Slush File

Slush File

Roger Moore
2000 3M Teaching Fellow

n my office at the university I keep a folder labelled “Slush File” and into it I put all the complimentary letters and the cards that I receive from students. On Monday mornings, or late on Thursday afternoons, when the workload gets me down and I need a pick-me-up, instead of turning to caffeine, I take out my “Slush File,” extract a letter or card, and read it.

But I have received other things besides letters and cards and they do not always fit into the “Slush File.” On my desk are three apples, as hard as rocks, as wrinkled as walnuts, shrivelled and dehydrated. They were given me, on Valentine’s Day, labelled “For a wonderful teacher!” I know exactly who gave the apples to me and memories of those students thrive and survive on my office desk.

Then there is the painting on my wall. It came from a student who asked if she had to write an essay. And I answered, “No, not necessarily. What do you want to do instead?” “Paint!” she said. And I said, “All right!” And when I saw the painting I said, “Get out of here. Now.” And she did. And now she’s studying architecture. “Painting?” you ask. “Yes,” I say, “a painting!” But take a look around my office: there are no former students’ essays hanging on my walls.

And then there’s that little red teddy bear. When the telephone went, one Sunday night, at 11:00 p.m., a voice at the other end said, “We’ve got one of your students here and she’s asking for you. Will you come?” So I went to the hospital, and sat there all night, holding her hand, and stayed there till 6:oo a.m.; then I went home and showered, and taught at 9:30. But the student lived. And the little red teddy bear still sits on my desk.

And there’s that seashell from Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Ocean, and it bears a student’s name, and an inscription, in tiny lettering. That student gathered the seashell on the beach the first time she went to Mexico, and gave it to me when she came back. And there are two zapatista dolls in their black rebel uniforms with wooden guns and their masks draped over their faces. And there is a little black doll, handmade, wrapped round and round like a little tar baby. And there are photos of the West Indian cricket team on a poster signed by Brian Lara and the rest of the players, brought all the way from a sunny Caribbean island.

But some things are missing. Gone is an onyx tortoise with a mother-of-pearl shell which I gave to a student who was struck by an oncoming car and had to take everything slowly, step by step, for nearly a year. I told her not to give it back, but to pass it on to another person who needed it, and now it’s on its third owner. I follow its progress, and yes, they have all written to me and they have all recovered, progressing slowly, like the tortoise, step by step. And there’s the Diccionario secreta of Camilo Jose Cela which contains the origin and meaning of all the naughty words in Spanish. And it’s signed by a group of students who went to Santander, Spain, and bought it there, and then brought it back, and was that really in 1976? And they brought me bottles of orujo-but the orujo didn’t survive: we had a homecoming party and finished that!

Dominating everything in the office is the statue of Don Quixote de la Mancha, three feet tall, enormous, lance in hand, thirty-five pounds of solid brass, imported from Mexico by a student who took the Don Quixote course with me and went to Mexico for a holiday and saw the statue, bought it, and brought it back. Now the statue has a wooden base, and round the periphery are small gold shields bearing the names of outstanding students, winners of the Miguel de Cervantes-Don Quixote Award, not just for academic achievement, but also for caring and sharing and helping others within the Spanish Section. The Don Quixote Award consists of a small statuette of Don Quixote, brought in from Mexico or Spain annually by another former student. And it comes with a cheque for $2 00 from an anonymous donor who was himself once a student and studied Cervantes and Don Quixote.

And just last week, we were visited in class by the only student from St. Thomas University who has ever won a Rhodes Scholarship. He completed his honours degree in Spanish in our section just two years ago and he dropped in to tell our upper-level classes about his Oxford experiences. Among them was the realization, when he went to Oxford University, on his Rhodes Scholarship, for his Masters, that he was more than competitive with the top international students who had congregated there from all over the world ….

… and what was the question you asked me? I know you wanted me to write something, but I got caught up in my memories and completely forgot.