Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Elizabeth Wilson

Two years ago I wrote about Elizabeth Wilson, who taught me Latin and Greek. She died last year of Alzheimer's in her late 80's.

Last week another former student of Miss Wilson's emailed me and shared some more memories. Robin wrote,
    Miss Wilson did more than teach me that ancient language, she brought that ancient time to life again. I had never been to Italy, nor even out of North America, but she filled my mind with pictures of Rome and especially Pompeii. I longed to go to Pompeii more than any place because of those hours spent in that first floor classroom which was always cool and dim, (she liked to keep the nasty overhead fluorescents turned off and I have preferred dimmer lighting ever since).

    I remember one long, hot day when I lay slumped on my desk, drained of all energy, listening to her read some boring passage from some boring book - such was my attitude as a bright but disengaged teenager in the 80's. She paused and that smile curved over her face as she gazed down at us.

    "Here's a word for you - susurrus". Her voice was a caress and I looked up, suddenly engaged.

    "Suuuuuuu-surrrrrrrr-ussssssssssssssss". Her eyes were half-closed with that familiar, knowing smile playing on it, but suddenly the air seemed charged. I stared at the slight woman with the long grey hair wrapped around her head, and suddenly to me she seemed decades younger, those remarkable blue eyes clear with youth's light, and she seemed to flit in and out of the shadows cast by billowing curtains suddenly moved by the first breeze of that sultry afternoon.

    "It is my favourite word and isn't it splendid? Onomatopoeia at it's finest - it sounds like a whisper. She said the word again and for the first time, the dusty academic was revealed as a real woman. I whispered the word and felt it tingle in secret places and it must have shown on my face because her eyes twinkled as they caught mine and then she moved on, breaking the spell.

    Two years ago, I finally made it to Pompeii and it was even more glorious than I had imagined. I sat on the steps of the amphitheatre, gazing around and remembering Miss Wilson, her eyes alight and her voice clear as she prowled the front of the classroom describing the wonders of the very place I was now in. I shed a few tears then and I shed a few more when I read on your blog about her having Alzheimer's. I hope the people who have been/are caring for her know what a remarkable and unforgettable woman she was. A class-act all the way and I will always remember her.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have more stories about her and, should the muse strike, may expand this to include them. I can think of no better muse than Miss Wilson, and if I do write it, I will send it along.

She was really something, a true teacher, and the world needs more like her.