Mr Blackwell’s Latin Classes and our “unseen” passage


Place-Sir Winston Churchill High School,  Ville Saint Laurent, Quebec

At 10.45, we went out to the school yard for morning recess in the -20 weather. Unlike other days during which we played hockey, smoked in a corner, and gossiped about the girls, for example Coral’s hickey, we all appeared shattered by the unseen Latin test that Mr. Blackwell had just given us.

Frank said that he had to guess a lot, but he believes the unseen passage was a description of a battle that took place somewhere in Carthage, and there was a huge use of incendiary bombs. Glen, whose father worked for Air Canada, claimed that the unseen described the act of map making, especially the ways and means of delineating areas not close to a major landmark. Norman said that the piece he translated was about the court of a great emperor of a major naval sea power. I shared my view that a certain military commander was complaining that the chariots his men were using were of poor repair.

Mr. Blackwell was a typical school teacher in the PSBGM, the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. He had recently emigrated from England; he spoke with a very pronounced accent, and he was stern yet calm. True, Blackwell’s accent was much clearer to us than was that of our history teacher, Miss Chesney, who was from Scotland. No one, I mean no one understood Miss Chesney. But we all knew that her first name was Mildred.

By the time recess was over, we were all convinced that Mr. Blackwell had given each of us different unseen passages so that we would not copy from one another. That theory, however, was devastated after we came back from recess.

Mr. Blackwell asked Sharon what the unseen was about. She replied, “it was about the fire department in the City of Nicomedia.” The other brain in our class, Sheila, repeated her answer. Sheila and Sharon were sisters, twin sisters to boot. Then came the final blow. “And what about you, Roberta, what was the “ahticle” about”?  Roberta, class brain number one, who also was a soloist in our choir, chimed in her version about the Nicomedia Fire Department, describing the department in great detail. Or as Mr. Blackwell said, thank you Roberta for describing this ancient fire department in “grey detail”.

Two days later was a Friday, and Blackwell’s Latin class was the last lesson of the week. Just as the bell rang to set us free, Blackwell looked outside and said, “Now look here-what dismal weather awaits us all this weekend. Don’t sit like bumps of a frozen log; go to work on your Latin vocabulary. That’s “appeahs” to me to be a great way to spend a weekend.  Now-out!.”

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4 thoughts on “Mr Blackwell’s Latin Classes and our “unseen” passage

  1. Hi Alon,
    Thanks for sending me the video of Amir’s interview. He is very insightful, bright and has a great command of the English language. I would have never recognized him now based upon my recollection of him as a 12 year old (camping in NY state)..
    Now for Mr. Blackwell. When I reflect back on my high school years, I seem to believe that SWCHS existed for the sole purpose of of keeping these social and intellectual misfits (called teachers) off the streets. It was more of a humaine shelter than a high school. In those days, teaching was a low paying profession. These people were only outstanding in their peculiar idiosyncrasies and not in their pedagogical undertakings or inspirations. Mr. Blackwell was remembered for his controlled disposition and the single pair of stained, unpressed pair of beige trousers that he wore daily, Where else could he have been gainfully employed with his background?

  2. LOL you don’t even hide identities!!! In our year there was one piece that I was very satisfied that I had translated perfectly – about a bird that had smashed into a wall. Turns out that it was about an old man who, I think, was reflecting on some battle! We were about 18 kids who did our Latin matriculation exams in grade 10 so WE often had Me Blackwell twice a day.

    You didn’t mention that the girls thought he was the most gorgeous human being on the planet and that we all felt we HAD to one day find someone with that accent who also had leather elbow patches on a green corduroy sports jacket!

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