Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What a long arm can bring in . . .

Our study hall, in high school (way back in time), was a huge double or triple sized classroom with row on rank of desks. After we well-behaved and respectful students (the foregoing is subject to edit by time and memory) had completed our take-home assignments, we still had to be silent and let others work. This was a fine theory which was backed up by the possibility of detention after school at the pleasure of the teacher who was our guardian for the period.

Then, as now, I had a boredom threshold that required me to carry around a book that I could crack open and dive into for the duration. Any duration. It was a dire situation to finish a book and still have half of study hall left to endure.

I was situated in a fine place in the hall. I was on the right side, outermost row as one faced the front. This put me within a long arm's reach of a bookshelf mounted along the wall which also bore the pencil sharpener. And one afternoon, after enduring as much as five minutes of having finished my library book, I reached out my relatively long arm and hooked the closest book I could reach. It was bound in dry and cracking leather with a gold imprint on the spine that was almost worn away from handling.

Carefully avoiding the eye of the teacher up front who might have seen me, I opened Rudyard Kipling's "Soldiers Three." That half hour was the most fleeting I could recall. When the bell rang to end this last class of the day, I kept on reading. After a few minutes, I took my treasure to the front desk and asked if the books along the wall were available to be taken home.

Yes, I was told, they belonged to the teacher and were put there to be read by students who wanted to do exactly that. One at a time could be taken. Only one.

She had Under the Deodars, Plain Tales from the Hills, Wee Willie Winkie, The Jungle Books, Stalky and Co. and more. Most of Kipling's works were on the shelf along that wall and I read them during the semester. I fell in love with the English schoolboy, the English fighting man, the English officer, and the law of the pack. I wished to have named our black cat Bagheera instead of Midnight.

I hated the woman in Baa Baa Black Sheep. I learned years later that the events in that tale were based on some of Kipling's own childhood experiences when his parents sent him back to England at the age of six.

It was a semester of revelations. I believe I learned as much from that chance encounter with Mr. Kipling as from my Physics textbook.

I know it was more fun . . .


Zeta said...

I'm sure she saw you and was filled with delight as you quietly took the book off the shelf. Kipling is one of my favorites as well. Occasionally, I found myself reading a section of Kipling over and over again trying to understand the true meaning of the works.
My current teachers enjoy each reaction of a student as they learn from their lectures. Sharing knowledge is a gift money can't buy.

ol Doc said...

I think the best teachers encourage exploration and then provide the classics for curious students. What a wonderful story.

And, I did return Anthony Adverse to you, didn't I?

RANGER said...

She was a canny old bird and I was the beneficiary of her wisdom. She seemed so old to me, at the time. I would bet that she was between 45 and 50 years old. She was a natural Q-tip. Me too, now.

Anthony? Adverse? Now where have I seen that book . . .