Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

 Briefly Re-Visiting the Past

"I think our society now is a society of non-commitment. We say we're going to do something, whether it's in a marriage, or with our kids or maybe even with our organizations we join, and some little thing ticks us off and we think 'Enough of that, I'm walking out'."
"I think it's important to have a sense of commitment, and maybe in a minor way, the kids see I value that."
"They're just excited to get [their letters] back. And they're [often] amazed by their predictions. I think some of them are embarrassed by how immature they were, but when you're 14, you're immature."
"And some of them don't want to show it to their spouses or their parents."
Bruce Farrer, 72, retired teacher, Bert Fox Community High School, Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan
72-year-old retired teacher Bruce Farrer has spent countless hours tracking down students who’ve long grown up, to send them copies of letters they wrote to their future selves. “I think it’s important to have a sense of commitment,” he says.
Photo - Megan Johnson     72-year-old retired teacher Bruce Farrer has spent countless hours tracking down students who’ve long grown up, to send them copies of letters they wrote to their future selves. “I think it’s important to have a sense of commitment,” he says.
Many years ago, when he, and his students were much, much younger, Mr. Farrer began what would become for him a tradition. In the town of about 2,000 population, roughly an hour northeast of Regina, he encouraged his students to write. They were to write letters to themselves, letters written at the age of 14, to be delivered to them at some time in the future, say twenty or so years later, when they had presumably seen something of life, matured.

The letters wouldn't, of course, deliver themselves. That would be Mr. Farrer's job. And a difficult one it is. He began by having students write letters to be deposited into one of two separate categories; one, an intimate pile that no one would look at, the other impersonal enough that they would trust their teacher to read it, before, at some unknown date in the future, it would be sent on to them.

This represented a class assignment. And to be given credit for completion of the assignment, each pupil had to prove that they had written the full number of pages assigned; nine in total. The envelopes containing the letters were to be left unsealed after one episode where a student sealed the envelope, insisting he had written the entire nine pages, but after page one the succeeding pages were blank.

"John must've stayed up until midnight -- he had the nine pages. It would have been sent back by now, I think. I've never had the opportunity to talk to him about that, but I'm sure he remembers", commented Mr. Farrer. The letters are retained in five bins at this working farm outside of town. In the slower months of winter, Mr. Farrer brings the letters to Bert Fox school and sends them off.

Sending them off creates quite a bit of detective work. Since he must track down the correct address of the young boys he once taught, as mature men living their adult lives elsewhere than they had attending the school. Sometimes, if their parents still live in town, procuring the address of their son is easy enough. Mr. Farrer has looked up other relatives, joined Facebook, searched through Canada 411 to find those addresses.

One Grade 9 student, Mr. Farrer recalled, was obsessed with ABBA, dreaming of marrying a "beautiful blond Swede". Twenty years on, when Mr. Farrer mailed the young man's l4-year-old-letter to him, he was actually living in Sweden, and he had indeed met and married a beautiful blonde Swedish woman.

There have been occasions when the former student was no longer in the land of the living. That letter would nonetheless go out in the mail, to be received by members of his family, on the theory that they would be glad to receive something from the past that represented the then-boy's thoughts. These occasions represent the only time Mr. Farrer will read the 'intimate' letters to ensure they don't contain anything that might distress the family members.

One of his former pupils, now 36, working as a millwright in the very same town he grew up in, still has the same sense of humour detectable in the letter he wrote, and he retains many of the same high school friends within his mature circle of friends. In his letter he had written he wanted to go to college and play football. He wanted three or four children.

He was dating a girl at the time he wrote that letter in the early 1990s, but the reality was he had been attracted to an entirely different girl. As things happened, the girl he was attracted to is now his wife and they have two boys together. He is one of the thousands of former students that Mr. Farrer kept his promise to, that he would remember to send them, decades on, memories of how they thought at age 14.

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