Post 237
To Gertrude Catherine Bohan

Speaking of English: Memories of L.A.

I used to see Monsignor Fee Otterson often because he celebrated daily Mass quite regularly at the chapel at Providence Centre. After saying Mass, he’d go to the cafeteria for refreshments and a bite to eat.

He passed away in 2012 and there’s a school named after him.

All that time, however, I didn’t know that I knew his sister better than I knew him.

Just this afternoon, I decided to look online to see what I could find out about “Mrs. Bohan,” an English teacher I had in junior high, because I had fond memories of her. She taught “L.A.” (Language Arts) at a school we called J.J.

I’m sad to see that she passed away on September 15, 2014. Only now I learn that her first name was Gertrude.

I liked her. She taught English in an old-fashioned way, with a lot of emphasis on grammar. I believe that she understood grammar in a way that few people did, even in the early 80s. Nowadays, of course, it is understood even less.

She wore her long graying hair in a bun. I remember looking at her dresses, which were all the same style. I wondered to myself if she sewed them herself. She seemed the thrifty no-nonsense sort who might do something like that.

She gave a lot of tests, is what I remember. She would ask us to use all kinds of words in different ways. I couldn’t believe my eyes because one time she asked us to use the word “mathematics” as a proper noun. I dutifully wrote a sentence about the girl named Mathematics.

There were bonus questions and so I sometimes got more than 100%. Mr. Yaculuk would probably have objected to such a concept, but he was down the hall teaching math, so he didn’t interfere with our grammar fun. Yeah, I liked her and I think she liked me.

Despite being the sentimental sort, I never was the type of student to return to former schools once I had left them. I didn’t return to say ‘hello’ to former teachers. I didn’t expect to be remembered or treated like a friend; I have generally felt that there would be little to say. For me, it wasn’t like that story told by teachers everywhere in which the student comes back to say that he became the person that he became all because of the amazing teacher who saw his potential. I saw them as people who had more influence upon my life than I wanted them to have, and I did not (and do not) view any individual teacher or professor as having shaped or influenced me in any significant way. If anything, earning the marks that I did was about hard work and determination, in the face of more than a little discrimination. For the most part, I have been glad to move on from the various educational experiences I have endured.

Nevertheless, there have been a few teachers along the way who gained my respect. I was impressed with my first grade teacher, for example, and when I look back, I can see that my assessment wasn’t based on my inexperience at judging such things. Her methods were thorough and effective.

As for Mrs. Bohan, I found her classes sensible and interesting. She knew her way around English and she did it with class.

It’s funny what you remember about a person. It’s funny what others remember about you. The tiniest of details and the shortest of incidents can stick like glue in this quirky thing we call our memory.

I remember having difficulty remembering her name. Was it Mrs. Hoban or Mrs. Bohan?

One time she was in the middle of explaining something and she held up her hand, counting off the various whatevers. Finally, she was left with her middle finger (she had long fingers) sticking straight up as she continued to talk.

It was junior high, and so of course the class started to giggle and soon enough she looked at her hand, and realized what she was doing.

That was priceless.

She couldn’t believe it: “Oh my, oh my! I’ve never done that in my whole life! Oh my!” She was obviously mortified, but looking back, I think she had enough of a sense of humour to be amused despite herself.

It was very funny and of course nobody in the class doubted her. She was precisely the type of person who really never would tell someone to “fuck off” either verbally or non-verbally. (How’s that for a eulogy? It’s a little long for an epitaph I suppose but it does have a ring to it — “Here Lieth Frank, Never The Type To Tell Someone to Fuck Off.”)

So anyway, I guess that was indeed a first, and I am proud to say that I was there.

A classic junior high school moment.

And that is not a complete sentence.

And that sentence begins with “and,” as does this one.

Oh man. I miss her now and if I could have met with her before she died, I would have enjoyed reminding her of that story, and if she remembered me, I would have enjoyed telling her about my own life story — the story so far, that is.

Oh well. I guess she knows everything now, and is a faithful blog reader. She’s hanging out with her husband and Chesterton and Prince and Princess Diana and all the dogs waiting to be rejoined by their masters, including Pablo and Daisy and Gunther and Steffi.

Here’s one very short version of Gertrude’s story. (Imagine your life one day being summarized into 165 words.)

BOHAN, Gertrude Catherine
(nee: Otterson)
October 25, 1928 – September 15, 2014

Mrs. Gertrude Bohan died at the age of 85. Mourning her loss and celebrating her life, are her seven children, Paddy (Megan), Michael, Maureen (Tim) Toth, Sean, Kevin (Tanys), Tiernan (Helen), and Seamus (Shelley); 15 grandchildren, Brendan, Kaitlan, Meghan, Aidan, Tara, Erin, Conal, Ashley, Kayleigh, Reilly, Danielle, Liam, Lauren, Ella, and Moira; her sister Anne Otterson of Toronto; numerous family and friends.
She was predeceased by her husband Joseph Bohan; parents Margaret and Edward Otterson; sister Consuella Ross, and brother Monsignor Fee Otterson.
Gertrude taught mostly English at junior and senior high levels with the Edmonton Catholic School Board for over 25 years. Her love of children extended from her own children to her classroom children. Gertrude adapted her love of English and language into a mild obsession with cross- word puzzles, which she completed in pen, and into becoming an almost unbeatable Scrabble player. Gertrude was also an avid reader and patronized live theatre for many years.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Arthritis Society, 10109 – 106 St NW, Edmonton, AB, T5J 3L7 or to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 10985 – 124 St. NW, Edmonton, AB, T5M 0H9.
Prayers will be held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 9830 – 148 Street, Edmonton on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Reverend Paul Kavanagh will celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial on Friday, September 19, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist. Interment at Holy Cross Cemetery, 14611 Mark Messier Trail, Edmonton.
The family thanks the Emergency Service Team, Fire and Rescue, the staff at the U of A Hospital Emergency Department, the 5th Floor Cardiology Unit, and Southwest Homecare for the care and compassion shown to the family and to Mom.
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