Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reunions and remembering Caesar

I heard from Joey Walker yesterday. She signed up a few days ago for the www.sandpointhigh.com alumni site, so I shot her an email and asked her what was new. It had been quite a while since I'd heard anything about Joey who sat in my English class back in 1984-85. Joey's coming home this weekend for her 20th-year class reunion. With luck, maybe we'll see each other, and maybe I'll get to see some of Joey's classmates.

The Class of 1987 holds a special place in my heart. They probably have no idea that they saved me from insanity as sophomores at Sandpoint High School. Our house burned down in December, 1984, just before Christmas vacation (they still called it that back then). Anyone who's ever had a house burn down knows that it kinda upsets your apple cart----and everything else you know as a regular routine.

You basically start all over, so any hint of normalcy in your life is cherished. That's how those students kept me from going nuts. Even though everything was chaotic at whatever home we happened to be occupying during those months after the fire, I could always count on my students to lend some comfort to my life. Up until then, I never dreamed that a school setting could do such a thing because school settings are generally unpredictable.

On any given day, anything can happen. But there is a routine. The kids show up about the same time every day, they often ask you the same questions, e.g. "Are we doing anything interesting today?" and they gather in their same little klatches to catch up on all the action that happened the night before. I had a bunch of friendly students that year. With more than 30 students in first-period English, many often showed up early to visit with each other and to visit with me. I liked that.

It took my mind off from weighty subjects like filling out that interminable insurance form where we had to try to remember every single item that resided in our house, or there was the even more complex decision of what we wanted for a new house (that we could afford) and who was going to build it. Every contractor approached us like we'd already chosen their firm, and that didn't make it easy. We had to tell all but one "no," and that was hard because we knew them all very well.

So, the routine of kids showing up in five English classes a day doing what kids do every day at school kept me anchored. And, the fact that all my kids that year were engaged and anxious to make my life better really endeared me to them forever. Joey was one of many who make me smile every time I see their names because they made me smile every single day after that fire.

When I heard from Joey, she told me about another "given" associated with my English class way back then and throughout the years I taught English: the Julius Caesar speech and their individual presentations which involved memorization. It was nice to know 20 years later that the class assignment still had value to Joey. Here's what she said:

Well, I thought of you last October when I was in Rome. It was another of my solo trips abroad. I was minding my own business in the forum when a young american man started making announcements aloud that he would be conducting a free, English-speaking tour.

Of course, being the jaded girl that I am, I wondered, "what's the catch." There's always a catch right? No catch. As the tour began, I followed, and discovered that this guy was both a good speaker, and was well versed in his Italian history. As we made our way through the forum he told stories that made the area come alive in our minds.

And, at the end of the hour's tour we sat on some steps overlooking the forum, and after telling the events that led up to the murder of Julius Caesar, our guide put into exact context the very speech that is indelible in the memories of all of your students:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar...

The most glorious part about it was the rich context. In class it was (for me) a collection of words, and I admit that at the time I did not absorb its meaning or context. But sitting there in Rome with an incredible storyteller ending his session with that speech, it all became crystal clear and meaningful. And, I thought of you. :) So there. Y'dun good!

It was definitely a thrill to hear from Joey, along with the added testimonial to the perennial Julius speech assignment, which she says remains indelible.

Some thoughts and experiences tend to stay with us forever. And what remains indelible in my mind is the caring nature of Joey and all her classmates from the Class of 1987. Thanks to all of them for coming along at a tough time in my life and making it better. Seems there's always talk about what teachers do for students, but in my mind, that's a two-way street.


Frazzmom said...

Of course you are just as near and dear in our hearts!

I won't be able to make it to the reunion, but enjoyed reading your post... I am adding you to my google reader feed, so I can keep up to date!

LeeAnn (Rammler) Thompson

CameronsCastle said...

It's funny...

In my new job as the Business Manager at Bend's downtown (and historic) Tower Theatre, I trek back and forth between the theatre lobby and my offices, which are above the catwalk several times daily.

One day, as I was making my journey I noticed some of my co-workers sitting and chatting in the balacony. As I crossed the stage (which I sometimes have to do to get from one end to the other) they shouted at me something along the lines of...

"speech! speech!"

I obliged... and can you guess which "speech" came out of my mouth?

It's the only one that comes quickly to mind! (And I think I may have impressed them a little with my knowledge of Shakespeare.)