When I first met her I thought that she must be one of those mysterious Eastern European women we always used to see in those Cold War spy movies. She had these high cheekbones and maybe, just maybe, she was a few pounds lighter than she is now, thirty one years later. No offense intended.
That first encounter with my future wife Brenda did not take place clandestinely on the Charles Bridge in Prague, but in Lindsay, Ontario’s Grand Hotel. To be perfectly frank, it wasn’t really grand but it served its purpose as a hangout for teachers on Friday afternoons in the 1980s. I had just returned to teaching after a semester off travelling in Europe and I became quite smitten with her not only because of her high cheekbones and slim figure but because she was the only person in town who actually listened to my travel stories.
Little did I realize that that wouldn’t last too long.
Shortly after that we ended up teaching at the same high school in the same department and even sharing the same prep period. What really shocked me was that she had actually read the Ontario Ministry Guidelines. In fact, our first disagreement was when we were assigned to make up the Grade 9 French exam and she was adamant that we follow instructions to the letter-of-the-law. Remember – this was the 1980s, in small town Ontario and French was considered an unwelcome intruder to the high school curriculum by many in the community. My cynicism when it came to following the bureaucratic maze of instructions shocked her at first.
Little did I realize that I would create a monster.
One of the first things she told me was that she wasn’t long for teaching high school French in Lindsay. She had just returned from a summer course at the University Of Nice in the French Riviera. She was going to the Sorbonne, she said, to further her studies and then begin her many journeys into parts unknown. Oh yeah, I thought, and I’m going to study astrophysics and become an astronaut.
Within a year we were married and the first two summers Brenda spent doing further studies in La Pocatiere, Quebec and at the University of Grenoble in France while I taught at a summer hockey school in northern Ontario and drank beer. There you go, I thought, there’s the wanderlust out of you. After failing to convince me to move to China to teach ESL and being one day late with my application for a Department of National Defence school in Germany, Brenda successfully applied for a paid sabbatical to take her Master’s in French and we ended up having one of the best years of our lives in Sherbrooke, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. That sojourn ended up being both good and bad for me. Upon our return to Lindsay with her expanded education my wife was appointed Department Head for a year while our previous chief took her own leave. So now she was officially my boss at work, which extended her authority over me to around the clock.
We had been married eight years and had two young children when she began talking about an international teaching exchange. Oh-oh, I thought. Let’s rein this in, I said. We have a four year old and a two year old here, for crying out loud. I don’t want the boys, and especially not me, suffering from culture shock. Why not something a little less exotic… like Edmonton, perhaps ?
Brenda nodded mildly and I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The next thing I know the Ontario Teaching Exchange had given us the address of someone named Philippe in Nimes in the south of France. Brenda handled all of the arrangements because I sat them out as a conscientious objector. Another great year as our family used the extensive French holidays to travel through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Spain, Monaco and Morocco.
After years of teaching French most of us have shifted out of it for the sake of our sanity. Brenda never did.
Maybe that explains a lot. But what put a reluctant end to her teaching career were those concussions: two within three weeks because of collisions in the Y’s swimming pool and another one too soon after those while skiing in Orford, Quebec in between our daughter’s hockey games at a tournament in nearby Sherbrooke,. But even head trauma can be a blessing in disguise. Brenda is loving life in retirement, even if she was forced into it. Last Thursday she just returned home from a month visiting one of our sons in New Zealand.
But no more concussions, I told her. We need your sense-of-direction while on those trips. Me, I inherited mine from my father, who could get lost on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Next November we’re scheduled to hike the Annapurna Trail in Nepal’s Himalayas. We don’t want me leading the way. They tell me if you take a wrong turn somewhere you can end up spending a long, cold night.