It helps to remember this

I studied Latin at St. Paul Academy from eighth grade through graduation from high school. My Latin teachers over those five years were Lyman Hawbaker and David Sims. I loved Latin and respected my teachers. I feel a deep debt of gratitude both to Mr. Hawbaker and to Mr. Sims.

In my junior and senior years with Mr. Hawbaker we studied Virgil’s Aeneid (“forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit”) and the Roman comic playwrights Plautus (see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and Terence, respectively. He taught ancient history in addition to Latin, but I lacked the wisdom to elect it.

As we learned the language in the eighth grade, Mr. Hawbaker insisted that we memorize the 30 forms of the Latin relative pronoun (qui). Memorization meant the ability to recite the forms in order in 30 seconds. Now that is ancient history.

Mr. Hawbaker was a World War II Army Air Corps navigator and an alumnus of Gettysburg College and Princeton University. He taught at St. Paul Academy for 30 years, from 1956 until his retirement in 1986. In retirement he pursued beekeeping at his home in Cohasset, Minnesota. I sought out Mr. Hawbaker for dinner up in that neck of the woods within a year or two of his death in 2001. I took the occasion to express my gratitude for his contribution to my education. A waitress snapped the photo of us below.

Alexander’s Payne’s film The Holdovers was released late last year. It takes place in an elite boarding school like Exeter or Andover. The year is 1970. Paul Giamatti plays a cranky teacher of ancient history who looked to me uncannily like Mr. Hawbaker and whose character might have represented a twisted version of him. The film recalls the era, but I found the story unbelievable from beginning to end.

By contrast, Harvard Professor of History James Hankins had a reaction that was precisely the opposite of mine. His Law & Liberty column is titled “The World We Have Lost.” Despite my disagreement with Professor Hankins’s assessment of the film, I loved the column. I thought readers might find it of interest.

Wesley Morris reviewed the film for the New York Times. Morris’s review includes Alexander Payne’s analysis of a scene from the movie.

The inscription on Mr. Hawbaker’s family headstone reflects his learning and his affirmation of life in the face of his own difficult circumstances: “viximus (we lived)/amavimus (we loved)/periimus (we died)/nunc requiescamus (now we should rest).” I am grateful to Payne’s film for bringing my memories of Lyman Hawbaker to mind.

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