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A Mélange Of Mansfield Memories

The columnist serves up a virtual pot-au-feu of random, hopefully not rambling, memories of Mansfield – or maybe not.

Mr. Deslauriers, my French teacher at would be exceedingly proud. After four years of studying French and 45-years of waiting patiently for just the right moment; I finally got to use a couple of words I learned in his class, not to mention I get the gratification that comes from sending a bunch of you scrambling to Google and; let’s face it, that’s what life is all about, self-gratification.  

Had I known that Spanish would become such a widely spoken language, I would have foregone the four years I spent sitting in French class and studied Spanish instead, but that would have meant that I may have had Ed Albertini as a teacher again and, for those who read , you’ll recall that experience didn’t turn out real well for me.

To be honest, I had signed up for French because I’d heard it was fairly easy and easy was high on my list of priorities at the time. I was enrolled in the College Prep program with a minor in easy – or was it the other way around?

There was one thing I knew for sure; there was no way I was going to take Latin. I’d heard some horror stories about the hours of study time involved in learning that ancient tongue and, as I’ve already indicated, studying was not on my A list in those days.

For those who weren’t industrious enough to Google mélange or pot-au-feu; please allow me to fill you in.

A mélange is a mixture, a concoction of things, which is what today’s column will be. It will not be -I hope - a jumble, which is another translation of the word, mélange.

The pot-au-feu or more precisely, le pot-au-feu is a bit more interesting, having originated in 17th and 18th century France. It was a mélange. See, I used the word, mélange again! God, I’m clever!

For those who can’t remember the definition of mélange from the last paragraph, it’s a concoction of things. A pot-au-feu was a concoction of various meats and vegetables left to cook on a huge pot, or cauldron in the fireplace; a common and inexpensive meal for the ever-suffering middle class of the day.

This stew-like mixture would be allowed to simmer for weeks or even months as the family tossed in whatever foodstuffs they may have available to them at any given time.

One day, it may be a chicken; the next day a few vegetables; the following day a chunk of beef or pork, and the process would be repeated infinitum. I did it again! I even got a Latin term in there. I’m on a roll!

The bottom line on the pot-au-feu is that it would build various layers of flavors and textures over time and could be eaten daily since the combination of ingredients was ever-changing.

For those living in less than pristine sanitary conditions, as were common in those days, I’d imagine there were various repercussions from imbibing in such cuisine. Hopefully, reading this tale doesn’t have the same effect.

Voici le mélange. Translation for those suckers who took Latin – Here is the concoction.

Bill Sullivan was an Algebra teacher, an assistant football coach and the athletic director at Mansfield High when I was a student there. He was a great teacher. I had him for Algebra II, which was a class a lot of the kids disliked because it required that you actually pay attention to what was being taught.

Mr. Sullivan spent a lot of time doing equations up at the chalkboard and would spend as much time as was necessary until everyone in the class understood what he was teaching, or at least until they said they did. He was great that way. He cared. He wanted everyone to learn, not just the kids to whom math came easily.

One thing he did not tolerate was being interrupted while he was teaching. He had no patience for such things, whether it be talking, passing notes or whatever it may be. When he heard someone talking while he was at the board, he’d grab an eraser, whip around and throw the eraser at the offending party, generally hitting them point blank in the shoulder. He rarely missed his target. He was good; an expert marksman with a chalkboard eraser.   

Another of his little idiosyncrasies was to go in to the men’s bathroom in between classes to flush out (no pun intended) the smokers. There was an automatic three day suspension for those caught smoking is school, but Mr. Sullivan had his own version of justice. He offered the offender an option; three days or a punch in the arm.

Sounds fair. After all, it would be much easier to take a little punch in the arm than to have to tell your parents you were bounced from school for smoking, right? Think again, oh naïve one.

To the best of my knowledge, there was only one student in the history of Mansfield High School who chose to take the punch in the arm from Mr. Sullivan rather than be suspended. Snitch, as he was known, was the unfortunate one who made that choice and he only made that ill-advised decision once! He couldn’t move his arm for a week!

Mr. Sullivan was tough! A wonderful man who taught me a lot about Algebra, about football and about life. Thanks, Mr. S!

You know, this may not be as much of a mélange as I originally thought. It’s going to be more of a rather lengthy explanation of the words mélange and le pot-au-feu and just a little bit of what I’d intended it to be.

I apologize, but it’s not really my fault you know. If you’d Goggled the words like you should have I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time explaining them.

Since I have this forum, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to wish a Happy Birthday to my youngest brother, John. He's 16 years younger than I am and 12 years younger than my brother, Bruce. We had a lot of fun with him when he was a little guy. This is the song  we used to play for him to make him jump up and down in his crib. It's a shame there was no YouTube back then. He was a dancin’ fool! Enjoy!

Well, that’s it for this week. I guess I’ll have to toss the rest of the ingredients in to le pot-au-feu at another time. No problem; I have a lot of things to put in there. I have some beef and some potatoes and some carrots – and a lot of baloney.

Make it a great week!

Bob Havey is a freelance writer and a Mansfield native, currently living in Easton. His column "Take Me Back" appears every Friday at http://mansfield-ma.patch.com.His other column, "The View From Here", may be seen each Tuesday at http://easton-ma.patch.com.

Sharon Thiel March 25, 2011 at 06:37 PM
What a great read! I actually took French after dropping out of Spanish because I was embarassed by my inability to roll my r's...go figure. To this day I can't speak either language well enough to do anything but find a bathroom and possibly order food that does not contain rabbit. Sigh. Nice touch on the alliterative titles, by the way.
Frida March 26, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Gastronomical!
Kara M March 26, 2011 at 02:34 PM
I was one of the suckers who took Latin. I hated it. I also had a teacher whol threw erasers, but he never hit anyone. He just mostly let them sail past your head. I look forward to your future pot-au-feu including the baloney. I love baloney. Especially yours. Another great read Mr Havey. Thank you.
ben March 27, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Yes in deed, always turn down the punch in the arm was the word coming down from upper classman. Sully was strong, and he played under the GREAT COACH OF COACH"S, VINCE LOMBARDI at the college he attented. I believe Lombardi was an assistant there or maybe even head coach. I asked him once if it was true , he said "yes it is". So the Lombardi influence was in the man, which was a combination of very TOUGH LOVE. Glad I had him, always nice to see him and chat. Told me once how John Dunn told his wife they were at a baseball camp (cause she didn't know about sports that much), but Sully said when he got home he got nailed, cause it was Febuary. Sully wife talked to John's wife, she knew they were at the track. FUNNY STUFF.
Bob Havey March 27, 2011 at 01:55 PM
He played at Fordham, Ben. Vince was an assistant there at the time. Yup, he was one of the good guys.
Jeffrey Horton April 15, 2011 at 11:52 PM
Hi Bob. When we got together at Mike LoDico's this past summer (and I saw your brother Bruce for the first time since 1971), Mitchell Seifert said that he opted for the punch in the arm. He mentioned it took him days before he could move it properly. Unbelievable. Sully was a great teacher. I didn't play football, but enjoyed him as a teacher. These days I'm teaching math in Providence High Schools and wish I could toss a few erasers.
Bob Havey April 16, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Hey Jeff - Great to hear from you! I didn't know that about Mitch - funny! Obviously that was a BIG mistake, but as with most things in life; we learn most of our lessons by screwing up - in this case Mitch learned through a painful experience - literally! We could use a lot more teachers like Sully. He really cared about his students - even enough to smack them in the arm for smoking in the boys room. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxBbmoUdEac - Yuh, don't chuck any erasers in your classroom - unless you know a good lawyer! My best to you and in your new job.

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