The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Leonard Mendelsohn 1937-2007

There was some stuff I'd heard before, but that was mostly my fault for taking so many courses with the man. I didn’t realize at the time, that Leonard Mendelsohn, as with most professors, must have had one good intro, one good set of anecdotes that he used in all of his courses. You wouldn’t expect a teacher to write fresh intro material every semester. This isn’t comedy, right? My mind would drift, never too far, through his mentions of medieval bear-bating, the dying Shakers, or his son David, the highly ranked wrestler. I’d check on his skull cap to pass the time, thinking this may be the day it finally slides off the back of his head… thinking, some double-sided tape would keep it from traveling.

He read Don Quixote to his sons when they were young. The smallest, the least able to sit still, would ask too many questions, interrupting the story, and David, I think it was, would tell him to show a little patience… any questions would answer themselves further along in the story. I tell my children the same thing nowadays, the look of pride on Mendelsohn’s face my assurance I’m doing the right thing.

I was a bit pissed. This was a nighttime course and I hadn’t had any supper. There was also an idiot sitting up front who’d kept us off topic all semester (you know who you are). We were at the end, and Mendelsohn has asked if there were any questions. I was pissed, mind you, so I was certain to make a fool of myself.

“Yes,” I said. “I have a question.” My mind was racing back through the whole semester to that first day when we'd received a photocopy of an essay by George Santayana. Something to do with Comedy. I didn’t quite get it at the time, but neither did most of the group. Mendelsohn wanted to make sure from the get go that we wouldn’t be thinking this was a course on delivering the shtick. “You said we’d come to understand what Comedy was all about by the end of the semester. So what’s it about?” Oy!

Off topic again; he’d told us that it was tough dealing with the notion that he’d never again get the chance to read Chaucer, or Don Quixote. There just wouldn’t be enough time. I still think about that, wondering if what he’d really meant was that these works are read for the first time only once in a lifetime.

Don’t know what else to say, except that I feel privileged to have found Leonard Mendelsohn at Concordia University. Actually, doesn't really feel like anyone's gone and left the building. I think back on my university days, and he's right there.


Blogger tamara said...

Sound like a great teacher. Lovely tribute.

When I heard my favourite instructor, whom we dubbed Rev Jim, passed I was heartbroken. Apparently hundreds of his former students went to his funeral; had I known about it, I would have gone too.

The teachers who make a difference truly are rare.

Thu Jul 26, 11:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

So, did he answer your question, Tony? (And good for you for asking!)

Thu Jul 26, 08:30:00 pm GMT-4  
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Wed Jul 31, 05:34:00 am GMT-4  

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