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How’s Bayou? Ghosts of classrooms past


The author (top right) and Little Ricky (bottom left) in second grade

The author (top right) and Little Ricky (bottom left) in second grade

It’s not that I’m so good. I just know that eventually I’d get caught.

The past can get you in hot water, as actor Owen Wilson found out when paraphrasing William Faulkner in the 2012 film, Midnight in Paris. After a night in which he time travels back to the early 20th century, he exclaims, “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.”

Some folks in the Delta apparently don’t consider imitation a form of flattery, sincere or otherwise: Faulkner Literary Rights LLC promptly filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the producer, Sony Picture Classics.

Just a year after graduation, one of my college roommates returned to campus and found “a graveyard of unfulfilled ambitions.” He quickly got out of town. Too many ghosts.

Nineteen years later, Millie and I returned for my twentieth reunion, eager to see old friends, none of whom materialized. In the total absence of ghosts past, present or future, we sat alone at a table for twelve, on the perimeter of the action in the huge dinner tent.

Soon, solicitous fellow graduates approached in disjointed succession: “I say, are you using that extra bottle of wine?” “Is anyone using these these chairs.” “I see you’ve got an extra crab-claw cracker, old boy. Mind if we snatch it?”

Piece by piece, all appurtenances were snared by others, as we sat alone and bereft, a bare white table cloth our only companion.

We booked an early flight home the next morning.

Primary and graduate schools stirred other ghosts into life.

Several years ago, chatting with a tall, distinguished guest in Madewood’s library before dinner, I mentioned I’d been a K-12er at an Episcopal day school in New Orleans.

He began to recall vague memories of the two years his family had lived in New Orleans when he was seven or eight years old. He’d attended a church school on Metairie Road.

My mind flipped to the names on the guest register that night.

“You’re not little Ricky Bastien, are you?” I asked in disbelief.

Yes, the basketball-star-sized gentleman was the kid who seemed so much smaller than me in the group photo of Mrs. Bradbury’s second-grade class, taken in front of the gas floor heater that would erupt in flames two years later when another classmate tipped a bottle of turpentine into the grate, burning down the entire school.

But did The Ghost of Ricky Past remember the fistful of chocolate chip cookies I’d stuffed into my mouth while Mrs. Bradbury wasn’t looking?

Like Poe’s raven, he said nothing.

And just last week, a Canadian guest revealed he’d been at Merton College, Oxford when I was just blocks away at New (at least in 1379) College. I hauled out the gown we all had to wear to lectures and tutorials and paraded around in it, dispensing coffee and brandy in the parlor.

The ghost of languid after-dinner evenings in the college’s senior common room, where, on one occasion, to the delight and amazement of assembled professors, Millie had expertly dissected and consumed a slice of fresh pineapple, swept over me.

Thank God, we’d performed so well that evening, with no disgrace to haunt me in 2013.

The guest and I traded storied into the night. J.R.R. Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame, was a Fellow at Merton. His son, Christopher, was, for a short time, my Old English tutor at New College, where he’d get down on all fours and bark like a dog to illustrate what Beowulf must have gone through.

A dog? Miss Clio rolled over, looked interested for a moment, then curled back up on the floor.
I was just glad that no one had any tales to tell of me. The guest and I had never crossed paths at Oxford. And Clio remained silent.


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