In primary school, all my fellow classmates were Jewish. That was not surprising, since we were going to a Jewish school.
A Hebrew school, actually. For one half of the day we would pray in Hebrew, learn Hebrew grammar, Jewish religion and Jewish history. The other half of each day was dedicated to studying general subjects, such as English literature and grammar, mathematics, geography and the history of Canada and the world.
In the seventh grade we had a very good teacher for general studies. Her name was Ms. Parkinson (then Mrs.). I have no idea what her first name was, as children at school in those days were not privy to such information.
One day at the beginning of the school year Ms. Parkinson announced that there would be a competition. As a child, I liked academic competitions. Once in a while I would come in first. This rarely happened in the schoolyard, as I did not excel in sports, nor in beating other children up.
“This year” Mrs. Parkinson announced, “we will have a poetry memorizing competition. The pupil who can memorize and recite the greatest number of lines of poetry over the course of the year will win the competition.”
Perhaps there was a prize for first place, I cannot recall. In those days it really didn’t matter. We were in it for the fame and glory.
So I began to learn poetry off by heart.
I learned William Wordsworth.
This lovely poem improved my English skills.
I learned several poems by Lewis Carroll. The first did not improve my English skills.
I learned “Father William”, without knowing it was a parody.
“OU are old, Father William,” the young man said,”And your hair has become very white;And yet you incessantly stand on your head–Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
I must have loved Lewis Carroll way back then, as I put to memory “The Walrus and the Carpenter” as well.
I also memorized a poem about an Indian Chief who was about to be hanged for stealing a cow to feed his family. This poem made a big impact on me, as it was written with sympathy for the displaced Native American.
I wish I could remember the name of this poem.
Once in a while, my fellow classmate, Ira Greenblatt, would ask me how many lines of poetry I had recited to Ms. Parkinson. When I told him I had memorized and recited 215 lines, he told that he had recited 332. So I learned more poems off by heart. When Ira asked me, several months later, I told him that I was up to 450 lines. “That’s nothing” said Ira. “I’m over 600”. So I learned even more poetry off by heart.
In June, Mrs. Parkinson announced the winners. I was on the edge of my seat.
“The winner of the poetry competition” she said “Is (long pause)….
Melvyn Rosenberg. Congratulations, Melvyn”, she said “You have memorized and recited 914 lines of poetry”.
In second place was Eve, Diane or Mardi (they were always strong competitors, usually at least two of them beat me in everything) with about 600 lines memorized.
But where was Ira?
Ira was way down the list, perhaps with two hundred lines memorized.
He had been pulling my leg all year. I can’t blame him. I was gullible and believed everything.
On the other hand, grade seven was the year that I fell in love with poetry!!!
So thank you Mrs. Parkinson!!! And thank you Ira Greenblatt!!