Friday, May 01, 2015

Sepia Saturday 277: Richard Dilexit Latine

Translation of the title: Richard Loves Latin

Nobody in our families played football - matching the prompt this week was a challenge. After poking around in my memorabilia for something appropriate and giving up, I asked my husband if he was ever in a sports team picture. We dug out his copy of the 1956 Tomahawk, yearbook of the Birmingham High School, Van Nuys, California and the memories began. 
Yearbook cover. School mascot was the Braves, thus the Tomahawk. Now the mascot is the "Patriot".
My husband skipped third grade and for the remainder of his school years,  he was a year behind the kids in his class physically. A skinny, wiry type, as one of the little guys, he smartly chose to focus his athletic efforts on the track and field and swim teams in high school. He was in the first graduating class at Birmingham, after the site, which had been a WW11 recuperative hospital, was converted to a high school. Built in 1943, the hospital served thousands of soldiers paralyzed in combat: It was the first time in history, soldiers in large numbers, had survived with spinal cord injuries. Much knowledge about rehabilitation was gained at Birmingham by testing, observing and treating this group of veterans. Society at large began to accommodate the handicapped -  it was the beginning of wheelchair ramps; handicapped bathrooms; development of lighter, portable wheelchairs; design of hand controlled cars. Speaking of sports, as we are this week, these handicapped veterans started the first wheelchair basketball teams which in turn led to development of many sporting teams in wheelchairs: bowling, archery, racing - all of immeasurable value, mentally and physically, to the veterans confined to chairs for the rest of their lives.  

Probably little of Birmingham's history concerned my husband when he was a teenager. He remembers sneaking into the building's "off limits" spaces for kids - nosing around in the former surgeries and hospital rooms. I'm sure by the mid- 50's the closed off parts were a bit creepy and fascinating for the young boys. Here's a postcard with an aerial view of the hospital. 

Reverse of postcard: Birmingham Veteran's Administration Hospital is located at the corner of Balboa Ave. and Van Owen St., Van Nuys, Calif. 114 buildings are spread over 146.3 acres, most of which are connected by about 3 miles of covered corridors. It is a General Medical and Surgical Hospital and has a record evaluation, including almost $2,000,000 worth of equipment, of about $7,500,000. The authorized bed capacity is 1500 and 1650 employees are required to operate the many service and facilities available to patients. 

Most of the time, Richard was busy being "King" of the Latin class. The Capo. He had the same Latin teacher for six years whom he admired and who encouraged his studies. Why Latin? Cherchez la femme of course. When he was six or seven, his neighbor was a little girl who attended private Catholic school. Richard remembers that he was still learning basic reading and writing while she was learning algebra and Latin. It left an indelible impression. 

Latin, a dead language, was still considered important for would-be scholars in the 50's. In Richard's case, it helped to develop and hone his native proficiency with languages. He went on to become a Chinese scholar and a fluent Chinese speaker; pretty good at German as well. He studied Romanian at the Foreign Service language school. I'm always amazed at his ear..he can imitate sound very easily and even if he can't speak a language he can mimic the speech readily. Here's what educators say about the benefits of learning Latin even today....

 Professor Emeritus William Harris notes:
" From another point of view, the study of Latin does foster precision in the use of words. Since one reads Latin closely and carefully, often word by word, this focuses the student's mind on individual words and their usage. It has been noticed that people who have studied Latin in school usually write quite good English prose. There may be a certain amount of stylistic imitation involved, but more important is the habit of reading closely and following important texts with accuracy."
I studied Latin too for a couple of years, but all I can remember is the Catholic Mass and conjugation of a couple of classic verbs in the nominal form, indicative case:  amo, amas, amat, amamis, amatis, amant etc. Knowledge of Latin roots helped me all through school, figuring out what words meant even when I'd never seen them before. It was helpful reading musical scoring (Italian) and when I clerked for my lawyer father in the summers in Canada. My husband went on to have a career in foreign intelligence where the need for accuracy and close reading was essential. Many of his older colleagues had studied Latin as part of their Ivy league educations (that was the path to intelligence services in the good old days).  Here's a link to an on-line Latin course I found tempting -  Latin Lessons. But I'm too busy (ha) studying Astronomy and Milton on the Yale on-line open class program.

