Bernice and Garry: Glacier Express
It’s October now and what should have become a budding romance has become more like an old-fashioned barnstorming air show. The featured biplane, along with our hearts, soars to the zenith of its vertical capabilities where its engine inexplicably begins to cough and sputter. We gasp in unison when we realize the engine has just died. With our hearts in our throats we gaze at the suspended craft wishing with all our might that the inevitable plunge to a fiery death could somehow be avoided. But down it comes, twisting in vain to catch a miraculous updraft. A spectator calls out hysterically, “My God, I can see the pilot! I see his face.”
In truth, the face of the intrepid pilot is most likely sporting a smirk as he, for the thousandth time reengages the engine and up throttles the plane just in time to escape the clutches of an unforgiving earth and deny death its victory for yet another day. There is a moment of silence as we all check ourselves for unsolicited wetness and then we joyously applaud the audacity of the stunt.
A famous sage once posited that, rather than art imitating life, “Life should imitate art.” I would take that a step further and say, “Life should imitate show business.” That way, like the intrepid pilot who knows he will live to thrill another crowd, I would have a fail safe to keep our budding romance from crash and burn. True, I had Shakespeare in my back pocket and momentum on my side, but I still needed a venue to ply my romantic whiles.
Enter the greatest invention known to the world of adult education: the time honoured student break. Students need breaks for all sorts of reasons, a smoke, a snack, a rest room, a chance to gossip, to flirt, to share dreams about their futures. And the beauty of it all is that no one purpose is allowed to take precedent over another.
But students are not the only beneficiaries of these breaks in the action. Teachers can also let their hair down, take a stroll, talk more intimately. It was during these free moments that I learned what I really wanted to know about Bernice. For one, she did not have a disingenuous bone in her body. Case in point, her cultural propensities. When it comes to culture, there are two types of people. One is the, “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt,” type. The other is the true lover of the arts. Bernice never claimed to know anything about theatre. She just had a glow about her when she spoke of driving with her girlfriend up to Stratford on Avon in Canada to catch the Shakespeare festival. She seldom dropped a famous name and yet she was a season ticket holder for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. And though she had her favorites, she demonstrated her love of opera by ushering for the Detroit Opera House and the renowned Fisher theatre. To her, the fun was just to be there and be a part of it all.
But although she had me at Stratford on Avon, there was even more to this enigmatic beauty. Next to performing arts, I love competitive sports, especially those involving running. Imagine my delight when Bernice revealed with childlike enthusiasm that when she was a youngster, she was the only girl in the neighbourhood ever invited to play baseball with the boys.
But all of this could have come to naught had Bernice not revealed her most endearing trait: her unabashed straightforwardness. We were walking back into the classroom after one of our longer breaks. I think the students themselves may have called time on this one. I paused to let her precede me through the door when she abruptly turned to me and extended her hand. “Here’s my card. You could call me sometime if you wanted to.”
The phrase, “You could knock me over with a feather,” comes to mind but I had just been hit in the chest with a nine-pound hammer and I was still standing. This wasn’t a business card. This was a ticket to ride the Glacier Express.
Upon offering the card, Bernice did not exactly turn on heel but neither did she wait for a response. Just as well because eloquent I ain’t, not when my whole world has just been knocked cockeyed.