A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Conjugation can be fun

There's a new Jack-in-the-Box commercial that shows a bunch of college students having a Toga Party. I did that! But as a freshman in high school. When I was taking Latin.

Yes, I took Latin. Two years of it. And, yes, I know it's a "dead" language. But back then I really wanted to be a doctor and I thought Latin might help. Well, I didn't become a doctor, but Latin helped me a lot when I took the much more practical Spanish. It's helped me spell and understand a lot of English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese words. Not to mention all the "doctor" words I needed to know during my 20 years at Stanford Hospital. And the first year of class was fun!

Our teacher was Felizardo Valencia. He spoke eight languages and was one of the best teachers I've ever had. Even though there's no such thing as "conversational Latin", he would have us do little plays speaking it. Great fun. Of course, there were also times that our pronunciation was a bit off and what came out of our mouths was actually a dirty word in Spanish. We always knew when this happened because Mr. Valencia would get a bit red in the face and sometimes break out in laughter.

One of his class traditions was to have a Toga Party at his house towards the end of the year. We all had to bring a white sheet to drape over our clothes, his kids would make wreaths for our heads, his wife would make lunch for us. The freshman were the "slaves" so we had to serve the upperclassmen, peel grapes for them (I was a mean grape-peeler), and use palm fronds to create breezes. Today this whole thing would probably not be politically correct on so many levels. But luckily we lived in simpler times and we had what we called a "blast". Oh, and we had to speak in Latin as much as possible (although there really isn't any Latin word for cheeseburger or Pepsi so we were allowed to let English slip in periodically).

I really loved that class. We had a lot of fun, and learned a lot. Probably one of the few classes in high school that has stayed with me and that is still useful in everyday life.

Then came my sophomore year. Because we were on split shifts at an over-crowded school, I had Latin at 6:30am. The teacher was Mrs. Stone (we didn't have any "Ms" back then). And a stone she was. Grey hair, grey skin, never a smile on her face. And a nasally voice. By the end of that year, Latin was truly dead for most of us. Mr. Valencia had retired so we were the last class to be lucky enough to have him as our teacher. Ah, but our memories of the first year were alive and well.

And I can still conjugate a verb: Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant! Which, as you might imagine, makes me a big hit at parties!


Mellodee said...

Another experience that we share! I only took Latin for one year, but it did, indeed, provide a lot of interesting connections to English today. We too, had a "Roman Slave Day", only ours was public! We freshman, were actually auctioned off to upperclassmen in a general assembly! So there we all were in our sheets on the stage in front of God, the boy I had a huge crush on and the entire High School. It was slightly humiliating, but it was fun in a "tradition" sort of way. The money raised went to some good cause I can't remember. And our new "owner" has the use of our services for an entire school day. Surprisingly, I can't even remember who "bought" me!

Sandi said...

Linda - I almost forgot the part about the slave auction! We did that, too. Can you even imagine a teacher today trying to pull that off. He'd be tomorrow's headline!

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

This brings back such memories. I took 2 years of Latin in high school, Catholic high school. You are so right about helping understand words. I do medical transcription and that has made this job so much easier. I disliked my teacher intensely, so there are no fond memories, but I do appreciate the knowledge~!

ba and the boys said...

i loved toga parties when i was young...please dont tell my kids! and i dont know any latin. but my little brother took 3 yrs in hs and got to go to italy on a class trip because of it.