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From a Distance


Rod Stewart

Our grade nine geography teacher , Miss Macdonald readily aroused her students' attention Not just a voluptuous hourglass sapphire blazing figurehead poised with shrill command at the helm. With the only discernable imperfection an insignificant mole hidden beneath a delicate French locket plunging as lost anchor into cleavage depths.

Any rolled eyes and rude pubescent whispers wre quickly dispatched by rigorous assignment to the topic at hand. No detail went amiss from her peregrine view. We were a small rural clutch of less than two dozen peeping fledglings under her care. Her concern for each youngster encircled us as if we were her own. It was the inevitable consequence of a small brood mentality. With the three digit population village knowing one another better than the weekly supermarket specials. No eyebrows were raised when any one of us remained after the class bell. To cluck our conundrums to mother MacDonald. Whether it was ruffled feathers of injured pride. An insulting peck between classmates. Or troubles at the home roost. She nurtured a maternal bond among us.

The junior school subjects were normally met with the entusiasum of a protracted insomnia yawn. An overwhelming littany of places, names, dates or details digested to memory each week. Diligently parroted into our notebooks by command of a firm droning crony and scratching chaulk. To be regurgitated periodically under pressure. With each malleable mind assigned some measure of progress.

Miss MacDonald was of granite cast opinion that education should be a more personable experience. To what degree lay her intentions, I was totally unsuspect. Early in the semester she arrived one morning. Our jaws dropping like lead as a thick thunder of booklets was dumped upon her front desk. From older schoolmates who had passed her graces, the rumours of heavy homework had now been confirmed. Sighs broke the pindrop silence when she warbled "It'll be fun! Really. "

We would be travelling to distant vistas. Discovering how other teenagers lived in faraway dreams that killed us with envy. Each student was personally handed a booklet briefly summarizing the background of a country. With a curious form near the back cover. Our teacher explained that the publisher had provided her with a list of addresses from perspective penpals corresponding to each nation. I noticed that my correspondent's particulars had been handwritten into the blank spaces. Unlike my other classmates whose forms were neatly typed to completion by the school steno. And those foreign students, in turn would inquire about our lives. A grandiose project running for several years with banner success.

A flurry of letters snowed upon the bewildered postmaster within a few days. Young girls secretly hoping for a romantic liason. And the boys' imaginations barreling rampant with hair prickling adventure of amazonian proportion.

As the months rolled through the term our reports became exponentially fascinating. The snail dribble of detail from slow mail turnaround gradually picked up a fever pace as letters flew across the Atlantic faster than the prevailing winds. Excitement could not be curtailed by waiting a fortnightly answer. Some of us wrote weekly. Anticipating a similar steady return flow.

Class presentations set all minds afire. It went beyond stiffling afternoons sneezing sentences from dusty library periodicals. More than snipping and pasting glossy tidbits from pilfered dogeared dentisit office magazines. Our looseleaf would not babble repetition of an industrial cultural fact and figure melee. We were captivated by the voices from thousands of miles away. Their frankness making them stand alive before us. Candid stories of struggling for a common convenience which we had taken for granted. Descriptions of elegant architecture, peculiar vocations, dazzling dress, tantalizing traditions and schocking edibles fueled our appetites to learn more about our global community.

As the school year drew to a closing chapter with the warming summer, most of my classmates had prefered to engage themselves in the local agenda. So pleasant adieus were made abroad,  as their plans for fishing,  swimming and parties pressed forward. A few of us were fortunate to have intimate exchanges.

My Parisian friend's handnotes flowed with enchanting demure. The way she opened her world with quaint finesse. Of the doves fluttering through the dawn marketplace squabbles. The musical aromas winding through the cafe peppered alleys. The Seine moonlight kissing lovers' laughter that mingled with the fragrant nocturn. My sweetheart refused to exchange photographs. Considering herself as most plain and unattractive. She was afraid that a picture might end our relationship. So Michelle instead enclosed perfumed lace woven by her own hand. Delicate, intricate and stitch perfect as I had imagined her to be.

Since the late Spring I had been lawnmower boy for the neighborhood. Including Miss MacDonald's extensive property adjoining a countryside farm. The ordeal of clipping, raking and mowing required two days labour. She would insist upon lemonade respite for my sweat drenched limbs. You could swim from the perspiration that I had wrung from my T- shirt.

It was an opportuntity to catch up on small pleasantries.

Curiosity blurted "Miss MacDonald,  the girls in class were always buzzing about your locket. How it is so different. Did it come from overseas? I was just wondering,  because you are such a terrific teacher. Knowing about all of the places everywhere. Did you ever travel Miss MacDonald?"

I couldn't have tripped over my size twelve tongue any better if it was glaring neon. What a clutz.

"That's alright Wally. Not many people ask. It was a long time ago when I was about your age. My father was a naval officer. And we were stationed in France for a few years. "as her voice slowly trailed into a dying murmur.

"Yes those Parisians can wrap you up in their heart pretty quick. " as I elaborated upon my infatuation at awkward length. I twittered more that a caged bird released to daylight for the first time. I unwrinkled the most recent sweetnote from my faded jeans pocket. Going over every syllable as if it was manna from an angel.

"I wish that I had a picture of Michelle. These letters are just not enough. "whined a lovesick schoolboy.

My mind rocketted forward with assumption "Did you fall in love in France, Miss MacDonald?"

I swore a cloud smudged charcoal across the heavens. As a quivering lower lip rippled across her ghost pale faceless answer. I had signed my death warrant to that conversation. And maybe our friendship.

Miss MacDonald drew me into her bosum. After a tearful hug she pressed the locket into my palm. Opening the fragile clasp gingerly revealed a cheery infant. Of no outstanding features except for mild resemblence to Miss MacDonald. She whispered "Say hello to Michelle. . . "

And everything fell into place with more questions that I would never ask.

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