Words Fitly Spoken


apples of goldWhen I was in grade school there was a girl in our class who was on the lower end of the totem pole. She would never be the very last person to be picked when the teacher split us up and had us choose teams, but she would never be above the 3rd to last, either.
She was quiet, a bit dumpy in shape, washed out blonde, freckles, very plain.  Nobody picked on her, but with only one exception (a girl who was really friendly to everybody),  nobody really noticed her or reached out to her, either, to most of the class she was just a nonentity.
At the start of sixth grade the new teacher was calling role- we would learn later he was fluent in German, might have even grown up speaking it, I don’t remember for sure.  He was young, handsome, friendly, very kindly (a nice Lutheran, pastor’s son) and very popular.   He got to one name and said, “Now, here’s a very pretty name, and I am not at all sure I can pronounce it and do it justice, but it’s lovely,” and then he rolled out this lovely combination, it sounded musical and he said it something like this ‘Yo-hawna Clay-menz’ with a touch of accent on the ‘yo’ and the ‘Clay’.
There was a moment of silent puzzlement- we all knew everybody, we’d been in the same grade school for years and there no new kids in the class that year.  Then the giggling started, and the owner of the name quietly corrected him withe correct pronunciation-  plain Johanna Clements (pronounced like Johnna, and Clements like it looks, very plain, no accent, kli-mins.’
I do not know what everybody else thought, including Johanna.  But to me, when he said her name that way, there was a glamour – like casting a secret spell showing her true, glimmering self hidden beneath the surface.  I never thought of her or saw her quite the same way again.  To me, in my mind, she was always ‘Yo-hahna Claymenz’, under a secret enchantment.
That teacher was one of my favourites, and he did many things for us all, but one lesson I learned from him is one he didn’t know he was giving- there is glamour in words.  I had always known they had the power of unmaking, of destruction, and deep pain.  As a voracious reader (it provided welcome escape), I had the elements I needed to understand something of what he had done that day- I just hadn’t put those bits and pieces together.  I had never realized until just that moment that words, the right words, the right rhythm, the right lilt, the right way of saying- these things also gave words the power of making.
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