Thursday, January 05, 2006

Herzliah Memories

by Ted Paull, Lyndhurst, ON,
January 5, 2006 @ 1:32 PM
REMEMBERING IRVING LAYTON

I was fortunate enough to have had Irving Layton as a teacher of English Literature during my last two years of high school, at Herzliah High School in Montreal. Irving's classes were always stimulating, to say the least. He would often ask us to tell him what books we were reading. I had been an avid reader from a young age, but the books that I tended to read at that time were not of particularly high quality. After returning to school from a bout of the flu, I remember telling him that I had just completed 5 or 6 of Ian Fleming's James Bond series of novels - whereupon, he proceeded to ridicule my choice of 'trash' literature. He then ordered me to meet him at Classics Bookstore that very Friday night (This was the original Classics bookstore on St. Catherine St.). A number of my classmates came as well. Irving selected a number of books from the shelves that he felt were more appropriate reading material and handed them to me (I think they included Great Expectations, and Pride and Prejudice, among others). Seymour Mayne was also there that evening, and he did an impromptu reading in the store, of a number of e.e.cummings poems which, upon hearing them for the first time, had a great impact on me. That evening marked the beginning of a lifetime of reading and appreciation of the world's great literature, for which I am eternally grateful.

Irving was quite a taskmaster in his classes. We were constantly given writing assignments, mainly short essays. We often had to read them aloud to the class, following which we would usually be verbally 'flayed' with his critique of our writing. But, somehow, through this process most of us learned to write quite well, not only with proper use of grammar, but with a sense of the rhythm of language, and with sensitivity to the variety of subtle flavours and shades of meaning that arose out of the words, depending on how we chose to use them. This was a gift of truly incomparable value, which was only understood and appreciated much later in life. Once again, thank you Irving!

One final remembrance of Irving was of an appearance on that he made on an early CBC television program, I forget which one. The topic of the discussion was beauty and aesthetics. The conversation naturally turned to the beauty of the female form, and to what it was that men found stimulating. Irving proclaimed, with a mischevious (or was it lascivious?)smile on his face, that what most drew his attention was 'the cleavage in the posterior', at which point the moderator reddened, and immediately chided him with 'Now, now, Irving, we'll have none of that!'

A true hero has passed! Larger than life, full of the bluster and frailties of all humanity, but unafraid to expose them for all to see. In so doing he offered us a mirror that revealed to ourselves our own hidden thoughts and feelings, and elevated our souls somehow to a higher place.

At whatever celestial plane Irving has arrived at now, we can be sure that he is still creating meaningful and profound vibrations of the soul. And, more than likely, he's also 'cozying' up to some lovely angellic spirit, whispering captivating words into her ear and mind.

God bless you, Irving. Rest in peace, and may your spirit live on forever. This world is a better place for your having passed through it.

Ted Paull
Lyndhurst, ON,
January 5, 2006

1:32 PM

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