Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Excerpt from The Latin Lady

by Dawn LaFon

Dexter was riding his bike down the block and waved politely when Gladys Louise sang out, “Hi there” but made sure to be going really, really fast so that he wouldn’t have to talk. But he had to admit to himself that knowing her had actually come in handy. The teacher had asked if anyone knew any Latin and he had reluctantly said that he knew that the word rex meant “king.” He didn’t tell the class that it was his crazy neighbor’s dog’s name. Everyone decided that the new kid must be smart if he knew some Latin and when it came time for group work, he was eagerly welcomed.

When Dexter got home, he found his mom cooking again. She sure was cooking a lot now that she was home all day. Then there was a knock on the door.

“Well, hello there!” It was Miss Tucker and this time there was no place to get away quickly.

“Hello, Miss Tucker,” said Dexter’s father.

“Remember it’s Gladys Louise! I’d like to hire Dexter.”

Everyone but Dexter was smiling at this remark.

“You see my nephew comes to visit about twice a year. He was here about six weeks ago and he bought me a computer and hooked it up and then got me an e-mail account—whatever that is. He wants me to write about my days as a schoolteacher and says that he’s not going to call again until I send him an e-mail. I was thinking that the word ‘computer’ really means ‘thinking together’ and since young people are the only ones who know how to work these things, Dexter, I was hoping that we could think together and you would help me learn how to work this thing. I’ll be happy to pay you.”

“No, Gladys Louise, neighbors help each other. You don’t have to pay him,” said his Dad.

“No, he has a skill that I need and people should be paid for sharing their expertise. Dexter, could you come on over while I’m in the mood to tackle this hydra?”

Dexter didn’t know what a hydra was but was already beginning to realize that anything that he didn’t know had something to do with Latin and he would quickly get an explanation.

“You see one of Hercules’ labors was to kill the hydra. It was a snake with seven heads. Every time he cut one off, two grew back in its place. Every time I do one thing with this computer, two more things pop up! So see you in about an hour?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He was so not looking forward to this.

In an hour, with his face set just like when his grandmother had insisted that he try a dose of castor oil, he went across the street to Gladys Louise’s house. Before he could knock on the door, Gladys Louise had opened it.

“Come on in, magister! Magister is Latin for ‘teacher’ and that’s just what you are!”

The only thing that looked remotely new in her house was the computer set up on a sturdy green vinyl card table and Rex’s dog bed. A calico cat was stretched out on an old afghan on top of the plastic that covered a yellow brocade couch. She jumped down and rubbed against his leg. He petted her and grinned at how loudly she purred.

“Well, Prissy sure has turned on her purr box for you! She doesn’t just do that for just anyone! Thank you so much for coming to help me. So, what do we do first?”

“Well, we need to turn it on.” Dexter pushed the on switch and the computer started humming. Prissy jumped up on the table and tried to walk across the keyboard and Rex settled down at his feet. Gladys Louise sat beside him with a small yellow legal pad and a pencil. “Now, tell me everything and I’ll write it down so that I can remember it for the test.” Dexter looked at her. “Oh, all good teachers give tests and I want you to quiz me just not today! Now what’s that thing that you are moving around?”

“It’s a mouse,” said Dexter.

“A mouse! No wonder Prissy likes being up here!” said Gladys Louise. “I’ll tell you something interesting about the word ‘mouse.’” Dexter tried not to groan. “The word for ‘mouse’ in Latin is mus. Muscles are called ‘muscles’ because when people saw a muscle with blood still running through it in an exposed wound, they thought that the muscles looked like little mice.”

Dexter got on line and then told Gladys Louise to type in her password. She had to think about it but she typed it in real fast. She had several messages from her nephew and one with pictures attached. Dexter opened them for her and she squealed with delight at her twin great nephews sitting on the baby blankets that she had knitted for them! Aren’t those babies cute!” It had already been an hour and Dexter was ready to go home. Gladys Louise looked at the clock and said, “Well, tempus fugit! Time does fly! Thank you so much, Dexter. If you’ve got some time tomorrow, would you come again?”

He agreed to do that and petted Rex and Prissy. “Is Prissy a Latin name too?” He could not believe that he asked that question but it really was interesting to know about these words.

“Oh, yes, Prissy is short for Priscilla which means old fashioned. This Prissy looks just like the calico cat that I had when I was a girl.” Gladys Louise held the door open for him and Dexter walked back toward his own house.

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