On Making a Very Common Discovery

She puzzled me this morning, that chubby, fair-haired little freshman, there at the first meeting of my section of English 1: who was she, and where had I seen that face before? Ordinarily I find it easy to recognize in class later editions of familiar faces; but here was a problem that baffled me. After the class was dismissed, she came to my desk with a ‘Please, sir, my mother wished to be remembered to you; she was in your first class here at the University; her name used to be Miss C-’. Then it came in a flash that I was now an intellectual grandparent.

This evening I have been reviewing the steps in my pedagogical senescence and have been recalling those first years as a teacher, when I knew by their nicknames every member of the athletic teams, and when no mass meeting was complete without one of my ‘peppy’ talks, though at that time they had another name for ‘pep.’ In those days I regarded the loss of a crucial game with a sickening of heart similar to that with which, years later, I read of the last great April drive of the Teutons toward Paris; and here the other day I flunked without a pang one of our star athletes when his services were sorely needed by the team. During the earliest years of this century I spent my afternoon hours on the tennis-court, or on the rings and bars, and finished the vigorous sport by challenging some student friend to a race in the pool. Now, 4 or 5 P.M. finds me cudgeling my dull brain for some clever project in composition that may quicken the sales of my Live Language Lessons, or, perchance, sweating over the task of adjusting a new set of washers on the supposedly automatic pump that supplies the home with soft water.

My first intimation that I had joined the ranks of the ‘ have beens ’ came some fifteen years ago. Back in those neolithic ages of my first two or three years as an instructor, I seldom missed a dance; and there were two or three friendly sororities where I could be quite sure of making a date for the next gathering of the Entre Nous dancingclub. Then I left the University for two years, to work toward my doctorate, and when I returned found the girls I had known as sophomores risen to the rank of seniors. Yes, they would accept my invitation to a dance, but I could see that I was more welcome when some of the older girls appeared at one of the homecoming celebrations. Gradually the lure of the waxed floor and of the ‘ music yearning like a god in pain’ grew less seductive, till, finally, I chanced to watch a fellow instructor, who is built along low, broad, Dutchcolonial lines similar to mine, hopping through the one-step with something of the grace of a disabled gander. That night I buried one of my former selves.

Last year I received another jolt when, as I passed a group of students, I chanced to overhear one of them refer to a certain member of the faculty as ‘ old AB-.’ I gathered that he used the adjective as a term neither of praise nor of reproach, but simply as an expression of an obvious physical fact. To him the generous patches of gray and the stopping shoulders marked my colleague as no longer middle-aged, but old. It happens that A— B— is my senior by some ten years, and I had been thinking of him as a man in his prime; so I wondered, with a start, how my students regarded me; whether behind my back they were speaking of me as ‘ old CD-,’ and whether some of the younger men in my department were speculative as to when I shall drop anchor in Port Carnegie.

Thus through the evening these and a dozen other memories have been flitting through my brain, roused by the arrival of this latest member of my intellectual family. To-night I am convinced that ‘Grow old along with me’ is largely drivel, and I am wondering whether before long I shall be taking a melancholy and very personal interest in ‘The soul’s dark cottage, battered and decayed,’ and all the rest of that bulky anthology of the days that are no more. Perhaps I shall; even now it would not startle me much to find among my Christmas remembrances a framed copy of Ronsard’s lines: —

Le temps s’en va, le temps s’en va, ma dame!
Las! le temps non: mais nous nous en allons.