and his life
“post retirement”. The wheelchair folded near his chair explained that more changes had
occurred than Wilma, who had been my mentor, had told me when she called about his
“I’m one of your teachers,” I told him. “I taught English and Spanish. You didn’t think I
could make it.”
“You look familiar,” he said, his eyes revealing the search his brain was making but
failed to place me. “Did you make it?” he asked.
“29 years,” I smiled. “Not so long as you.”
“Over 40 years.” He gazed in the distance. “I started out playing baseball. Did you
know that? I played for a semi-pro league. Tried out for a major league in California,
but couldn’t hit a curve ball to suit them. So I came down here in 1937 to teach school.
Lillian—you remember Lillian don’t you? The love of my life. She’s resting just beyond
that window a ways—can’t believe it has been so long. I have my place reserved beside
her. She was a banker, remember? Bad heart they said. Her heart was too big for such
a tiny thing, is the truth of the matter. Can’t imagine why I’m still around here so long
after she’s gone.”
“Anyway,” he continued, after a moment, “Lillian fell in love with me, and she told me I
oughta spend my life doing something worthwhile. She was always proud of my job.”
Another silence. Both of us traveled back—he in memories that, though faded, still were
embedded in his mind, and I just content to watch the play of emotions upon his beloved
“We could never have children,” he finally said. “But Lillian said they were all my
children, and maybe some of our own would have distracted me.” He gazed toward
the window again. “Did you ever meet Lillian?” Then he became distressed. “I can’t
believe I can’t remember your name.”
Remembering names had always been his specialty, along with a gentle strength and
presence that commanded devotion and respect. He was everywhere—standing in the
front hall to greet the students by name, slipping into the classroom for a few minutes,
sitting with that lonely new student and chatting over lunch—Ray Haynes was the heart
of that school. Students and teachers alike knew that if they had a problem, Mr. Haynes
would be in their corner.
“I saw you out late the other night,” he called to a young man. “You need to get more
rest to do well in your class.”
“Don’t back a student into a corner,” he advised a young teacher. “If you do, the only
way for them to go is forward—straight into you.”
“Ma’am, I don’t see how your daughter could be home sick,” he spoke into the telephone
to an indignant parent. “She’s standing here beside me—I saw her in the park across the
street and brought her here. It isn’t safe for her to be there on her own unsupervised.”
School was a place for learning, and Mr. Haynes never shifted the student’s
responsibility onto someone else. “This teacher didn’t give you a grade son,” I heard
him say many times. “No one would want to give you a “D”. That’s no gift. You earned
it—and I’m not surprised you don’t want to admit that you did. How about you do your
work and learn something?”
School was a place for fun. During my second week, I received a note from the office
which read: Mrs. Enox, I trust that you have read the procedure for tornadoes. Please
do not alarm your students. Take them quietly to the cafeteria, have them crouch against
the wall with a book on their heads, and wait for others to join you.
After at least 10 minutes of crouching with a book over our heads, we saw the custodian
wander in. “What are you guys doing?” he asked. “Some sort of game?” Then we
heard Mr. Haynes’ laughter in the hall.
School was a place where you saw the harsh realities you may not have seen before,
and shared the sorrow and joy together. I’ll never forget the phone call late one night.
“Lonna, this is Mr. Haynes. You have a student in your class who has been involved
in an accident, and we need you to come help identify her. The police can’t find her
mother; she was apparently running away and stepped in front of a truck. I think I know
who it is, but you would know for sure. I’ll be by in a few minutes to get you.” The
next morning, as I cleaned out her things to send to the police, Mr. Haynes came in and
handed me a handkerchief. “I’ll take your first class,” he said. “And I want you to look
at her papers and see one thing—the good and the beautiful. Forget the ugliness you saw
last night. You were part of the beauty in her life, and you need to be happy about that.
We can’t understand why things happen. But we can love the time we had.”
We’d sat there for awhile, each lost in our own thoughts, when his voice brought me
back. “I’m not sad Lillian is gone,” he said. “She was a feisty little thing, wasn’t she?
He chuckled. “I’m just ready to join her.” The eyebrows wiggled. “This place here isn’t
a bad place to live. Young man from the bank pays the bills and my nephew brought my
favorite chair here, along with the pictures. But I miss her. And I’ve been around longer
than I ever deserved to be.”
Lillian had died shortly after Mr. Haynes retired—cheating them of those years of
companionship both had planned. Left behind to carry on with church, retirements,
weddings, and funerals, Mr. Haynes never regained the sparkle he’d shared with her.
Still, he had kept in touch with old friends and colleagues, and many of them returned the
loyalty he had given. I had arrived at the end of his career, and although I was secretly
disappointed, I couldn’t have expected him to remember us all.
When I rose to leave, he grabbed my hand. “Lonna,” he said. “That’s who you are! I’d
know you anywhere! Lonna Enox.” He gave me a hug. “Can you tell me one thing?
Was I a good principal? I can’t remember, really. Since I spent my life at it, I hope I was
What could I say? He had touched so many lives, given his own brand of beauty to so
many children who needed it, and guided the careers of teachers who sometimes lost their
perspectives. His life had been an inspiration—something all of us should be. “You
were the very best, Mr. Haynes,” I said. He smiled shyly.
I didn’t look back as I walked down the hall. Instead, I listened to the voice—teasing the
caretaker who had stepped in as I left.