Back to his roots

By Alexia Boyarsky

or most people, pears are fruits bought at supermarkets, while sheep are animals played with at petting zoos. Latin teacher Paul Chenier, however, could tell you that pears are the hardest fruit to pick because their skin is prickly and their trees don’t afford enough shelter. He could also tell you, from personal experience, that sheep aren’t good pets to have, because eventually they will be “utilized,” and they can also be picky about their food.

Growing up in the rural town of Naramata, located in British Columbia, Canada, Chenier spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence on a variety of farms. Although his parents did not own a permanent farm, they rented out property with farmland on it, which Chenier helped out on; he also regularly worked on his relatives’ farms.

“The whole backdrop of my history was farming,” he said. “It doesn’t seem special or odd to me.”

Because he was always “frail and slight,” Chenier said he did not participate in most of the manual labor on the farms, but instead took care of the “baby” plants in nurseries and picked fruits.

Chenier said that the hardest fruits to pick are pears and peaches because they are “very prickly.” As a child, his favorite task was picking cherries during the summer.

“I would bring buttered bread with me, and after picking cherries smash some into the bread and eat it like a sandwich,” said Chenier. “It was shady and beautiful.”

But Chenier’s farming experience went beyond fruits. Instead, his family decided to get farm animals. They started out with two baby sheep when Chenier was in eighth grade.

“They were named Fickle and Finnigan, and they are pretty famous [among my students]; one was named after a character on a Canadian TV show, and one was just named because he was picky,” he said. “I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them.”

Because his aunt had a large cattle ranch, the family brood of animals extended to include two donkeys, half a dozen more sheep and some rabbits.

Chenier, however, knew that farming wasn’t for him. Although he was making “good money,” approximately 10 dollars an hour, the hardships of manual labor were always apparent to him.

“[Manual labor] is extremely difficult, and I have the highest respect for all of the people that do it on a daily basis,” Chenier said. “There is a romantic side to farming, sure, but I was always looking for other things that I could do.”

He first encountered Latin when he went to college at the University of Victoria.

“In my public school, they would teach only French as a language, and I never felt a connection to it,” he said. “Someone read Virgil to me in college, in Latin, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.”

“I was never interested in language as an end in and of itself,” he said, “I wanted to read stuff by the people who spoke it, and that is what Latin is.”

By his third year of college, he was only taking classes in Latin or Ancient Greek, and he knew that this was what he wanted to spend his life doing.

While studying in university, Chenier also met his wife, former Latin teacher Siobhan McElduff.

Chenier jokes that he knew this was the woman he was going to marry, “because she was in the library section that no one but me ever goes in to,” the section containing Ancient Greek literature.

Chenier says that he when he gets older, he would like to retire in the same agricultural town he grew up in.

“I know every single spot of that town, and it’s full of memories for me,” he said. “It’s where my heart will always be.”