So I spoke to this large group of seniors recently in Kitchener, Ontario, the city where I’d spent my university years although when I drove by the school, now named Wilfred Laurier University they still had not erected any sort of commemorative statue or even a plaque on the front lawn with the inscription “Despite the best efforts of our professors and counsellors – some sneak through.” Yeah, even my mom refused to attend my graduation ceremony thinking it was sort of a hoax.
Referencing Margaret And Me, I told them stories about my late, great wee Irish mother like the time I was hunting for an apartment for her in Welland, Ontario and failed to find one with a balcony, her fondest wish. One afternoon we were sitting out back of her brand new eight-storey apartment building having a beer when Margaret, gazing across at the identical apartment complex next door said: “See Bill, that’s what I wanted, an apartment just like that one with the balcony.”
I looked over at the apartment with the so-called balcony, looked at her and then said nothing whatsoever. What my mother mistook for a balcony was a scaffolding unit being used by two window cleaners. The correct term I believe is a “gondola.” And I know, oh yeah I know from really bad experience that as soon as I tell my mother that the balcony is actually a gondola with two men in it … her reaction would go like this.
First, she’d roll her eyes. Then she’d give me that look like I can’t believe you ever got through university. And then, after staring at me for a long time and then focusing on her beloved balcony she would say: “Really Bill, what the hell would a boat with two Italian guys be doing on the side of that building?!?”
So I said: “The minute that apartment comes up for rent, it’s yours. Now how about another beer?”
The Margaret stories were well-received. The hour passed quickly, the applause was genuine and then the host walked me over to the book signing table where a line began to form.
Signing, inscribing, shaking hands, it was all going quite well until I spotted him out of the corner of my eye. ‘The cooler.’ Every book signing comes with a cooler, the person who butts in line to tell you a long and boring story and brings a chill to whatever is otherwise a warm and fun event. The cooler has no intention of buying a book and soon those stuck at the back of the line lose interest as well.
Politely, I put him off as long as I could allowing most people to get their books inscribed. It was just as well there were only a few people nearby when out of the blue he began to speak about anthropologists.
“I think she was having sex with those natives,” he said. “A least that’s what I read.”
“That anthropologist. You know … “
“No the other one.”
“No. The other one.”
“Yeah, her, I read somewhere she was having open sex and all that stuff down there in Samoa.”
In fact I vaguely remember a persistent and unfounded rumour about anthropologist Dian Fossey having “special relations” with her subjects while studying gorillas in Rwanda.
I had heard Jane Goodall speak years ago at the University of Buffalo and just last month on CBC Radio and she is one of the most dignified and dedicated souls the world has known.
There is no doubt that Margaret Mead shocked the 60’s world with her study of early teenage sex in the South Pacific country of Samoa but there was not even a rumour of her participation.
So I’m trying to talk to the last few stragglers in line as the cooler rambles on about the photographs Margaret Mead took of pubescent, mostly naked Samoans.
Although I knew little of her career, I did recall a quote from the great American anthropologist I had used while addressing a banquet for volunteers last year: “Never doubt that small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The cooler was so impressed by my recall that he stopped talking for almost four seconds. He asked me a few more questions about Margaret Mead and when I shrugged them off saying I really did not know, he said: “Are you telling me you wrote the book on … “
And that’s when the penny dropped. He didn’t just obsess on the strange subject of a long-dead anthropologist out of the blue. He sat in the back listening to me speak about Margaret And Me and thought I was delivering a dissertation on the life of Margaret Mead!
I gave him that look, the one I inherited from my mother, the one that says “Seriously, how thick are you? One to ten? I need an answer now.”
Memo to seniors attending education lectures or recreational talks – stay alert, focus on the source of the noise and let’s crank those hearing aids up to ‘high.’ And would it kill you to bring a spare battery?
My mother was a pretty good judge of people but she was no Margaret Mead.
For comments, ideas and
copies of Margaret And Me
go to www.williamthomas.ca