Saturday, August 23, 2008

Miss Lynn The English tutor.

Miss Lynn

The English tutor

Hagai Cohen

Israel Gurion today is a famous actor, a good comedian and a fine musician. However, sixty years ago he was just another boy in my class.

None of us took 'English' seriously. A year earlier, the British mandate over Palestine had ended. The trend was to hate anything British.

Unfortunately, English, a mandatory second language, was essential for admission to high school.

Both Israel and I were weak and needed a boost. Our parents decided to take action and hired us a tutor.

Miss Lynn was selected because she was the cheapest tutor in town. In addition, she took us both together, making her offer a real bargain.

Miss Lynn’s experience in teaching was equal to my experience in midwifery. My father told me she was proficient in three languages, German, English and Hebrew, and assured me she was a reputable teacher.

The fact was, her thick German accent made all the languages she spoke sound the same. We guessed she spoke Hebrew only when she screamed at us, "Don't you understand Hebrew?"

Miss Lynn sublet a room in a big apartment from another German family. The gloomy house and the dark heavy furniture were not too inviting.

The family with whom Miss Lynn lived were very punctilious and needed strict order in their lives. Their daily activities were timed with precision and could not be altered under any circumstances. The doorbell could not be rung during breakfast, during ten o’clock coffee, during lunch, during sllaff stunde, during five o’clock tea, during supper, and after 9.30 P.M when the family retired for the night. As the activities overlapped each other there was no time for the bell to be used.

To avoid any chance of a mistake, Miss Lynn taught us the pre-lesson procedures.
She stood us on the sidewalk outside the house and said:

”Six minutes exactly before the beginning of your lesson, one of you stands precisely at this very spot on the sidewalk." She pointed at our feet.
"When ready," she continued,
"You look towards my window and call, ONLY ONCE, 'Miss Lynn.'

After calling, you wait until my face appears in the window. It will take two and a half minutes.

After I see you, you go to the door and wait. You shall not use the doorbell. I will show you in and take you to the mudroom. You will remove your shoes and put on the slippers I have made for you. You will follow me to my room. We will then start the lesson.

You must never call 'Miss Lynn' more than six minutes before the lesson. Both of you must be standing before you call me. You must change your socks before you come." She finally took a breath. "Now, repeat what I told you."

I was the first to rehearse the procedure. She told us she would tolerate no mistakes. "Nothing is to go wrong, you understand!"

I went over the check-list without any mistakes. I was very proud of myself.
During my recital, I noticed an impish smile on Israel’s face. I had a sense of imminent disaster.

With a straight and innocent face, Israel could not find the right spot to stand. He pretended to be confused. He mixed up the six minutes waiting period with the two and a half it would take for Miss Lynn's face to appear in the window.

He said we must bring clean socks and change them under the supervision of Miss Lynn. "To make sure we don't cheat you," he added.

Miss Lynn turned red with anger, but Israel continued: "Don't worry, we will keep the stinky socks in our pockets."

At that moment, I hoped Miss Lynn would say, "Go home and never return." She did not. Instead, pointing at me, she said, ”As long as one of you knows exactly what to do, that's ok."
Than she stuck her finger in my chest and said, "You are in charge; you will watch him and make sure he does not make mistakes. Nothing must go wrong. Do you understand?”

On our way home, the uncontrollable laughter emerged. We imitated Miss Lynn’s accent. We made up clumsy and complicated sentences, practicing her speech patterns and language. Miss Lynn promised to be a source of great comedy and we could not wait to see more of her.

Our first session with Miss Lynn was scheduled for Monday at three o’clock. "It is the best time of the day,” she said, “after 'sllaff stunde' and before 'hoch kaffe,' while the maid is setting the table.”

At exactly seven minutes to three, we stood at the right spot on the sidewalk, in front of Miss Lynn’s second floor window. Israel had insisted we be punctual. “A good show," he said, “Is the one when the curtain rises exactly on time."
All the way to Miss Lynn’s house, we practised the password. The plan was to call her simultaneously in two voices. I was to do soprano and Israel the baritone, of course with rhythm and melody: ME-EE-EE-EE-EE-S LE-EE-EE-EE-EE-EN.

