And What Is So Rare, As a Memorable Teacher?
Poet James Russell Lowell inquired upon a time about the situation with June, offering that the month is loaded with perfect days that glisten loud enough to hear and murmur so we can see it. You may check me on that. And we youngsters back in them there days of early impressions had a certain teacher who thought we should be exposed to the winged word and it would improve our attitudes.
Biddy Royal was this teacher's name, and she would toss us something to take home so we could come next morning ready to talk about it, such as how cold is twice as cold as zero, and where was Moses when the lights went out? Then there came the memorable end of May, with the 30th, then a holiday, and we would return to school in June ready to wind up for the year.
Mrs. Royal said she wanted each of us to come to school ready to repeat the first stanza of "The Vision of Sir Launfal," by James Russell Lowell. She had the stanza on the blackboard, and we all copied it then and there, before Xerox.
There is no disrespect whatever toward Biddy Royal. I, we, had some lulu teachers who wasted our time and are lightly remembered in the annals of culture. But Biddy Royal rides high, and while time has reduced our shining class to four of us who staggered to a reunion last August, I can show you four of Biddy Royal's scholars who, a good 80 years later, can without a hitch, recite:
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.
Biddy Royal told us there would come a day we'd be glad we could recite that, and she would be amply repaid for her dreary years of teaching us knuckleheads against all odds.
So when we came back to school after Memorial Day and it was now June, we each stood when our name was called and went down front to face the class and tell about a day in June. We did all right. Most of us rattled the thing off, won Biddy Royal's approval, and to some a word about poise or diction. Those who stumbled were encouraged by teacher, but all of us, quick studies and bumblers alike, could repeat that much of Sir Launfal.
The years then began to crowd upon us, and the swift seasons rolled. Some of us managed to get through college, and for my part Biddy Royal had conditioned me so I could keep a gerund in its place and scan a line of hexameter. I got so I could read Chaucer, even. And, most precious of all, I came to realize that Biddy Royal had been an excellent good teacher, that I liked Keats, and that I could tell Coleridge from Wordsworth without going to Bartlett.
We held our 50th high school reunion, and after half a century we were mostly hale and still numerous. We brought wives and husbands and numerous descendants, and we made a merry company as we held hands and tried to remember this and that and talked about those who didn't, or couldn't, come. All of us brought snapshots and programs, and even pop song sheets, and we had a good time while our youngsters patiently indulged us and wondered how long before we could go home and they could get back to their funny books.
For my part, I remember well how I looked at each classmate and made the effort to see him or her as each looked on the evening of our high school graduation: blue serge suits, some double-breasted and some with a vest, and all the girls in the white dress each had made herself. We had tediously and obediently marched to the platform in lock-step, boy and girl (but we didn't come out even), the short ones ahead and the tall ones to the rear. I was the Class Prophet, and didn't come within a row of snowshoes at picking a single future.
WELL, here we were again, decades later. The bloom of youth had faded, but our exuberance was at a new high. Across from me at table was Dorothy Cummings, who married a Brown. I guess I never heard what her husband did, but Dorothy became our postmaster. It was good to see her, as it was to see all the others, and for table talk Dorothy and I recollected the wonderful birthday parties she'd have every February, just shy of leap-year day.
Her father kept the town farm, and all the happy old folks resident there would join us youngsters to celebrate Dorothy's birthday. Dorothy's father would hitch the town team to the logging sleds, and the horses would jingle us home after the party. And then Dorothy piped up. Loud enough so she could be heard by all, she said, "And what is so rare as a day in June?"
That reunion was held in June, so her reference was apt, but not one of us, you betcha, thought of that. We were back in school, Biddy Royal presiding in stately dignity, and our bloom of youth was miraculously restored. I said to Dorothy, "I have a dollar that says you can't remember the next line!"
Dorothy winked at me, and I knew I had lost that one. She stood and smoothed down her skirt as young ladies did in the long ago when manners were important, and in a concerted movement every other member of our high school class also stood.
And, as if responding to a philharmonic baton, the entire residual class of 1926 repeated together: "Then, if ever, come perfect days."
It cost me $17, and was worth every cent.