Saturday, September 1, 2007


High school in the sixties had the one interesting quality of being unpredictable. Good or bad, Fanny Hillers and the Junior High School had the day to day sameness that a child learned to expect from school. You knew when the assemblies would be. You weren't surprised by unexpected breaks in routine. Yes there was the occasional fire drill but that was about it.

High school turned out to be, at least for me, full of surprises. One unexpected turn of events came in eleventh grade English class. We were trodding through 17th century literature with Mrs. Bernwick. We were finished, thankfully, with Francis Bacon and were just reluctantly dipping our feet into Ben Johnson when, one morning, we had a substitute teacher. The next day, another substitute. Then, Friday morning, the sky turned from blue to white to yellow and back to blue. Trumpets sounded through the halls. Into the classroom came beautiful, sweet, young Beth Rogers.

Beth Rogers never looked at the lesson plans. Instead, she handed us all paperbacks of Siddhartha. Siddhartha was the signature work of the then fashionable German 20th century writer, Hermann Hesse. So much for the literature of jolly old England.

Ostensibly about the life of the Buddha, the book was in reality a thinly disguised bildungsroman. With her blue eyes glimmering and her beautiful long blonde hair flopping all over the classroom, we discussed Siddhartha, growing up, our parents, and other topics.

One day, a month later, Mrs. Bernwick came back. Assuming that now we would at least be up to the Cavalier poets. "So what did you do while I was away?"

I raised my hand. "We read Siddartha by Hermann Hesse," I volunteered.

"What the heck is that?". Mrs. Bernwick was not amused. The sky went from blue to gray and none of us ever saw Beth Rogers again. The next year I snuck to the Village when my parents were away and bought Demian.

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