One of the more significant people who encouraged me to write was my 12th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Barmasse. She taught Advanced English at my alma mater, Lewiston-Porter High School, which was accepted in lieu of Freshman English at Syracuse University (those were the days before AP classes). They don’t let just anybody teach those kind of classes, so you know Mrs. B was the cream of the crop.And she certainly was an outstanding teacher. As I recall, we spent most of that year learning to write Argumentative Essays. They had to be logical, they had to make sense, and they had to be well-written. She was a demanding teacher, but also inspiring, and much loved by her students.
One of her amusing quirks was that she often said the phrase “if you will.” We naturally picked up on that, and several of us particularly nerdy students kept track during class of how many times she repeated that phrase. When she hit 500, we decided to surprise her with a celebration. We all made sure to be in the room before she got there, so that when she came in the door, she was met with a loud fanfare, flashbulbs, cheers, a cake, and a congratulatory announcement from the Vice Principal over the PA speaker. We showed her the chart we had developed, detailing her progress over the weeks, and pointed out the spikes when she spoke on a topic she clearly loved (Beowulf was one). After inundating her with all that, we finally gave her a chance to respond, and she said, “I really say that?”
One of the books we read that year was Cyrano De Bergerac. We spoke often of the White Plume, which symbolized his courage, loyalty, and honor. I summarized it as always doing the right thing. Mrs. B personally challenged me to always live worthy of the White Plume.
Mrs. B also encouraged me to write, and was disappointed that I was going to Engineering school. I guess she assumed that meant I would not be developing my writing talent, and for the most part, she was right. I will say, though, that my ability to put a sentence together probably did help me progress in my engineering career. Certainly, in the last few years, I was doing very little math, and a whole lot of writing Powerpoint slides and status reports.
And I think she would be pleased to know I wrote a novel.