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THE SECRET MEETING WITH MR. ELIOT / Gloria Whelan Dear Professor Wally, This is not a poem about a cat. It is my life. I graduated from high school during the height (depth?) of the depression. Three students in my class went to college. Although I was valedictorian (Latin: valedictus, bidden goodbye) and spoke on "The Promise of the Future," I was not one of them. An excellent seamstress, even at that early age, I was fortunate to find a position in the yard goods department of a large store where I worked as a saleswoman (I will not neuter myself for any women's movement). I enjoyed my job. When a customer held a pattern in one hand and a bolt of material in the other, it was a moment full of possibilities. I seldom had to see the finished product which likely had poorly set-in sleeves and an uneven hemline. Apart from a brief leave when the children were small, I worked there for twenty-eight years. In those days women were not promoted. When I retired, I was still a saleswoman, while the buyer was a girl of twenty-three, a management trainee who couldn't tell a tailor tack from a flat fell seam. My husband, Ned, also retired, was an insurance salesman and while he was a good provider, there wasn't a whole lot left over. I worked so our three children could go on to college. I have always believed in education and made it a point to keep up with the children's studies. By working with my daughter on her French, I learned enough to acquit myself quite creditably when Ned took me to a very expensive restaurant for our thirtieth wedding anniversary . Ned was proud of me although he had a little laugh when I ordered choucroute when what I meant was chou-fleur. Instead of cauliflower, we got sauerkraut which neither of us likes. AU three of our children graduated from college, none, I'm sorry to say, from The Great University (which is how I think of this place). I shared as much of their college years as I could, making attractive bedspreads and draperies for their college rooms and reading many of their textbooks. All of this is leading up to your course on Mr. Eliot's poetry. Usually I don't care for advanced things like modern art with its blots and squibbles or modern music that sounds to me like a chorus of rasping blue jays, but when one of my daughters brought home Mr. Eliot's poems to read for an English literature course, I took to him at once. I felt he was able to call by name all the vague things I had put out of my mind as too puzzling or too sad. Also, I admire 118 · The Missouri Review his way with words. I once read the dictionary (collegiate, not the big one) straight through, two pages a night, for a year and a half. Ned said I was out of my head, but I found knowing where words come from is most informative. When I saw in a Senior Learners' bulletin at the library that there was to be a class in Mr. Eliot, I decided I would go, (even though, if you will forgive my saying so, your title, "Meet Mr. Eliot," is a bit cutesy pie). The meaning of his poems moves just inches over my head and I hoped your class would bring it within reach. Of course, I was also excited at the idea of being on the campus of The Great University and going to classes just like a real student— though it would only be for a week. Also, I had never been away from home by myself, except for the time I spent with my sister, Connie, when she had a cancer operation (successful!!!). You can imagine my disappointment, then, over what is happening in your course. Or perhaps I should say, not happening. I hope you don't mind my being frank with you. I don't think Mr. Eliot is just a laughing matter as you seem to, and I...


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