The rigors of following the "academic" track at Tarentum High School in the 1960s always included two years in Miss Toepfer's Latin Class. Miss Toepfer loved her subject -- indeed, had studied in Rome -- and proved it by offering Latin Club in addition to the regular course work.
At the time, I thought: We're trying to be cool teenagers, and here we are voluntarily joining Latin Club. Are we nuts? Nonetheless, we signed up and were enriched in ways that are still in our memories today.
A particular joy of the club was learning to sing in Latin. To this day, "Ab Alles Montezuma" ("From the halls of Montezuma ...") runs through my head, and I can sing it to the end, though I've probably changed some words and syllables here and there without even realizing it.
Another song was "Gaudeamus Igitur Juvenes Dum Sumus." Again, I can sing it to the end -- with no memory of the lyrics' meaning. (I was compelled however, to refresh my memory: The song, popular in European graduation ceremonies and festivities, means "Let Us Rejoice Therefore, While We Are Young.")
One student in our class, Jack Woods (now deceased), struggled and struggled with Latin. His recitations were agonizing, for all of us, and some days he would blow up in frustration. In that era, students pretty much behaved themselves; even so, sharp words were occasionally exchanged between Jack and Miss Toepfer. When it came time to sign up for Latin II, Jack knew how things stood and declined to accept more torture.
Jack was an expert with the trumpet. We loved to hear him play. One spring afternoon we were sitting in Latin II class on the second floor, the windows of Tarentum High wide open. Miss Toepfer was standing at the front of the room, making some fine point of Latin clear to us.
Suddenly there was a sound from outside. The clear, perfect notes of "Gaudeamus Igitur" played on a trumpet came wafting into the classroom. Jack was standing on the sidewalk below, playing this song he had learned to sing in Latin Club for Miss Toepfer and for us.
I'll never forget her transfixed look, as though some truly magical thing was occurring, and it was happening for her. We listened with rapt attention to the end and then broke into wild applause.
We had tears of laughter in our eyes at the fun of it. But Miss Toepfer had tears of joy at the pleasure and honor of it.