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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In Memoriam: Mr. Littwin, my Deerfield Academy English teacher

My heart feels a little empty tonight. A great light has gone out. I learned today of the passing of my English professor from Deerfield Academy, Mr Tedman Littwin.

Yet I owe Mr. Littwin so much more than just a mere remembrance as an English teacher. Many of my accomplishments in life are a house built on his foundation. Indeed, his was a towering achievement, taking an ordinary kid from Utica who was clueless and awkward and molding him into a young man ready, hungry for success in college. Because of Mr. Littwin and other humble, patient teachers, ugly ducklings become swans.

Junior year when I took British Literature with Mr. Littwin my favorite stories came to life and my writing (and imagination) went to another level. I still re-read Dr. Faustus and MacBeth to this day, recalling Littwin's brilliant "Great Cosmic Egg Theory" that MacBeth is driven to evil because he cannot have an heir. I still read a great amount of Gothic Literature because he made it so interesting.

I also remember long nights at my IBM Selectric pounding out the weekly three to five page paper that formed the basis for all Deerfield grads' solid writing skills and vibrant imaginative prose that soars to new heights. Writing at Trinity was a breeze. Because of Mr. Littwin, I had the basic writing skills to write outside the box, yet keep organization strong and transitions smooth. Still, Mr. Littwin gave me free rein as a writer. Follow the basic rules, but take chances to stand out.

He also never lost faith in me. He was my corridor master in my senior year, guiding me with patience, immeasurable time and good advice. I returned his kindness by teaching basketball to his young son Tyler, then maybe five or six. I remember with joy the day "Tyler beat me." He and Tyler even gave me a congratulations card and a carnation for my lapel on graduation day. Tyler said "Cragulations" as he handed to me. I think his eyes were as misty as mine are now.

Deerfield teachers are unsung heroes. I owe everything I am to my three years there; my writing ability, my tenacity, my fearlessness. While I was there, I was merely average, but merely average at Deerfield is still a world beater. It was those papers I wrote every weekend and the long hours of study and responsible allocation of time that are my cornerstone. Still, I have neglected to thank so many of them as the years have passed.

I regret never thanking Ross McGlynn for his pep talk to me my sophmore year about not letting people get me down. Thirty years earlier, McGlynn (as he liked to be called) taught my cousins Robert and Jamie. He called me "Young Flemma."

I still fondly remember Mr. Brush teaching Latin and coaching cross country, Mr. Hindle in math class and soccer practice ("All Hail the Czar!") "Reality Russ" Durgin making us write an essay about the wide stride of BJ Wills as he strode across the quad and him having intellectual debates with one of the PG guys about existentialism. Golf with Mr. Boyle and basketball with Mr. Graney. Slam dunking one off a bench for a staged photo - remember guys? From sophomore year? "Jumpin' Jay Flemma slams one home in recent IBA action." Mr. Hodomarski telling everyone about the game I won with two free throws after time expired. All the hard lessons I learned about how silence equals integrity and how to get along as an only child thrust into a family with 31 older brothers.

I remember sophomore year on senior day when - as the waiters came out with dinner - sharp eyed Mr. Danielski shouted "Oh my God for the first time in my fifteen years we are having lobster!" I remember the airplane flying over campus bearing the message "Day off Thursday - Love and kisses REK."

I still have the picture of me shaking hands with Mr. Kaufman as I got my diploma. I still laugh as I hear Fitz Flynn at the dining hall mike after mystery meat night leading us in the second greatest Deerfield cheer ever:

Gimme an R! E! A! L! F! O! O! D!

Fitz: What do we want? Deerfield: Real Food!
Fitz: What did we just have?!

Silence...then uproarious laughter. The Deans of Students actually called Fitz's parents to express their loathing for the act. I dont think they got far at all. Imagine you getting a call about your son form the Dean of Student..."What did he do? He led a cheer saying the food was bad? And you're bothering me for this?" My fiorst reaction would have been, "well, what did they serve?"

I love ya Deerfield, but Fitz was right...the food was weak;)

By the way, the best cheer of course was the simplest - "Beat Choate, Beat Choate, Beat Choate..." I also remember our hall making the best banners ever - "Choate, the K-Mart of prep schools" and "Cho-T, go home!"

I remember making a last minute save to preserve heavy underdog senior soccer's miracle 4-3 win in double overtime over Choate at Choate. Mauricio Barberi and Laurence Schelke scored three of the four goals. We carried our coach, Aussie Mr. Ginns off on our shoulders. He apparently had never seen that before and he screamed "Hey! Lemme down you bloody penguins! Lemme down!"

Our motto is "Be Worthy of Your Heritage." It's appropriate in these sad times when so much time, energy, and money is spent avoiding responsibility instead of embracing it; using it to transmogrify you, galvanize you into a rock.

All those memories wash over me now in a nostalgiac wave. I'm overwhelmed by it. It's as bittersweet as graduation. Later tonight before I go to bed, I'll hum the Evensong and the Alma Mater, which I remember by heart even though I sing them once every two years. That's what Deerfield does for you. It makes you. I Thank God for my time at Deerfield.

But Mr. Littwin, I never thanked you. It was so wrong of me. I wipe a small tear from my eye and say a prayer for you and your son Tyler and your whole family. You did it sir. I am writing from the heart. I break lots of rules and make it gripping anyway. Finally, in some small way, I have become worthy of my heritage. Via con dios.

Mr. Littwin deserves a few days of mourning. I'll write again from Colorado on Saturday.


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