Wednesday, March 21, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

44. One of my more memorable teachers in junior high or high school was:

Miss Whitney, the Latin teacher. Miss Whitney had been retired for a couple of years, when one May, the Latin teacher died. The school called on her, because she had previously taught all the romance languages, speaking a total of 14; not all of them romance, obviously. So, she taught herself enough of the language over that summer to teach Latin I and raced to keep ahead of her students until she could teach all four years. She was the youngest of the three Misses Whitney, all of whom were brilliant. And none of whom ever married. (Too often the fate, especially in those days, of really brilliant women.) She loved to tell the story of when she was 15, and one of them read a word in a book that she wasn't sure how to pronounce. The three of them had a discussion. The eldest said she thought it was mize eled. My Miss Whitney said it was mizzled. But, since the middle one had been all of 15 when she graduated from college (the oldest of the three) no one listened to her when she correctly declared it was misled.

Miss Whitney was a very fat, elderly woman who wore gardenias in her cleavage the entire time they were in bloom, which in the central valley of California is many months. She still wore rouge, in an age when no one else did. It was a marvel to all of us, not only her students, but also my particular friends, and many others, that although to describe her made her sound clownish, to see her did not. She was not, somehow, ever a figure of fun, but rather of dignity and warmth. You knew that she loved teens; she enjoyed being with us, and we enjoyed being with her. And we all agreed, that she was eccentric in the most delightful sense.

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