a memory

I had a French teacher when I was in Grade 5 who surfaced in my life when I was writing puppet plays that were being produced by the Junior League of Winnipeg and trouped to the schools. By that time Miss Dance was the principal of a school in the north end of Winnipeg, then and now, the enclave for First Nations people and Metis, a hard place for children to grow up, let alone try to get an education. Marjorie Dance made sure that every teacher was supplied with cereal, bowls sugar, milk, fruit, etc. so that children who came without breakfast got fed (this was before school breakfast programs). And she had the first aid room equipped with three small beds, instead of one cot, for children who came sleepless to class because of all night drinking orgies in their homes. She also launched a drive every fall to collect running shoes, at least, and socks, if not boots , so children could make their way through Winnipeg winter streets to school. All this I found out after she phoned me and asked if I would come to her school when my puppet play was being performed there.

After the show she introduced me to her children telling them that I was a student of hers when I was little - the implication being that they, too, could grow up and be a writer, or whatever they set their minds to.

She loved to travel and did so every summer - one of the perks of being a teacher. I used to visit her every year after I moved away from Winnipeg. I was on the board of Investors Group Trust and their beautiful new office building was across the street from a modern apartment building where she lived. I used to go to tea with her and listen to her travel stories. This was one of them:

She went to the Falkland Islands en route home from Antarctica. It was supposed to have been en route there, but the travel plans were changed by the fellow who ran the company (a schemer who had other nefarious arrangements, not relevant here)… It turned out that he owed a lot of money on the ship he was using, one with a sister ship owned by Russians, I think. Anyway, he avoided trouble going down but coming back when he docked at the Falkland Islands, his ship was impounded - to go no further. He had to get his passengers home to Canada. They were allowed to stay on board while he ferried them over to Buenos Aires in a 10-passenger plane, the people who had work to return to or urgent plans going first. As a teacher, in the summer, Marjorie could stay until the last of them left. So every day she set out to explore Port Stanley.

A friend made me think of this when I received a letter from her today, describing her visit to Port Stanley on the cruise she is taking now.  She mentioned the delightful, tended gardens. Marjorie noticed them, too. She would pause at some lovely spot and comment to the owner/gardener about the garden….with such genuine, friendly enthusiasm that she would be invited in, if not then, then later that afternoon for tea, or whatever. She had a good time.

It took her 48 hours to get back to Winnipeg and she was exhausted. The travel company sent her a letter with a $500 discount on her next trip. No thanks. She didn’t use them again. But she had a good time, Bless her.

I kept writing her and sending her my books, even after I stopped visiting; she had moved into a facility I couldn’t get to. But I had her address and corresponded. She wrote a Christmas letter every year, using old Xmas cards,and describing her trips. Finally I had a letter in strange hand-writing - from her caregiver, who told me she read my letters to Marjorie. My dear old teacher wanted her to write me and thank me - about the last thing she did before she died. Bless her.