So, this was a reminisce about two great teachers from my past, in a "creative non-fiction" frame of mind. I hope you like it!
I've only worn a toga to class for two teachers in my life. The first was my Classical Studies teacher for two years in high school. With Mrs. Evans, at an all-girls high school, we read Homer's Odyssey. All of it. We learned the architecture of the Parthenon, in Greece. To be fair, they were on the national exams curriculum, but discussing Plato wasn't. I'm pretty sure that just came up in conversation.
Mrs. Evans had a dry sense of humor. That epiphany was suspiciously late in coming, given that it occurred at some point during the evening meal one night in the school library while we students were serving our teachers their food. The teachers were reclining on one elbow on cushions on the floor, and eating Roman-style. We had dates, and honey. I'm sure we had other food to eat as wel, but they all had to be Roman recipes. Mrs. Evans sent a recipe book home with us, and our mothers had fits in kitchens all over town.
As a Brownie Girl Scout later in life I had earned a "Hostessing" merit badge by helping Brown Owl to cook scones, make tea, and then serve the results to parents. I remember carrying a tray through a swinging door in the basement of the church where we met. I was terrified that the teapot would slosh, or smash, and either way I'd be robbed of a merit badge. I think fancy may have supplied the cup and saucer later, but the teapot was certainly there.
For Mrs. Evans' Roman dinner we all wore togas: teachers and students alike. Maybe that was another reason why our mothers had fits, but I don't think it would have occurred to anyone to get up to anything salacious in the school library. If they did, I never heard about it.
I remember that if it was hard to wait tables as a Brownie, ten years later it was harder still in the complete absence of tables. I remember clamping my teeth together and sweating as I tried to serve teachers who were lounging on the floor. Surely I would spill something on a teacher? And if by some intervention of the gods I didn't, then I would destroy a cushion or (worse) incur the wrath of the Harpie librarian by getting honey on the library carpet. Mrs. Evans laughed a lot that night, but all of it was kindly meant. I would have walked on lava for her.
So I signed up for Roman Studies my freshman college year. The professor, Norm Austin, was a Rhodesian who had published a book on Roman spying techniques. He was so popular his classes met in the drama lab to fit us all in. Inspired by the setting, he crouched, leapt, and pantomimed every doomed elephant getting Hannibal across the Alps. From Norm, I learned what a Pyrrhic victory was and so have been able to have many of them since.
It turned out I wasn't well suited to learning history: dates looked too much like math and I've always been more literate than numerate. But it was for Norm that I donned a toga and roman sandles to present a tutorial, and it was from Mrs. Evans that I borrowed the toga. (The roman sandles were part of the high school summer uniform, so they were not hard to come by and may have provided some of the inspiration.) If I would have walked on lava for Mrs. Evans, I would change in the bathrooms and walk the halls of the university in a toga for Norm.
He referred to that memorable incident often in the years I visited his office as an undergrad and later a grad student returning to visit. He died of cancer just after I got my first teaching job. I haven't worn a toga for anyone lately, but I often think of him talking about the Roman army as "these boys," as if it all happened recently and their exploits just came up in casual conversation. I haven't had a student don a toga for me, or feed me dinner while I recline on cushions, but I don't teach Roman Studies so it wouldn't really be appropriate.
Still, I've seen the occasional glint of fervor in a student eye every now and then, and some students have gone several extra miles on a project. One group of my students convinced the university to turn on the lights of the baseball diamond so they could do a night shoot for a class. I know I have Mrs. Evans and Norm Austin to thank for that.
1 day ago