Elegy for My English Teachers

TO this day, I swear the only reason I got through Kathryn Wenzel's 9th grade English course was because I was taking Winifred Jones' beginning Latin course at the same time. In those days English's rules were about the same as Latin's.

In 10th grade, my English teacher was also my Latin teacher. I forget the Latin lessons, but I'll never forget the English lessons. H. Paul Jewells, whose nickname was "Pappy," had an array of acronyms for assignments. When we studied a part of speech we had to "DIP," that is, define, illustrate and prove. I forget what he told us about verbs, but when I started writing this essay "DIP" came right back to me. A physical fitness buff, a man with a perfect posture, he died of a heart attack shortly after retiring.

I can also recite Portia's plea for mercy from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, thanks to my 8th-grade English teacher, Louise Kellner. Miss Kellner became quite dramatic in her rendition and we knew that to do anything less was to invite a lower grade. Who said the quality of osmosis isn't high?

I did not do as well with Shakespeare in 12th grade because my analysis of Hamlet did not square with what my teacher had learned in college (Goucher). After all, I took the side of Hamlet's stepfather, which I wouldn't do today. I was on the right side when we read The Ugly American.

My 11th-grade English teacher was also an assistant football coach and later became a head coach at other schools. He taught us vocabulary and critical reading, which I began to doubt the day one of my buddies said an essay we had read "lacks colorful words" and he got a nod of approval from our teacher, who had just made the same observation about an earlier essay. Osmosis works again!

More than 20 years ago, I published a book on language skills, which included this observation: "And I cannot say enough good about the six high school English teachers who helped shape my attitude toward the language. Rarely can a person boast of having had six good high school English teachers."

Unfortunately, even after looking through five yearbooks, I cannot recall who the sixth teacher was, the one in 7th grade. I think it was Miss Wenzel's younger sister Irma, who was also my 8th-grade geography teacher. Irma was not as stern as Kathryn, although her standards were just as high.

Irma died in 1980. I know that because I read it in Kathryn's obituary. She was 90. She is survived by a niece and three grand nieces—and me.


The Stereoscope

THE other day at brunch my older sister told me she had a box for me in her car. She didn’t say anything about the contents of the box other than to say they were “legacy” items. I waited until I got home to open it.

Inside, carefully wrapped, were my Welsh grandfather’s naturalization papers and a wedding certificate for my maternal grandparents. At the bottom of the box were two items wrapped in newspapers (modern, not historical, unfortunately). I was delighted to find a stereoscope and slides that I can remember looking at as a child about 60 years ago (see photo above—the stereoscope, not me).

There are two sets of slides and then six loose ones. The sets focus on courtship and marriage, and the story of Christ from his birth to the ascension. The slides are dated 1901 and 1905 respectively. (One slide is of a girl fishing, which I’ve inserted in the stereoscope in the photo above.)

It was not until I viewed a slide in the stereoscope that I realized the images were 3-D and very sharp. I had forgotten what they were like.

The 3-D effect was created by giving the reader two nearly identical photographs, processed in the brain as three dimensional. (I had to do some research to learn that.) Frankly, I thought the result was sharper than the 3-D commercials we watched with 3-D glasses during this year’s Super Bowl.

If I remember correctly, even in the early 1950s the stereoscope was something of a relic. I already had a Viewmaster (spelled different ways) in which the user inserted a round disc that contained the slides. Then you pressed down on a lever on the right side to advance the slides one by one in 3-D. That was certainly a lot more efficient than the stereoscope, which you had to put down to replace the slide.

By today’s standards, my stereoscope is an antique and the Viewmasters I’ve seen on eBay are labeled “vintage.” (What does that make me?)

Thanks to Google, I learned that View-Masters are sold today by Fisher Price and come in all kinds of shapes. Amazon sells a model it labels “classic” because it looks like the one I had as a child.

For some, it may be time to put away childish things. For me, it appears it’s time to rediscover them. Everything old is new again. What fun!


Haiku in the News

NORMALLY I wouldn't deviate from a weekly post, but Monday's New York Times has a story that somewhat relates to my earlier essay on haiku (see Haiku Afternoon under February). The story appears on the bottom of of the Arts section and focuses on objections to the blue horse statue at Denver International Airport. Even though the creator (now deceased) was from New Mexico, the story wouldn't merit a post here--except the people who are protesting are putting their comments on a website in haiku. See And Behold a Big Blue Horse? Many in Denver Just Say Neigh