My year 3 teacher was Mr Freyling. It was 1977, and Mr Freyling was a devotee of the body shirt, which was the male fashion must-have of the time.
The fact that Mr Freyling was a rather rotund bloke did not stop him wearing body shirts, but because it was Queensland and despite it being 40 degrees in the shade in summer, the notion that schools might be air-conditioned was laughable (and for the most part still is), he teamed his body shirts with walk shorts, knee-high socks and brown leather lace-up shoes. As well as being portly, Mr Freyling was also a rather hirsute bloke, and had nose hair that he could have plaited, hippie style. When he got angry (which was a lot, losing your shit was apparently a legitimate teaching method in the 1970s) his nostrils would flare and the hair would flutter madly with every rapid-fire inhale and exhale.
Apart from being a stylish dresser who was a bit lax with his personal grooming, Mr Freyling was a stickler for grammar. He had little rhymes and sayings and mnemonics for just about every grammatical possibility, many of which still stick with me today.
Adjectives tell us: what sort of, how many, how much and which – which had a catchy clapping rhythm that accompanied it (I suspect Mr Freyling had recently seen a production of the musical Hair)
Adverbs tell us: how when where or why an action is done – this one had actions which would have Mr Freyling summarily dismissed these days – let’s just say that the ‘how’ part involved doing an impersonation of a native American and leave it at that.
Apostrophes show something’s missing, or the owner’s possession – this one was done as a chant with wild gesticulations symbolising the apostrophes. Usually resulted in someone accidentally getting smacked in the head and Mr Freyling telling them to ‘stop sooking’.
Verbs are doing words, they express states or actions – Mr Freyling was obviously losing interest by this point as there was no clapping or actions, just this phrase repeated over and over while he prowled around the classroom, nose hair flowing in the breeze.
Love is a word that is used an awful lot, but I suspect that many people fail to realise that it’s a verb. It’s very easy to say you love someone, but for there to be actual meaning behind the sentiment, there needs to be action. Verbs are doing words.
I am married to someone who doesn’t use the word ‘love’ very much, but whose actions often typify the word. When we met I was a crazy cat lady, and when we decided to move in together the aforementioned crazy cat had to be catered for at our new digs which were near a busy road. So he spent several weekends building what can only be described as a cat palace, complete with a complex series of enclosed walkways, so that the cat could be outdoors without becoming domestic shorthair roadkill. The action was all the more meaningful because he and the cat, who is still kicking on 8 years later at the ripe old age of 17, do not love each other. Not one little bit.
When Hugh was born, Dave didn’t write a romantic card full of lovely sentiments, but he did spend 12 hours each day for six days in my hospital room. He helped me shower, looked after Hugh, and slept in the chair next to my bed when it was rest time. When I had the mastectomy, I was allowed home after only two days in hospital on the proviso that Dave could look after the drain in my wound. He knew I was terrified about what was happening to me and desperate to be home, so he learned from the nurses how to manage the drains, then proceeded to monitor the levels and change the bags as required for the next week. Because love is a verb, a doing word.
When I was ill, Dave wasn’t the only one showing me that love is a verb. Various friends took Hugh for playdates and sleepovers and spoiled him rotten. Other friends took days off work to come to chemo with me, sewed headscarves for me and made me beautiful resin bangles. My work colleagues held a fundraiser paid for us to have a family holiday at the beach. I received multiple emails and text messages every day checking how I was, keeping me in touch with my world, but demanding nothing of me. I am eternally grateful for all those people, those family members and friends, who knew that sometimes, love is a doing word where the doing just cannot be reciprocated because the person is focussed solely on staying alive.
I am often asked by people what should they say to a friend or family member who has cancer. My first response is always, what am I, cancer google? But seriously, it’s not what you say (although you should definitely avoid words like brave and inspirational) but rather what you do that matters. Stay in touch, make biscuits, send a magazine subscription, offer a foot massage, sit and listen. Always remember that love is a verb, and verbs are doing words.
I’m not sure if Mr Freyling is still alive and kicking – if he is he would be well into his 80s by now. In my mind, even if he’s getting around on a zimmer frame, he is still rocking a body shirt, walk shorts and walk socks, although he will have replaced the brown lace-ups with slippers. The nose hair will be even more prolific, and accompanied by some serious ear hair, which would be snowy white. He might be on Facebook to keep in touch with the grandkids, and I can imagine the nose hair fluttering at some of the grammatical atrocities committed daily on social media. Mr Freyling, this one’s for you: