U is for Ulysses

is for Ulysses.

Miss Lois Baumgartner, my ninth grade English teacher, introduced me to Ulysses. Ulysses is the Roman name of Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and a hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.  Barely five feet tall, matronly, with a shock of curly white hair, Miss Baumgartner was an epic force in my life.

Greek and Roman mythology came to life in Miss Baumgartner’s class. The stories of gods and goddesses, subjects of human passions and caprices, fascinated me. I memorized their Greek and Latin names, their realms, symbols, and signs.

Besides Greek and Roman mythology, we read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and a condensed version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. We kept a notebook for each work. The notebook included a record of “new” words we defined and used in a sentence. A love of literature and a desire to develop a  good vocabulary and to use it effectively are chief among the many gifts Miss Baumgartner gave me.

Memorizing twenty lines from Romeo and Juliet was mandatory. Act II, Scene 3 begins with Friar Laurence’s “grey-eyed morn” soliloquy. I memorized the whole scene. I can still recite most it it.

Grammar was part of everything we did in Miss Baumgartner’s class. We diagrammed sentences. We did weekly dictation. Miss Baumgartner read a sentence. We wrote the sentence, underlined the subject and predicate, and identified the sentence as either simple, compound, or complex.

There were no discipline problems in Miss Baungartner classes. She never raised her voice. She believed good posture supported good learning. I can still hear her saying, “Remember your spine in ’59.”

The queen of my pantheon of favorite and most influential teachers, Miss Baumgartner made an indelible impression on my life.

0 thoughts on “U is for Ulysses

  1. Jer

    Phew, when you said Ulysses, I thought maybe you were talking James Joyce. What a relief.

    My senior English teacher was my favorite, but I also have a soft spot for my eighth-grade teacher. Humor so dry it dehumidified the room. She liked me but my shiftlessness drove her up the wall. In my yearbook she wrote “I’ve thought of the perfect want-ad for you: One brain, excellent condition, seldom used.”

    1. Dennis Post author

      LOL! I think I’ll borrow your eighth grade teacher’s assessment of you shiftlessness for my fifteen year old grandson. That is a classic line.

  2. Joan Raymond

    Mrs. Baumgartner knew what she was doing. Funny how we can still remember those things we had to memorize from so long ago. I had to learn “London Bridge Is Falling Down” in Japanese when I was in kindergarten. That was, ahem, about fifty years ago and I can still remember it to this day.

  3. Davyd Morris

    Good teachers are gifts to be treasured. Did you keep in touch with her and/or share your gratitude for her affecting your life? I’m a silly romantic at heart, so lie to me if you didn’t.

    P.S.: Dust off that Shakespeare and see if you memorize it as you once did, won’t you?

    1. Dennis Post author

      Sadly, Miss Baumgartner died about fifteen years ago. I saw here several times while I was still in school and in college.

      Memorizing doesn’t come as quickly or as easily as it once did. Still, I memorize poems and stories–mostly children’s stories–that I do for school age children. A number of years ago, I read Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas to a kindergarten class. Holding up a large and beautifully illustrated copy of the story before the kids, I turned the pages as I recited the poem. When I finished, one little guy piped up, “Hey, Teacher! He read that whole book without even looking at the words.”

  4. Donnee Patrese

    Great post! I had a teacher that expanded my love for reading and writing and amazing literature. We read Romeo and Juliet and my favorite was Canterbury Tales.

    1. Dennis Post author

      And aren’t we lucky. My life would be diminished and impoverished without reading, writing, and an awareness of of “amazing” literature.


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