The man that had the most profound effect on my life.
My English teacher in high school.
He was a big man. Huge! Enormous hands, with seemingly bananas for fingers. Therefore, he was a gentle man. Never needed to raise a voice. We all respected him – and that’s not an easy thing with a bunch of 18 year olds! He was never angry. Just looked at you, and that was enough for his disappointment to make a mark on your fragile teenage psyche.
I like to think he had a soft spot for me. I came to a small rural town from the big city, found it hard to quite fit in with the mindset I found there. People looked to me as the “easy chick” I mean, all chicks from the big city must put out, not so? Life was different in those days. Not quite as cosmopilitan as it is now. no FB, or Twitter. No internet, e mails, sms, whatsapp. No cellphones for that matter! People living in the rural towns stayed there until they left school. And in most cases not even then.
So, the incoming of a big city girl in their close confines kind of shook things up. Don’t think any of them ever thought what a big shake up it was for me!! They had an issue with the colour of my suitcase. The length of my skirts. the fact that I had no issue wearing pants to school. In SA we still, to this day, have school uniforms. In all schools. And in the 80’s, in a rural town, the dress code was incredibly strict. Girls were just not allowed to wear pants, and that was it.
Of course I was educated differently. Had different subjects at my previous high school.
But Pollie understood all this, and sort of took me under his wing. Never complained when I slept in his class – to this day, I can’t sit still for longer than 15 minutes before falling asleep. luckily I read a lot, so English was a breeze for me – as a second language taught to us at school, I was by far his best student because I read voraciously, even then.
We did Julius Ceasar as our prescribed Shakespeare work in matric. Not that I can remember anything about it – was not my best thing.
But, in our English oral exams, I prepared this poem as my piece of choice. And I think that Pollie then saw what I was about.
i’d actually forgotten about this until I saw the prompt. Out of all the teachers that taught me anything, Pollie was the one I remember most fondly. He was a silent companion to my teenage angst. A solid presence in a time of great turmoil for me.
Me, being the person I then was, did not allow things to phase me all that much. Even then, I had an attitude, of either like me, or don’t. It’s your choice entirely, and not something I’ll be losing any sleep over.
But underneath the brash exterior, there was still just a young girl dealing with enormous changes in her life at a very fragile time. Changes that influenced my life immensely. Things happened during those three that may or may not have happened had I stayed in JHB. But I was percieved differently in JHB. There I was one of a multitude. In Zeerust, I was a very noticeable girl. I could not fade into the woodwork there as I did in Helpmekaar. I had to either force them to accept me as I am, or I would have lost myself in all manner of things.
I think, when you read my choice of Shakespeare, you will have a fair idea of what was boiling underneath my relatively calm exterior…
William Shakespeare – To be, or not to be (from Hamlet 3/1)
To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. - Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd. “Hold fast to dreams. For if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
James Langston Hughes (1902-1967);
After my oral exam, Pollie gave me a little print with the abovementioned quote on. In hindsight, I should have used that as my quote of choice when I had the chance. I think the reason I did not use it was because, as lives go, I did not do much to fulfill my dreams. I certainly did not dream of becoming an unwed mother. Or then having a slight shotgun wedding. Being a mother at age 21, divorced at age 30. I did not dream of being unemployed at 43. I dreamt that my life would matter. I dreamt that I would see the world. Become a teacher of little people. Suppose I did do at least part of that last dream, even if only multiplied by 2 😉
I had many teachers during my 12 years of schooling. Some I remember because they were serious asswipes. Others because they were ineffectual. One I remember because she was a woman that would have made the most arresting man I have ever seen. She was clearly gay at a time when being gay was frowned upon. She gave us PE. Had a glorious tan, with the bluest blue eyes I have ever seen. Tight body – all the exercise. Can’t say I had a crush on her – had she been a man though… One teacher I remember because she had the most gorgeous champagne coloured solitaire cut diamond ring – I’ve promised myself that one day I will own such a diamond of my very own. Yet another dream fallen by the wayside.
But Pollie I remember because he believed in me.
I wonder what he would have thought had he seen me now…