Israel raised his hands and gave the signal to start. I realised I was singing solo. Without telling me, Israel had planned to improvise. As I came to the end of 'MEEEEES,' a high pitched yell, "FRAULINE LYNN!" came out of his throat, sounding like a chicken squawking in distress.

It took Miss Lynn far less than the agreed two and half minutes to show her face in the window. She waved her hands as if she were drowning in a lake. Although she was completely silent, we could tell what she meant. It was either, ”Go home and never come back,” or "Come upstairs to be killed." I had the definite feeling I was about to meet the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel.

A furious Miss Lynn let us in. While it was a unique experience to hear Miss Lynn whispering her admonitions, we could not understand a single word.

In her room, Israel and I started to argue which of us was responsible for calling Miss Lynn.

Was it I, who was in charge, or Israel, who was standing at the specified spot?
We went on and on until we finally blamed her for not being more specific. We kept arguing, repeating the same stupid opinions.

“OK," said Israel, "Next time I will be in charge and everything will go smoothly.“
I replied, “How can you take charge? You failed Miss Lynn's test. I may agree to share responsibility with you, but only after you retake the test."

Suddenly we heard the cry of 'Miss Lynn' from the street.
Miss Lynn rose as if she were hypnotized. She tiptoed to the corner of the room to fetch a stool. She walked quietly with the stool to the window and placed it gently on the wooden floor. She then went to a chest of drawers at the other side of the room, opened the top drawer and removed a folded rug, which she adjusted on the stool. Miss Lynn then strapped the curtain to the right and then repeated the procedure with the left curtain. When secured, she moved to the centre of the window, removed her slippers and placed them neatly next to the stool. Miss Lynn picked up the folded rug and climbed on to the stool. She spread the rug on top of the broad windowsill. Everything was now ready.

Miss Lynn, with a lot of huffing and puffing, pulled herself up to be able to peer down from the window.

Whilst enthralled in Miss Lynn's robotic motions I turned for a quick glance at Israel, who was imitating Miss Lynn's movements.

When we looked again towards the window, instead of Miss Lynn, we saw a huge flower with two pink pistils protruding through the white petals.

The humongous flower was nothing but Miss Lynn’s bottom covered in many layers of starched white muslin, with two pink legs sticking out through them.

Unfortunately, the conversation through the window ended too soon and we were left with many unexplored mysteries of the uncovered bottom.

Two days later we arrived on time for our next session with Miss Lynn. We used the password exactly as instructed, had on fresh socks and had done all that was required of us. Miss Lynn was pleased.

At precisely thirty seconds past three o’clock, just as we were sitting down at the table and Miss Lynn was opening a textbook to start her dictation, a call from the street summoned “Miss Lynn” to the window.

An unauthorised person was using the password illegally. We let Miss Lynn go through all the steps of the check-list.

After all her efforts, there was nobody on the street. Miss Lynn reversed the procedure, folded the rug stowed it in the chest of drawer returned the stool and came back to the table.

As she took her seat, a second call beckoned 'Miss Lynn' to her window.
We had calculated the time of a full Miss Lynn procedure was six minutes. Our plan was to make Miss Lynn climb the window six consecutive times during our session.

It did not work out as planned, for after the third call she soundly abused us and chased us out of her room. She never ever sent a bill.

We had enjoyed watching Miss Lynn climb up to her window and were sorry it was over.
We did not learn much English but definitely learned a lot about eighteenth century ladies’ undergarments.

To commemorate the Miss Lynn episode we wrote, ”The Ballad of Miss Lynn.” Israel composed the music and I the lyrics. It was also my first glimpse of Israel's talents as a musician and comedian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Were you really in the same class with Gurion?
nice entertaining story....
Keep the good work on