Richard's graduating class 1957, was the first from Birmingham and had about 100 students. It went on to become the largest (number of students) high school west of the Mississippi in the 90's. In 2009 the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to allow the school to become a charter school under the name: Birmingham Community Charter High School.

Swim team and much loved "coach."
Richard in the middle. 

Yearbook inscription. I loved the little drawing. 

Yearbook inscription
Richard's high school Varsity letter - the sweater it was sewn onto is long lost to moths and mold.

Interesting facts about Birmingham from Wikipedia: 

Notable alumni[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Birmingham High School has been used as the backdrop for numerous music videos, commercials, and television shows such as the music video for Simple Plan's song Can't Keep My Hands Off You, Missy Elliott's song Gossip Folks, Gwen Stefani's song "Hollaback Girl", Corbin Bleu's song "Push It to the Limit," Eminem's No Love, and Lil Wayne's Prom Queen. Also, in 2007 an episode of America's Next Top Model was filmed there. Other shows filmed at Birmingham High School include Nip/TuckNCISCold CaseScrubsThe OfficeGhost Whisperer and Monk.
The school's football field was used as a set for the shoot of the music video for Angels & Airwaves "Everything's Magic" (the first single to their new CD, I-Empire). The track, surrounding the football field, also served as the location for the relay race scene starring Kirk Cameron in Like Father Like Son. An episode of Full House was filmed there, with Danny, Jessy, and Joey running a race around the track. In addition, Fanny Pakof America's Best Dance Crew comes to the dance studio to practice before they go on tour.
In June 2009 Los Angeles Schools superintendent Ramon C. Cortines objected to photographs of the school's football team posing with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in his guise as Brüno that appeared in GQ magazine.[13] Even though LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortinesgave discipline against principal Marcia Coates and Rick Prizant, the athletic director, Cortines stated that the discipline could not be enforced because, since Birmingham was becoming a charter school, Coates and Prizant would no longer be LAUSD employees.[5]
Miranda Cosgrove's music video for "Dancing Crazy" is also filmed on Birmingham High School's football field. The hit show on MTVAwkward, has also been filmed at Birmingham High School.

Lacta percurrere legere finge huius Sepia Saturday
Loose translation: Hurry over to read more stories at Sepia Saturday


  1. I can't speak Latin, or read it, but I can sing it! Not that I understand what I'm singing much of the time. One time my choral group had joined with another group to sing "Carmina Burana" - just about the most exciting work I've ever sung. As I recall, the text was taken from poems written by 11th century monks & what poems they were - all about young pretty girls dancing on lawns, & men drinking & dancing & carousing. Some pretty racy stuff. Our director told us what the Latin & old German we were singing, meant. But the other group's director did not tell them. So when combined choral rehearsals began, we clued them in & they were a bit shocked to find out what they'd been singing about with such passion. Pretty funny.

  2. I rather like that 1956 Tomahawk yearbook cover. I studied Latin at school too, and quite agree that knowledge of the Latin roots has helped enormously, not just with understanding of words and other languages. Not so sure about the "cherchez la femme" bit, though. Great post, in spite of your initial dearth of material.

  3. I rather like the idea of being King of the Latin Class, although I fear that my lack of proficiency with languages would never allow me such status. Some lovely old photos and such an enjoyable post.

  4. That school certainly had an interesting history! Is the Varsity letter a B for Birmingham? We don't have that kind of thing here in Aus.

  5. Thanks for an enjoyable post about a school, and especially about your husband's pursuits there. The programs available through the US government for those with disabilities are fantastic...and under-used I've been told. I hope more people can avail themselves of these opportunities.

  6. My mother had taken Latin in high school and always told us what a help it was. I took Spanish, instead. More people here in Calif. speak Spanish than Latin. Unfortunately I've forgotten most of it.
    What an interesting high school Birmingham was! Richard graduated the year before me. I don't think my high school, Pomona, was in the same league, sports-wise or otherwise.

  7. Sounds like a school that left lasting memories. As for Latin, I only know Latin rhythms.

  8. Particularly enjoyed the Latin stories.

  9. I took 2 years of Latin. Your husband's high school career was an interesting one, for sure. It's hard to believe that wheelchair ramps are so young.

  10. A few months ago I went to a wheelchair basketball game. My cousin's son was playing. He'd injured his back in a motorcycle accident in 2013 and is now paralyzed from the waist down. A fella who has taken on this challenge with more aplomb that any of us could have ever imagined.