The 70s certainly weren’t ALL bad. R.I.P. Lindsey Cullen.

high school years

Yesterday I learned of the death, on New Year’s Eve, of one of my favourite high school teachers. A reporter from The Gleaner, the local small-town newspaper, contacted me when she saw that I had written a letter which mentioned Lindsey Cullen a while back.

I was a student of his from approximately 1972 to 1977. After being
recruited into the CVR choir by Mrs. Hooper, immediately upon entering
Grade 7, it was not long before I was able to express interest in the
school band.

I had piano experience but did not have a band instrument in mind when
I started. I also explained to Mr. Cullen that, being left-handed, I
might have difficulty with some of the instruments. His solution was
a great one, pulling out a trombone and showing me how the slide can
swing under the main part from the right side to the left and be
secured into place. Problem solved!

Eager to try something new in later years I played the tuba. This was not the huge tuba which literally wraps around your body (that would come later) but one which sat in my lap. I loved the tuba! The A&W “Root Bear” got lots of free advertising on the bus home some days. To this day I can pick out the bass line in just about any music I hear and it led me to singing bass for a number of years in choirs as an adult.

The much larger tuba, or sousaphone, came into play during
extra-curricular activities with Lindsay as I joined the Ormstown
band. This was a great experience as I met youth and adults enjoying
music together be it at the Ormstown Fair parade or at international
parades in Rouse’s Point, N.Y. and other border communities.

Finally, I was trained on the baritone saxophone – my first experience
with a reed instrument but with that familiar bass/baritone line I
enjoyed so much.

Mr. Cullen’s appreciation of me, though never in doubt, was confirmed
in a very meaningful way when the Music Prize was one of my awards at
CVR’s Graduation of 1977.

His passing leaves a rich, wholesome musical legacy in the Chateauguay Valley.


What makes a good teacher?

Another victim of my elementary school teacher-as-nemesis, C.G., has been in contact with me and I can’t describe the sense of validation I feel. It’s like having a friend in my corner, even if we were years apart. (I am also hoping he can jog a few memories about some of the other sorts of sadistic methods of child development that C.G. employed. One came to mind as I was expressing that – he would hit me, and others I’m sure, on the head with the backs of chalkboard erasers.)

I spent a bit of time on this in therapy today, trying to break through to some of the emotions this monster both evoked and stifled in me. It seems to me that so much of my life which followed was influenced by a fear he instilled.

Having said that I was blessed to have other good teachers, both in Mr. G’s school (Mrs. McClintock, Mrs. Duckworth) and when I went on to Chateauguay Valley Regional High School.

Mrs. Erskine taught English in my first year of secondary school and really nurtured my joy of writing. (I even won a two dollar bill for a story I wrote!) She also called me Ken, not Kenneth, so a shorter version/variation has been my preference ever since.

A memorable French teacher, despite his English name, was Mr. Dawson – memorable because he was much more interested in us learning conversational French than being tied to text-books from Paris (or even Montreal). What little ease I have with the language now I still credit to him.

The late Bob Walker, who directed me and a cast of 12-16 year olds in a production of “Oliver!”, gave me an appreciation for some of the classics and was instrumental in a school trip to London which I was part of but, due to his accidental death the previous Christmas, he was unable to see it to its conclusion.

Lindsay Cullen taught me that there’s more to music than a piano (Mom’s niche) and ably coached me as I learned trombone, tuba and baritone sax in successive years (and recruited me for the town band each summer).

History, another passion of mine (hence my interest in politics), was brought to life by a teacher named Harley Bye (and Mrs. Blake before him). They were great for telling us stories of our local history, of which there were plenty, from the abundance of settlers from the southern colonies (now the U.S.A.) loyal to the Crown, to nearby battles in the War of 1812. They also managed to corral our adolescent (read hyper) bodies into a bus more than once for a trip to our nation’s capital, Ottawa.

It was another English teacher in my senior year, Vernon Pope, who encouraged me to pursue journalism. He was former Editor of The International Herald-Tribune and this quiet-spoken (nearly inaudible) man groomed some of my writing abilities.

So, gratefully, my entire education experience was not a loss and I had teachers in elementary school who eclipsed C.G., but I think he made it very difficult for me to want to learn. All I can do about it now is, figuratively speaking, piss on his grave – but piss I do and, if my therapist can help me unlock my emotions better, I may do other things to just be authentic with my feelings and stop censoring them through this sieve of fear that I use. Actually that’s being generous because I am not always aware of my filtering; often not even connecting my thoughts with my feelings.