I was saddened to learn from a disconsolate assembly of sixty-something family and friends in Edinburgh last week, about the recent passing of a former school teacher of mine – 101 years of age no less – one who contentedly endured and defiantly persisted as bright as a button – right up to the critical, but most natural moment of his departure from our fractured planet.
Despite surviving into a state of greatly advanced antiquity, the common belief within the neighborhood of my upbringing, a location where he had long resided, (88 years to be precise) – and until only recently too, (Admitted to a Residential Care Home on the rural outskirts of the Scottish capital city during June last), that an irreplaceable bit of one’s [former] community had finally been chipped away.
My mind this afternoon is therefore awash with ineradicable memories of this noteworthy individual, one who unquestionably savored his prolonged worldly tenancy and hugely fulfilling existence on Mother Earth – and one who doggedly lingered for many decades following retirement – all thanks to a characteristic refusal to let his spirit deteriorate along with his well-aged, corporeal framework.
Long after my scholastic peers and I had departed high school, circa 1965 – and that too of our former mentor’s unparalleled and immensely inspiring tutelage, heterogeneous numbers of his former flock, over ensuing years – were frequently invited to take afternoon tea with both he and his late wife, this at their uncomplicated, furnished tenement apartment – one that was positioned conveniently adjacent to my own family domicile, deep in the west of the city – the soft-furnished, portrait bedecked and welcoming chamber in which we were ‘entertained’ – (feasting-on reservoirs of hot refreshment and toothsome Tiffin) – radiated an alluring, neutral ambiance – and one far removed from the once saturnine, if not Spartan surroundings of educational dissemination that resolutely schooled me – over fifty years ago!
He was one who inexhaustibly maintained an insatiable interest in the evolution of his erstwhile, non-related progeny – be they ‘achievers’, or those who were possibly struggling against the turbulent and unpredictable currents of adult life – it mattered not!.
In addition, he also possessed an incredible propensity to slaughter the overblown arguments of those who did not subscribe to his highly valid and strenuously acute beliefs on education, music, politics, religion and sport. That innate distinction was the cardinal source of the peerless effect he had on each one under his charge.
He never had to bully. One glance from under his eloquent eyebrows was worth more than fifty bellows from more limited natures. Scholars did not fear his wrath, they dreaded his disapproval. His judgement on the priorities of edification was so sound, his authority so effortless, that a shake of his head inflicted an embarrassment from which the only rescue was the expeditious recovery of his approval.
Yet, it was his timbre tones that seduced and beguiled each of his passionate tyro’s, that of which would see him – intermittently – and quite intentionally – exhibit a false, bewildered facial expression in reaction to some problematic interpretations from the classroom floor – this when his tongue was firmly held in cheek – a trifling but highly sophisticated ploy to unreservedly promote student comprehension et al – and unequivocally confirm the painstaking process of implanting subject inculcation collectively – of which we all benefited – no one was ever left behind.
He shall therefore be remembered as an unforgettable and dominant linchpin, – and so similar to a great deal of others of his generation who dwelt within our locality during an era when society was, to a degree, more at peace with itself – ergo; the fifties and sixties essentially – meritorious longevity was bestowed on these ebullient and inimitable elders as a direct result of their insatiable desire to remain as part of the tenement-clustered community of which they too were raised – simple and self-effacing souls who were once positioned at the forefront of the metaphorical ‘coalface’ – but who valiantly evolved as esteemed, emeritus exiles from an earlier and reprehensibly inhumane epoch.
They came to secure this eminent presence within the enclosure of our Caledonian kibbutz, not merely for what they had achieved over the course of their protracted continuance – but for their sheer grit and near audacious aspirations to stay ‘connected’ with everything and everyone within their societal and genealogical niche following retirement – accordingly; a communal habitat which had provocatively prevailed during two world wars, much to the displeasure of both Kaiser and Fuhrer respectively, this double trauma being tragically coupled to the indeterminate dreadfulness of the 1929 depression – and the [worldwide] consequences which would ultimately unfold from the fiscal irresponsibility of Wall Street ‘players’ during that catastrophic hiatus from mortal sanity.
Little wonder therefore that an abundance of senior citizens from my boyhood era were unabashedly cloaked in unambiguous approbation and perpetual affection for their ‘against-all-odds’ survival instincts and resolute robustness – and in the face of expeditious annihilation – that of which is referred to in the ‘Book of Revelations’ as, “Armageddon” – an insufferable status quo that was a long way removed from the political pledges and superficial vows of the UK’s democratically elected and entrusted suzerains – of both the pre and post WW1 era.