Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Primer


She was a no-nonsense English teacher, the classic school-marm: elderly, intelligent, collected, fear-invoking. The lady had mastered the art of garnering respect surreptitiously; it was neither demanded or requested. Her students were captured by forces irresistible and undefinable.

"Tonight you shall read Chapters I through III from your Ivanhoe texts. You shall answer, in your own words, the questions appearing at the end of each chapter. You will write legibly and coherently, and you will not appear in this room tomorrow without this assignment completed. Has anyone any questions regarding this assignment? Good."

I listened to that speech every schoolday throughout the 7th grade; only the titles, chapters, scenes, and verses changed. After the appetizer of Scott, she served us a small dish of Stevenson before heaping a double-helping of Shakespeare onto our plates. For dessert, we dipped into the dynamic duo of Wordsworth and Coleridge. We read, we thought, we wrote. We read, we thought, we wrote.

During the month of June 1955, one student at a time, we rose from our desks, marched to the front of the classroom, turned sharply to face our mates and recited from memory the 625 lines that comprised "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." This was required to receive a passing grade.

On my 13th birthday, later that year, snow began falling in the ebbing hours of that auspicious occasion. I peered out from my quiet bedroom and watched the large flakes covering the parked cars, the sidewalks and fenceposts. A thought crossed my mind:

"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

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