Monday, May 09, 2005

Confessional tale, with a bit of prophecy for good measure

There are moments when events of note bring back events from one's own life that are best forgotten, perhaps even repressed. I had such a moment a couple weeks ago. The event of note that retrieved repressed memories was the incredible news that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, written off as extinct since 1944, is alive and well in the Big Woods of Arkansas. Being an avid birder, this was huge news. HUGE. As I read posts on my bird lists throughout the day, following links to sites and accessing the short video segment taken by ornithologists with the Cornell Lab, that long-repressed memory was bubbling to the surface. I tried to push it back, but the more I read about the Ivory-Bill and its rediscovery, the more that little nagging memory came forth.

What in the world could be repressed that had any connection with an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker?!? More than one might expect. The news brought forth the memory of the one time I helped a friend cheat in high school.

I realize this is beginning to move into the arena of the weird, but you have to understand the setting. When I was a student at Columbia Heights Senior High School in the very early 70s, there was one English teacher for the sophomores who was legendary. Every school is required to have at least one such teacher, and I only hope that as a teacher now myself, I don't become that teacher! We'll call the teacher Mrs. H. Mrs. H was strict. A tough grader. A strong believer in the doctrine of sentence diagramming as medicine against poor expression. Some older kids had kept folders of every sentence ever diagrammed in her class, with corrections, and these were made available on the cheaters' black market. No one ever got an A from Mrs. H; the best for which anyone might hope would be an A-. On a daily assignment.

That's not much of a legend, you may be saying to yourself, and you'd be right. There's more. True or not, word had it that Mrs. H had a strong belief in reincarnation. Of her husband. Who came back as various pets! Prior to my time there, her husband had supposedly been a dog, who was a faithful companion at her table, dining on nothing but prime cuts of meat. How anyone actually knew this little detail is unimportant to the building of a legend. This is the stuff of which legends are made! When the dog died, her husband came back as a goldfish, one that sat on her desk at school and was fed the good stuff, not those dried up flakes. This was during my era, and yes, there really was a goldfish on her desk.

My best friend Peggy had Mrs. H for her teacher. I had a different teacher. I can't even remember the name of my teacher, but Mrs. H I remember. See, legendary! Peggy was not strong with paper and pen, whereas I enjoyed writing. Peggy was struggling with that class as a result. She came to me for help. She had to write a fictional piece. I don't remember the exact details of the assignment, but I do remember what I wrote. I'd completely forgotten, until the news of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was shared last week.

Another bit of the Legend of Mrs H involved her activism for animal rights. The story is somewhat convoluted, but somehow, she went to jail for some sort of peaceful assembly on behalf of animals---wearing her mink coat. Hmmm. Still, this bit of information would be helpful in crafting just the right story for my friend to capture her heart and boost Peggy's grade.

Even in my youth, birds had held a fascination for me. At one point, I'd read any books in our small public library about birds, and was intrigued by the story of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.
I wrote a riveting piece about a man traveling the backwaters in his canoe. I'm sure there was some drama explaining his travels alone, I've still repressed that part. However, the climax of my story came when the man pushed through some thick growth to capture a glimpse of a living ghost--the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, carrying grubs to his mate with their nestlings!

Mrs. H loved my story. Loved it. Gave it an unprecendented A+, with the comment "Brought a tear to my eye to think of this magnificent bird being found once more." Peggy passed English 10. Of course, inflated teen egos liked to think I'd set history, getting the first-ever A+ from Mrs. H.

Except for the overly maudlin bit about bringing grubs to a mate on her nest, my story came true, as revealed last week. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker lives on, found by a man canoeing alone in the backwaters. My sense of guilt over my one-time academic cheating escapade has been dredged up anew. I'm glad it came forth over such wonderful news. It is amazing to me to think that along with memories of youthful crimes, a bird like this can go on undiscovered for nearly 60 years.


At 2:23 PM, Blogger Marilyn Kinsella said...

Ah-ha! Maybe, just maybe the ivory billed is the reincarnation of Mrs. H! Maybe, just maybe she is coming back to resurrect the extinction of the dreaded diagramed sentence. Be sure to keep your dangling participles and split infinitives out of sight until you get that perfect pilated profile! Marilyn Kinsella

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