Dear Dr. Otto Mower
If you remember me, I’ll be flattered, surprised and a little stunned. After all, you’ve known hundreds of students over the last 30 years, and why would one person stick out? Especially if she only took Latin I from you for one year. But the year was 1990 (the 1989/1990 School Year) at Bishop’s, and I was in your last period Latin I class for 7th graders. I went by Scribonia.
Over the last year, Bishop’s has found me, started mass mailing and emailing me, and pretty much doing their best to get my money. The fact that I did not actually graduate from Bishop’s seems to either escape them, or no matter in their quest for the almighty dollar. Somehow, I’m not surprised at either outcome. But I did go to Bishop’s for three years before I ran away to a boarding school in the hills of Santa Barbara. The only benefit I’ve found to being so relentlessly pursued by the alumni board (again, I’m not an alumnus), is that I’ve been able to reconnect with a few friends. My two closest friends, boys I’d known since we were in first grade, did not reply to my mailings, but some friends from Bishop’s did. The other high point was seeing your face on the cover of the magazine last month.
There were three teachers at Bishop’s who changed my life, and a handful of others who I appreciate for different reasons. The appreciation lingers, mostly, in the English department. I’d like to think of myself as a writer, and while it was Midland that crafted my ability into something I consider approaching art, the seeds were tended at Bishop’s. Inspiration was found, and I’m still proud of my Bishop’s Satire. The life changing came from Courtney Flannigan, the drama teacher, who showed me that drama was taking risks, and always encouraged me to do my best. She also ripped into me for not paying attention to what was being said around me, and that stuck with me most of all. I also was changed greatly by Dr. Charles Wong, may he rest in peace, who’s sexist humor was, admittedly, appealing to me, but also because he loved math, and made me love it more.
The last slot is really the first slot, and is reserved for Dr. Otto Mower.
My Latin skills are pretty poor these days, and mostly I use them to make bad jokes, or to sound over educated. But the fact of the matter is that I loved Latin class. I loved how hard it was, I loved reading in another language that had been dead for years. At the time, of course, I was a stupid kid and I hated it all. It took ten years for me to realize what I’d been given in that class with you, and while I spent the next two years struggling for a B in Updegraff’s classes, I never forgot that the basis for my Latin love was you.
After all, the only memory I have of Updegraff is when he wore shorts on Faculty Short Pants Day. Where as you, I remember your stories about the small part of the European world you were from, including the Gypsy stories which always made me smile on a Friday afternoon. I remember you telling us about how you were left handed and it had been trained out of you, which was why you kept your left hand in your pocket when writing on the chalkboard. The multiple wooden pointer sticks, many given to you by my friend Matt, that you used to smack our desks if we were dozing. The way you permitted us to pass notes, so long as we wrote them in Latin. The way you pulled us up for a firing squad on Tuesday morning (hic, haec, hoc!). The fact that I was the only kid in my class who dared to try your real licorice, and actually liked it. I still like it.
In short, I have a hundred memories of you, of your classes, and of the way you broadened our mind. Why else would I still find it amusing that I had planned, as a senior, to take art history ONLY so that I could go with you to Europe and see the Pope undress?
But it never happened. I left Bishop’s. I graduated in the middle of the woods with 11 other kids at a rustic boarding school. I took Latin for another year, the sole student in the school, with the head of the History department. After that I took Spanish, which did me little good as I still speak it as well as I did before I took Spanish. Go figure.
So should you remember me? Probably not. But if all this strikes a strange reminder in your heart, then I hope that this last memory, one I cherish, will let you know who I was. I was in France over the summer, between 7th and 8th grades, and when I came back to school, I was stunned to learn I wasn’t in your Latin II class. Still, I made a point to find you, in your office, early that school year to give you a gift. A Roman brick for a coliseum in France, which I had liberated and brought across the Atlantic for you.
I wonder if you still have it. That brick represents the appreciation I had for you, for the wisdom you imparted to me.
I was going to make some joke about how you came, you taught and you conquered, but now that I’m writing this out, it seems low class. So I’ll leave it at this. Thank you Dr. Mower. Just remember. You did change a life.
Oh, well I may as well … Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.
Your faithful, though never stellar, student, Scribonia