On being… a noteworthy number

By Ingrid Sapona

Tomorrow Canada turns 150, so a column about anniversaries has been on my mind for a while. But, a few milestone anniversaries in the news this week got me thinking about the topic in somewhat more personal terms.

The 10th anniversary of the iPhone and the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter were two of the anniversaries that gave me pause, but kind of in opposite ways. On the one hand, I can’t believe Harry Potter has been around for 20 years already. I distinctly remember the first time I came across references to muggles, quidditch, and dementors, I wondered where they came from. When my oldest sister – a voracious reader – said it was from a children’s book that she had just read, I was intrigued. She lent me her copy and, like so many others, I got caught up in the magic (no pun intended) created by JK Rowling.

I’m not like other Potter fans – I didn’t rush out to get the books as they were published – I relied on my sister to lend me her copies when she was done. I can’t tell you the names of the different books, nor can I remember the names of all the instructors at Hogwarts. But I’ll never forget feeling in awe of Rowling’s talent (not to mention more than a bit jealous) and her insights into human nature. Having read the entire series, of course I knew that Harry, Ron, and Hermione grew up, but I can’t imagine them as 30-somethings!

As for the iPhone, I was honestly surprised it’s only been around for 10 years. I was a late convert to “smart phones”. Though I had two cell phones before I got my iPhone, I thought of them as a mere convenience – and safety feature – in case my car broke down. I didn’t really have much reason for a smart phone, let alone an expensive one. 

But about five years ago, I had the opportunity to create an iPod app and then I got an iPad for some other work. After that little taste – like Adam and millions of others who have eaten the forbidden fruit – I was hooked on Apple products. So, when it was time to get a new cell phone, switching to the iPhone was a no-brainer. At this point, I can’t imagine having any other phone. I’m not wedded to it – I still have a “land line” – but I find my iPhone so handy, I barely remember what my life was like before it. And yet, if the iPhone is only 10, that means it’s not even been a part of my life for that long … Amazing.

Another invention that marked a major anniversary this week is the ATM – the automated teller machine – it turned 50. Since I was in law school in the early 1980s, they’ve been my main way of banking. I have always preferred cash over credit (I find I pay attention to my spending a bit better), so I make good use of ATMs. It’s the rare occasion – like when I was seeking a mortgage to buy my condo – that I actually go into the bank and speak with someone. And, just when I thought the ATM couldn’t be made better, my bank’s new ATMs let you deposit multiple cheques at once and it prints a photo of the cheque on the receipt. And to think – 51 years ago the technology probably seemed like something out of the Jetsons!

And then there’s tomorrow’s big day – the 150th anniversary of confederation. Unlike in the US, where every event becomes commercialized, there really hasn’t been much cashing in on the anniversary. A couple years ago there was a competition to create a logo for the event. A 19-year-old art student’s stylized, multi-coloured maple leaf was chosen. There was a flurry of criticism of it (mostly by design professionals who seemed offended that the winning design was created by someone who wasn’t a registered graphic designer), and then the logo kind of disappeared.

Monochromatic versions of the logo appeared a couple months ago on t-shirts, but they weren’t widely available. As for shirts with the multi-coloured logo, when my sister wanted one (she saw it on Live with Kelly and Ryan), the only place I could find one was on-line. When I ordered it, I found out it was screen-printed in California! In contrast, here in multi-cultural Toronto, during the World Cup there are folks on every other corner selling flags and regalia from all the countries competing. It hasn’t been that way for Canada 150 regalia.

Instead, in lead up to the anniversary the focus has been more on what it means to be Canadian. The CBC and our national newspapers have done features about the people that make up Canada – from the indigenous to the immigrant. I love the introspection…

And one last example of how the anniversary is being observed. The City of Toronto sent out a notice about local street closures for tomorrow celebration. The notice was on letterhead that had clearly been created for the event – it read:

TO Canada
with Love
Honouring 150 Years

(TO stands for Toronto, Ontario, in case you’re wondering.)

At first I thought it was odd that it says “honouring” instead of “celebrating”. But then I realized that’s probably in deference to the indigenous people who have been here lots longer and who don’t necessarily feel that Canada’s 150th is anything to celebrate. I know – maybe a minor gesture – but still a sign of respect and acknowledgement.

Anyway, quite a few meaningful anniversaries for one week, don’t you think? Lucky for me it’s a long holiday weekend – there’ll be plenty of time for reflection AND celebration.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being …a teacher’s hope

By Ingrid Sapona

When I was going through stuff at my mother’s house, I came across my high school yearbooks. I don’t feel particularly nostalgic about high school, so there was no question that they’d be going into the recycle bin. Before I tossed them though, I leafed through them.

Unlike some, high school wasn’t the highlight of my education, much less my life. But, I did enjoy a few activities – like marching band and I was in the orchestra for the school musical my third year (I think that’s when it was). I looked for photos of those activities, but there really weren’t any. 

I was surprised to find some things clubs I was in – like the yearbook – that I don’t remember participating in. I also thought it was interesting that I had completely blocked out the trauma of being subjected to the “Solomon Stare” – the evil eye Mr. Solomon, the concert band director – routinely shot my way. Truth be told: I didn’t remember the Solomon Stare until I was reminded of it reading a comments (jealous) bandmates wrote about it my yearbook the year I quit concert band.

The obvious highlights of any yearbook are the comments written by friends and teachers. There were surprises there too. One thing I’m actually embarrassed to admit is that there were a couple inscriptions written by people – friends? – I don’t remember. That makes me wonder whether there are many folks whose yearbook I signed that don’t remember me either. I’m sure there must be – after all, there were 600 in my graduating class.

It was the comments by teachers that really gave me pause. I was a good student and I have fond memories of many of them. So, I was especially interested in seeing which teachers I asked to sign my yearbook, and what they said. In reading them, I was struck by how ordinary they seem all these years later. I got the sense that each of them probably had a few stock platitudes they wrote year in, year out.

In reflecting on it some 40 years out, I realize that over the course of their careers, they influenced hundreds of students and were probably asked to sign thousands of yearbooks. Indeed, despite the banality of some of the comments, they deserve a lot of credit for making me feel special and worthy of individual attention when they were my teachers.

The thing that struck me the funniest was that one teacher’s wish for me actually came true. It was a wish written in my yearbook by a teacher whose name I didn’t even remember: Mrs. Florence Wagner, my typing teacher. I definitely remember taking typing, and I remember why. The main reason is that it fit in my schedule. You see, most of our courses ran the full-year, but New York State required students to take a half-year health course, so I had to fill in the other semester with something. Typing was not just a sensible choice, it was the one course my mother insisted I take. Her theory was that typing was a skill I could always use as a secretary. (I guess she was worried that my academic career might be short-lived.)

Mrs. Wagner’s wish for me was this: “I hope you get to type ever day of your life”. I’m sure when I first read that I figured that’s just what a typing teacher would say. But, honestly, looking back on it, maybe Mrs. Wagner was more of a visionary than she got credit for. Who knows, maybe she foresaw the role computers and keyboards would have in all our lives. I know, probably not. Good old Mrs. Wagner probably just understood that mastering basic skills always stands you in good stead.

So, though I’ll always wonder what might have happened if she’d have phrased her hopes for me a bit differently – maybe something along the lines of: “I hope your typing skills pay off for you as a famous writer”, I hope Mrs. Wagner lived long enough to realize that her hopes for me – and likely thousands of others – came true.

What about you? What hopes do you think your high school teachers had for you? Did they come to pass?  

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona