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.