Several years ago my older sister and I took a few days and revisited some of our old childhood homes. I have very vivid memories of those years and was most excited to see two of the towns, particularly, that we had not seen since leaving them forty years before.
My father was an itinerant teacher/principal and I grew up in schools, loving everything about them. So many memories centered around these buildings in particular. They were almost a holy memory.
When we arrived at our first stop, the town of Thetford Mines, in eastern Quebec, we first visited the beautiful old stone church we attended as children – so satisfying as it had not changed at all over the decades. But as we climbed the hill to the school, we found that our Andrew Stewart Johnson Memorial High School was not. At least the name was no more. It was now part of the French educational system and had been re-baptized.
Thetford Mines was very much a one-industry town and the Johnsons were the biggest name in that town. So how did this happen? Even the mighty can’t necessarily count on their place in history? It was shocking, really.
In any case, we pushed on through Quebec City and up the Saguenay River to the air force base at Bagotville- our next stop. We found our old housing unit on the base and toured the recreational facilities, the officers’ mess, and eventually, again, wended our way to the school.
Another shock. Corbett Memorial High School was now – a community center. And no one had ever heard of Mr. Corbett.
So, one thing I deduced from our trip was not to let your memory, your meaning, rest on having a school named after you, That seems fleeting fame, indeed.
But then I thought back to that haunting poem by Shelley. Do you know it? It is titled ‘Ozymandias’: (And, again, sorry that I can’t space it properly. I can’t figure out how to do that on WordPress)
‘I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said, Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
………… And on the pedestal these words appear-
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.”
Nothing besides remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
So it seems ‘kings of kings’ also have fleeting fame. (and little strength) Even empires and their emperors do indeed crumble and fade away, as pictured so vividly by Shelley.
I have done a wise thing, indeed, in banking all my hope on that Eternal One who has me engraved on the palms of his hands….