I’ll bet everyone can guess what my favourite subject was in school…
Spoiler if you’re new here: The answer is Art.
But a close second, and also one of my best subjects, was English. (I was going to say something like, “If you read this blog, maybe you’re not surprised after all”, buuuuut there was way too much room in that morsel of narcissism to blow up in my face, and truthfully, the fact is that I’m not a writer — I just pretend to be one on the internet a few times per month.)
So it shouldn’t come as a shock that my two favourite teachers — not just from high school, but in my entire 14 years of academic drudgery — were ones who taught me English.
I had Ms. Bailey for English in Grade 9, then again in Grade 12 for Writer’s Craft English: This was an elective creative writing course separate from the mandatory general English class. Side note: When I was the sole member of the Journalism club in 2003/04, much to my delight, Ms. Bailey was also the teacher I got to work with for that.
Ms. Wood was a teacher I also had more than once: First for Grade 10 English, and then again for Grade 12. And like Ms. Bailey, I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher to close out my high school experience with.
So when my friend Krystal messaged me last week to ask if she could call me… and then told me that Ms. Wood had passed away…
What words are there to even describe grief sometimes?
I live in a small town. The same small town I grew up in. The same small town where I went to school. The same small town where I believe Ms. Wood was still teaching at my high school. It’s been 16 years since I graduated, and in those 16 years, I saw Ms. Wood walking down the street once.
You’d think surely in a community of about 5000 people, you’d run into some you know fairly often, but that’s just not the case. And I can’t tell you how many times I would go grocery shopping and wish that I’d run into Ms. Wood, or Ms. Bailey, so I could say hi.
Because good teachers are hard to find. Exceptional people even harder. You don’t forget about them, no matter how long it’s been.
For years, I’ve wondered what Ms. Wood would think of what I write for this blog. How I write. Or if she would even remember me.
And as I sat there talking to Krystal, choking back tears, all I could think about was the last thing Ms. Wood wrote to me on the back of my Dracula essay (which I’ve talked about before):
“Do let me know what you allow to happen to you.”
I didn’t have to go dig the essay off the shelf and read it to get the wording correct. I remembered what it said.
And all these years I’ve wanted to do just that. And now will never get to. And honestly? It really SUCKS.
When her obituary finally went up online, it just made it hurt even more. For an exceptional teacher who was loved by her students, and who worked here for many, MANY years, I was terribly disappointed to see such a short, cold, and impersonal write-up. And a picture that looked like they took it off a driver’s license or health card, I mean… really? That’s it? :(
And so today, I’m going to take the parting advice she gave me 16 years ago — also in her comments on my essay.
“Keep being as blunt and bold as you are.”
Luckily, Ms. Wood, some things don’t change. I like to think that I’ve smoothed a few of my more abrasive edges as I’ve aged, but deep down, I’m still the same girl you said that to so many years ago.
Let me introduce you to the Ms. Linda Wood I knew.
Ms. Wood was a quiet and shy woman, and not tall in stature. But once you got to know her a little bit, she had an eclectic streak ten miles long, and a personality that was both atypical and magnetic. She had some unusual interests to say the least, and her tastes definitely leaned toward the weird, quirky, macabre and spooky…
We got along famously!
First and foremost, she LOVED rabbits. Oh, how she loved her rabbits. She kept pet rabbits. She collected rabbit-themed “stuff”. Everyone knew that she was low-key obsessed, and she wasn’t the least bit ashamed of it.
Of all the teachers in the school, Ms. Wood’s desk had the most “stuff” on it. And it was fun stuff. I still remember that she had two candy suckers with bugs suspended inside them. They were gross, but quite a conversation piece!
It was for her class in Grade 12 that I was given the, um, unusual assignment, “Create a twisted children’s book”… and this was the 13-page masterpiece that I produced (yes, this was both written and illustrated by me):
We did a lot of story writing in both Grade 10 and 12, and Ms. Wood loved to format story prompts that looked very similar to the “name generator” type memes you see online today. You know the ones I mean: “What’s Your Canadian Name?”, and you pick your birthday and the first letter of your name, etc.
I was convinced that each time she put the “vampire” option in there… it was just for me. And she never once crabbed when I just so happened to “choose” it for the 47th time. “Wha — I got the vampire again??! Well, I do declare! What a coincidence!” Yeah, okay.
But I think my favourite memory with Ms. Wood was the day I smuggled a full-size sharpened wooden stake and mallet into the school, and asked her to do the honour of “killing” Count Dracula during a presentation.
It was a Count Dracula doll, of course. A doll I actually made… for another class. First semester of Grade 12 (September 2003 to January 2004) I had English (with Ms. Wood), Art, Fashion and Design, and a spare (originally my spare was the newly offered Yearbook class, but immediately I realized I should have taken advantage of the spare I was offered instead, and dropped it). Fashion and Design was just a fancy way of saying “Sewing Class”, and since I have always been about efficiency, when I saw an opportunity to kill two bats with one silver bullet… I took it.
Instead of a final exam for that Grade 12 English class, we had the ISP: Independent Study Project, and it was worth a whopping 30% of our final mark. If you’ve read the aforementioned blog post, “The Mystery of Dracula’s Lost Memoriam“, then you already know that for my ISP, I simply found an academic way of fangirling my heart out over one of my favourite subjects (both then and now), Dracula.
The project [Dracula: The Man, the Myth, the Legend] was a 14-page delve into everything “vampire”. From the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, to Christopher Lee’s role as a ’60s sex symbol, I tried to cover it all. And the point I set out to prove? [because I needed one]:
“The obsession with Dracula exists because it fulfills the desire in people either to dominate or be dominated.
The project was two-fold: There was the written essay, as well as an oral presentation.
Guys, picture me, I’m 17 years old, and I’ve completely transformed Ms. Wood’s desk into a Dracula shrine: Photos of the Count, vampire books and props and figures, rubber bats… I mean, the whole Plan 9 yards! (Virtual high-five to anyone who gets that reference.)
I’ve written up a 20-minute speech (ahem, yes, it was longer than that, I admit it) to present to the class which complements my written essay; I’ve created a 20-question vampire quiz that I know literally NO ONE other than Ms. Wood will come even close to passing. And… I’ve spent a couple of hours with TWO VCRs hooked up to my television at home, so that I can record a mixed tape of relevant clips from different Dracula movies — including the BEST bat scene in any movie, ever: Hammer’s blood-vomiting bat from Scars of Dracula.
So all this was cool, but my presentation needed more; some drama, some excitement! What it needed was a real live, honest to goodness VAMPIRE STAKING.
(You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Lol.)
Enter, my homemade Christopher Lee Dracula doll, which I made in my Fashion and Design class, and basically got twice the marks for because I used it in two different classes. (Heehee hee, sneaky)
You will never know the level of pride and accomplishment associated with the doll — even to this day. He is a masterpiece, and no one can tell me otherwise.
But you see, he was more than just a plush Dracula. He had a surprise inside…
A balloon filled with water and fake blood (okay, I just added some red food colouring to the water — it was January, not a lot of Halloween blood floating around). And the wooden stake I brought was sharp enough to pierce it — I made sure of it.
Again, you think I’m joking, but honest to God, this is the kind of crazy s*** I was pulling in high school at age 17! I mean, I don’t know what passes for “normal” teenage behaviour, but this was totally normal for me!
The staking was my pièce de résistance; my big finale to close out the presentation. I wanted the bloody ending to be a surprise, but the stake tip had to be in JUST the right spot (the hole I left in the doll’s fabric), and I GROSSLY overestimated how incredible this was going to be. I wanted the desks moved back. I laid down an old sheet — because whether 7, 17 or 33, I’m always concerned with not making a mess. I thought there would be massive red spattering and oozing and pooling. It —
*sighs* It was very anticlimactic. I don’t know what the hell kind of industrial rubber they were making balloons out of (I swear, it worked at home!), or how the cheap cotton fabric of my doll was so absorbent, but honestly, the only thing impressive about this moment in time was the fact that Ms. Wood seemed to really be enjoying herself hammering away on this giant stake sticking into the chest of a plush doll.
I was holding the stake — I know how much fun she was having. Lol.
There was SOME blood all right, it was just less dramatic than I envisioned. But Ms. Wood had a good time, and she was laughing, and to tell you the truth, this is probably my favourite high school memory, period. It was SO ridiculous, but if anyone knows me in person, this was a VERY Wendy thing to have done. And I regret nothing.
Well, maybe if I had it to do over, I would make sure there was more blood…
The very first time I saw Bela Lugosi’s final film, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, it was courtesy of Ms. Wood, who brought in her VHS copy of it for me to borrow, saying that I simply had to watch it.
She also lent me her classroom CD player one time. Yes, I’m old enough that in Grade 12, I still didn’t have a CD player. Though in all fairness, I was probably the only person in the school still clinging on for dear life to my dad’s original Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet” cassette tape. And blasting it in my Walkman.
In fact, I liked her player so much that I asked her where she got it, and then made a beeline for the store to see if I could get the same one. They were sold out, of course, but the one I DID end up getting was very similar to hers. And it’s still sitting in my studio to this day.
Another thing that makes me think of Ms. Wood every single time I walk into the studio? This wonderful little pulp illustration magnet that she surprised me with one time. She said she saw it at a sale and knew that I would love it, so she got it for me.
16 years is a long time, and most of my other high school memories are now filed away collecting dust at the very back of my memory filing cabinet. But even if a lot of the details are now hazy, there’s always one thing that you remember about someone who made an impact — good or bad — on your life. You remember how they made you feel.
And Ms. Wood made me feel both normal and special at the same time. She enjoyed SO many of the old, quirky thing that I did — things that were completely unknown to my friends and classmates. So being around her, talking to her, made me feel like MY tastes were normal for a change.
But she also encouraged me to write. And be creative. And be myself, no matter what other people might think. When I graduated, I won the May Ball Scholarship-Frances Ball Memorial award — it went to the student with the highest mark in Grade 12 English (at the University level, not College — you could take either course). Ms. Wood probably taught six different Grade 12U English classes that 2003-04 year… and I won the award.
Also pretty sure I got the highest mark on my ISP study.
Like I said, she made me feel special, and that made me want to work hard.
While I didn’t take all of the advice that she gave me (we had a private conversation one day near the end of the semester where she encouraged me to go to university and experience that page of life, as well as potentially consider a more lucrative career, like teaching rather than art), I hope that if she could see what I’ve become that she wouldn’t be disappointed. I don’t think she would be, but you never know. What I do know is that she would appreciate the fact that I’m very happy with what my life has become, and what I get to do. It makes me happy and I’m grateful every single day. I have no regrets about my life or the choices I did (or didn’t) make.
And she is in part to thank for that. Just one of many moving parts that helped to mold me into the person I am today.
Fangs for the memories, Ms. Wood. (Trust me, guys, she would appreciate all the stupid puns and inside jokes I’ve littered this post with.)
I will remember you in my prayers forever and always, and hope that someday we’ll meet again to talk about vampires, rabbits and high school; perhaps even contemplate once more how anyone with the last name “Balls” could be cruel enough to name their child “Harry”…
Until then, hail, but not farewell. ♥