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Mr. Michaud's Memoirs

In this month's humour column, we look back fondly on some memorable Thorold educators.

It’s been a week for remembering Thorold teachers:  Last week, the ThoroldNews received a letter from Tom Molyneaux, whose father taught at Thorold High when I was there, and at the Wayne Gretzky Winery outdoor rink, we ran into Mr. Venditti, who taught me way back in the day when it was still called A. T. Clancy School.

Also, Facebook has been filling up with tributes for former Thorold High teacher Ernie Janzen, who passed away last week at age 82.

It seems like the perfect time to make a confession:  Mr. Janzen, if I hadn’t skipped your Grade 13 geography class so often, I wouldn’t be so globally-challenged—and incapable of distinguishing the Balkan Islands from Bulgaria on a map—still today.

In my defence, back then, those places seemed so remote from my home in Allanburg, and self-absorbed adolescents as we were in the 70s, finding our way in the world, it was just so much easier to skip that last class of the day and get a ride home with my friends—who didn’t have afternoon classes—than be succumbed to riding the bus.

You see, Mr. Janzen, while I realize now that there is, in fact, a fascinating wide world that spans far beyond the borders of my beloved Allanburg, for 14 years of my school life, I was forced to take the bus, and nearly every single day, I was bus-sick.

Besides, we all have our personal brain stimulants, and I’ve always been a word nerd, hanging on the edge of my seat to learn all about the danger of dangling participles and improper sentence structure; smiling and strangely satisfied when all verb tenses agree.

Sure, my parents were big book-pushers, but aside from Dr. Seuss—who was my very first love, at age four, hooking me for life with his one-of-a-kind blend of genius/nonsense, I honestly can’t pinpoint when I began cringing at phrases such as “I seen;” obsessed with exceptionally well-written paragraphs, reading and re-reading them until they were burned into my brain.

(The annoying addiction to alliteration, I picked up all on my own).

But I suspect it had something to do with Mr. Michaud, who I was lucky enough to have for both Grade 3 and Grade 4.

Uncharacteristically forward-thinking—now that I think of it—given the non-flexible educational era of the 1960s, when many used humiliation and bullying as a “teaching” tactic, Mr. Michaud gave us many gifts, one of which was letting us choose our own names for our reading groups, based on our favourite cereals. Trust me, that small sense of empowerment was a big deal, back then.

We were the Captain Crunches.

He also used humour, and while I credit Thorold High’s Mr. Broughton for fuelling my passion for everything from euphemisms to onomatopoeia; and Mrs. Siegel for teaching me Forkner shorthand—which I have used the past 30 years, every time I interview someone for an article—it was Mr. Michaud who always made me feel like I mattered, and that he actually cared about me, and every single one of his students. And in a one-room, two-grade class full of country bumpkins, that could not have been easy.

His soft spoken, simple formula for educating through caring made us actually enjoy coming to St. Aloysius School.

There was the time I missed the bus, somehow, which was nearly punishable by death, since my dad drove transport truck all day and considered driving after-hours a chore. Mr. Michaud drove me from Thorold South to Allanburg, a mere 10-minute drive, but one which solidified him as my hero by saving me a reprimand.

The fact that he’s accepted his life-changing illness with his usual grace and dignity comes as no surprise.

In my favourite movie—Mr. Holland’s Opus—the brilliant Richard Dreyfuss plays a devoted music teacher who’s tormented by the fact that he never had the chance to write an opus, something he desperately wanted to do since the onset of his career. Finally, at his retirement, he realizes that his many decades of teaching have launched hundreds of students into the world to make great music. They are his opus.

And Mr. Michaud, I hope you know that if you’re ever writing your memoirs, you may not have played any instruments (that I know of), but you were absolutely instrumental in launching my love of language, and learning, that has had a huge—and amazing—impact on my life.

For that, and so much more, I thank you.