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From a Distance
Our grade nine geography teacher , Miss Macdonald readily aroused her students'
attention Not just a voluptuous hourglass sapphire blazing figurehead poised
with shrill command at the helm. With the only discernable imperfection an
insignificant mole hidden beneath a delicate French locket plunging as lost
anchor into cleavage depths.
Any rolled eyes and rude pubescent whispers wre quickly dispatched by rigorous
assignment to the topic at hand. No detail went amiss from her peregrine view.
We were a small rural clutch of less than two dozen peeping fledglings under her
care. Her concern for each youngster encircled us as if we were her own. It was
the inevitable consequence of a small brood mentality. With the three digit
population village knowing one another better than the weekly supermarket
specials. No eyebrows were raised when any one of us remained after the class
bell. To cluck our conundrums to mother MacDonald. Whether it was ruffled
feathers of injured pride. An insulting peck between classmates. Or troubles at
the home roost. She nurtured a maternal bond among us.
The junior school subjects were normally met with the entusiasum of a protracted
insomnia yawn. An overwhelming littany of places, names, dates or details
digested to memory each week. Diligently parroted into our notebooks by command
of a firm droning crony and scratching chaulk. To be regurgitated periodically
under pressure. With each malleable mind assigned some measure of progress.
Miss MacDonald was of granite cast opinion that education should be a more
personable experience. To what degree lay her intentions, I was totally
unsuspect. Early in the semester she arrived one morning. Our jaws dropping like
lead as a thick thunder of booklets was dumped upon her front desk. From older
schoolmates who had passed her graces, the rumours of heavy homework had now
been confirmed. Sighs broke the pindrop silence when she warbled "It'll be fun!
We would be travelling to distant vistas. Discovering how other teenagers lived
in faraway dreams that killed us with envy. Each student was personally handed a
booklet briefly summarizing the background of a country. With a curious form
near the back cover. Our teacher explained that the publisher had provided her
with a list of addresses from perspective penpals corresponding to each nation.
I noticed that my correspondent's particulars had been handwritten into the
blank spaces. Unlike my other classmates whose forms were neatly typed to
completion by the school steno. And those foreign students, in turn would
inquire about our lives. A grandiose project running for several years with
A flurry of letters snowed upon the bewildered postmaster within a few days.
Young girls secretly hoping for a romantic liason. And the boys' imaginations
barreling rampant with hair prickling adventure of amazonian proportion.
As the months rolled through the term our reports became exponentially
fascinating. The snail dribble of detail from slow mail turnaround gradually
picked up a fever pace as letters flew across the Atlantic faster than the
prevailing winds. Excitement could not be curtailed by waiting a fortnightly
answer. Some of us wrote weekly. Anticipating a similar steady return flow.
Class presentations set all minds afire. It went beyond stiffling afternoons
sneezing sentences from dusty library periodicals. More than snipping and
pasting glossy tidbits from pilfered dogeared dentisit office magazines. Our
looseleaf would not babble repetition of an industrial cultural fact and figure
melee. We were captivated by the voices from thousands of miles away. Their
frankness making them stand alive before us. Candid stories of struggling for a
common convenience which we had taken for granted. Descriptions of elegant
architecture, peculiar vocations, dazzling dress, tantalizing traditions and
schocking edibles fueled our appetites to learn more about our global community.
As the school year drew to a closing chapter with the warming summer, most of my
classmates had prefered to engage themselves in the local agenda. So pleasant
adieus were made abroad, as their plans for fishing, swimming and
parties pressed forward. A few of us were fortunate to have intimate exchanges.
My Parisian friend's handnotes flowed with enchanting demure. The way she opened
her world with quaint finesse. Of the doves fluttering through the dawn
marketplace squabbles. The musical aromas winding through the cafe peppered
alleys. The Seine moonlight kissing lovers' laughter that mingled with the
fragrant nocturn. My sweetheart refused to exchange photographs. Considering
herself as most plain and unattractive. She was afraid that a picture might end
our relationship. So Michelle instead enclosed perfumed lace woven by her own
hand. Delicate, intricate and stitch perfect as I had imagined her to be.
Since the late Spring I had been lawnmower boy for the neighborhood. Including
Miss MacDonald's extensive property adjoining a countryside farm. The ordeal of
clipping, raking and mowing required two days labour. She would insist upon
lemonade respite for my sweat drenched limbs. You could swim from the
perspiration that I had wrung from my T- shirt.
It was an opportuntity to catch up on small pleasantries.
Curiosity blurted "Miss MacDonald, the girls in class were always buzzing
about your locket. How it is so different. Did it come from overseas? I was just
wondering, because you are such a terrific teacher. Knowing about all of
the places everywhere. Did you ever travel Miss MacDonald?"
I couldn't have tripped over my size twelve tongue any better if it was glaring
neon. What a clutz.
"That's alright Wally. Not many people ask. It was a long time ago when I was
about your age. My father was a naval officer. And we were stationed in France
for a few years. "as her voice slowly trailed into a dying murmur.
"Yes those Parisians can wrap you up in their heart pretty quick. " as I
elaborated upon my infatuation at awkward length. I twittered more that a caged
bird released to daylight for the first time. I unwrinkled the most recent
sweetnote from my faded jeans pocket. Going over every syllable as if it was
manna from an angel.
"I wish that I had a picture of Michelle. These letters are just not enough.
"whined a lovesick schoolboy.
My mind rocketted forward with assumption "Did you fall in love in France, Miss
I swore a cloud smudged charcoal across the heavens. As a quivering lower lip
rippled across her ghost pale faceless answer. I had signed my death warrant to
that conversation. And maybe our friendship.
Miss MacDonald drew me into her bosum. After a tearful hug she pressed the
locket into my palm. Opening the fragile clasp gingerly revealed a cheery
infant. Of no outstanding features except for mild resemblence to Miss
MacDonald. She whispered "Say hello to Michelle. . . "
And everything fell into place with more questions that I would never ask.
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