COLMESNEIL – As a young law student, a chance encounter in Houston with a drunken man led to an epiphany for Mark Martin: that he was called to teach, and to implore all whom he taught that life is about choices.
For more than 30 years, Martin has served Tyler County as a pastor, youth minister and educator, having taught at several school districts and pastored at Caney Creek Baptist Church in Chester.
Martin, who is affectionately known throughout the county’s churches and classrooms as “Bro. Mark,” recently added the title of published author to his vita, with the publication of his book His Story, Her Story, by the way, My Story!
Martin, who is much beloved by all of those whom he has taught, coached or ministered to, retired after 46 years in the classroom. He says he wanted to make it to 50 years of teaching, but mobility issues co-opted that goal.
Martin self-deprecatingly refers to himself these days as “old and crippled,” but a conversation with the man, along with the stories in his book, reveal a life marked by an iron will. He admitted that if there is a goal to reach, he will find a way to get it done.
In the book, which he has called a vehicle to unlock the past, the reader learns, as the title implies, about his family, himself and all of the triumphs, tragedies and everything in-between that he has done or witnessed. Martin’s storytelling style, as a writer, is rendered in a folksy, plainspoken manner; the same method that made him such a favorite in classrooms and pulpits for so many years.
Throughout the book, Martin survives being hit by a car as a child; being shot in the leg by his grandfather (while the older man was trying to kill a rattlesnake that bit young Mark) and a brain tumor, the excision of which resulted in a near-death experience.
Through it all, Martin’s insight is so compelling that it is impossible to view him as anything but a survivor, a master teacher, a hero and mentor to many and a man of faith. Martin said that everyone has gifts to use, but it is up to the person to realize that they need to use those gifts.
“You need to use what you have, because who else will?” he said.
Martin said that his knack for storytelling came in handy in the classroom whenever there was time to fill, when the day’s lessons were done. His stories and presence resonated with his students, many of whom recall his positive influence to this day.
Elizabeth Grammer is one such former student from when Martin taught at Colmesneil High School. “His class was the one class where I was never bored,” Grammer said.
Grammer noted that Martin had an approach to teaching that always made the material relatable to the students’ lives and called him a great role model for young people.
As a classroom teacher, Martin says he always encouraged his students to think creatively and wanted the material to be something the students could relate to. He still owns a history textbook from his grade school years, which he points to as a good example of being of a time when textbooks were more about telling a story and less about regurgitating numbers and dates. Modern textbooks, especially for history, he said, are more akin to encyclopedias.
While he was a teacher, Martin also had an enormous impact on graduating seniors being able to afford college. When he was at Colmesneil High School, he helped a foster son earn so many scholarships that the superintendent asked if he would serve as the high school counselor.
Although he had never served in such a capacity, he gladly took on the role, and helped succeeding classes attain bushels of scholarships. Martin was instrumental in helping CHS grads earn record numbers of Smith-Hutson scholarships when the program was in its early stages. Early on, the scholarship opportunity, from Sam Houston State University, could only award 12 scholarships, total. One year, for the CHS class of 2000, six of those 12 went to CHS graduates.
At age 70 and having had his memory banks affected by the brain tumor, Martin provides a disclaimer up front that the stories that follow are works of fiction, although inspired by true events and real people; that his walk down memory lane “has, over time, suffered many potholes and washouts,” and that “No two people ever remember any event in the same way.”
The book begins with Martin’s parents meeting in college after World War II. From there, the stories build histories of Martin’s family, as well as the author, himself. A trove of family photos help flesh out the stories, which number a hundred.
Each story is short and ends with a “By the way” statement that summarizes, reflects (or both) on the story.
Martin’s love of history, which he taught for many years, is reflected in his framing of many of the stories within historical contexts, such as his recollection of being a fifth-grade student when he received the news of President John F. Kennedy’s death. There is also a lot of information about Native Americans, and Martin gives a great deal of insight into his ancestry, which includes German and Native American lineage.
Martin said that his life has been one teachable moment after another. “Everything I’ve done, all the people I’ve encountered, are all lessons,” he said.
He said that in telling his stories in print that he hopes people who read them will be inspired to make better choices, and that was, like the epiphany he depicts within the text, a primary motivation to compiling the stories.
Martin’s wife Karen was also a big motivator for him to write the book, something she said she has long encouraged him to do. Other relatives encouraged him, as well, and a cousin in Bastrop helped with the typing of the manuscript.
At present, Martin is finalizing a second volume of stories, which he hopes will be available in time for Christmas. A third is also in the works, and an audiobook edition of the first is forthcoming.
His Story, Her Story, by the way, My Story! is available through Amazon.com. A free preview of the book’s first five chapters is available on the site.