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A lot of people have touched and shaped my life.

One was a high school journalism teacher in Dayton, Ohio. The first time I met Jim Harris was in my sophomore year. It wasn't easy finding him. He conducted his classes in the basement of a vocational school designed to put students to work in automotive, printing, retail or secretarial positions.I didn't want to work at any of those things. I wanted to be a writer. But more important, Mr. Harris wanted me to be a writer. He made me believe that anything was possible. "If you don't like the job the school assigned you on alternate two weeks with your studies, then walk into a newspaper office and say, `I want to work for your newspaper.' "

"If the editor says, `We need someone full time,' then get someone to co-op with you and fill the position."

If you don't want to take the risk of offending someone, then don't write humor.

If your parents can't afford to send you to college, then work for a year for seed money and get a part-time job.

By his side, he taught me about headline writing, makeup, design, balance and accuracy. One day I turned in a story that was so brilliant, I couldn't stand it. The first sentence alone contained no less than 41 words, all three syllables or more. Out of this number, I knew the meaning of possibly three of the words.

He read it quietly, then opened the top drawer of his desk and handed me a copy of the Bible. He told me to turn to the first page and read aloud. I read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

He asked, "How many words are in that lead?"

I said, "Ten."

He said, "Did you understand them?" I nodded.

He said, "That is what you must strive for . . . to be understood."

I never forgot it.

There's an army of teachers out there every day struggling to break down the walls of ignorance surrounding your children. But good teachers point out destinations of dreams and offer suggestions on how to get there from wherever their students are. I got there and took a little of Jim Harris with me.

He died a few weeks ago. He was 89 years old.

1992 Erma Bombeck

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate