In a certain sense, I have blundered my way through 67 years of life. Some people are accident prone; others frequently “open mouth, insert foot.” My particular talent is that of committing acts of nitwittedness on an alarmingly regular basis.
I developed this skill early in life. One day my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Pratt, chose me to take the daily attendance report to the office and put it in the basket. Official document in hand, I climbed the nearby flight of stairs in awe – I had never been past the first floor at Concord. Later, following a whispered consultation with the school secretary, Mrs. Pratt inquired if I had delivered the report. She pressed but finally realized I was unfamiliar with the concept of a wire basket on a desk; I had deposited the attendance form in the office waste basket.
Many of my goofy moments have been minor in nature. One morning I actually organized my time well enough to put liver and onions in the crockpot before I left for school. During a quick “pit stop” that afternoon before I dashed off for an evening meeting, the aroma from the kitchen promised a luscious meal when I finally made it home for the night. Disappointment, not liver and onions, was on the menu when I subsequently discovered I had not plugged in the crockpot; I still wonder what I smelled at 4 p.m.
Also relatively insignificant but nonetheless confounding was the case of the missing eye glasses. During my younger years when I wore glasses as a fashion statement rather than from necessity, I regularly misplaced mine. I assumed that another colleague shared my habit when John Zeilman, GHS art teacher, hung on the office window a baggie containing some glasses left in his classroom. For three days I walked by that pair of spectacles, amazed that the owner had not claimed them, before I realized they belonged to me.
Friends and family will point out that my gaffes often occur because of a weak sense of direction. The day I missed my travel destination of Westerville by accidentally arriving at the Columbus Zoo remains unexplained. And once I made an inadvertent directional error in my attempt to reach Enon. Turning right onto I-70 from State Route 235 took me unwittingly off course until my student passenger spied the “Indiana – 25 Miles” sign. The gas station attendant we asked for directions had never heard of Enon but helpfully pointed the way to Eaton.
Language barriers sometimes negatively affected travel plans during my early days in Germany. Carefully following written directions, I still found myself hopelessly lost on the way to a school in a neighboring town. That I had confused the German words for “train station” and “main train station” was small consolation. Fortunately, the owner of the dress shop I tearfully entered kindly closed her store, put me in her car, and drove me to the school – all because her uncle lived in Columbus.
Another time I traveled to Frankfurt to serve on a student exchange panel. Neither I nor the cabbie in the taxi I hailed was a native German, so our differing accents and dialects caused confusion. I could not understand his objection each time I showed him the address of the seminar site, but I remained adamant. He finally relented and drove me: just around the corner from my hotel. Red-faced, I paid him a tip much larger than the fare.
I have been marginally involved in the embarrassing moments of others. When I was twelve or so, my mother decided to make a pair of shorts for me. The most-difficult-to-fit daughter, I spent lots of time standing in front of Mother as she poked and tugged. Continued fittings and frequent trips to the sewing machine increased our frustration caused by the too-baggy front and too-snug back – until she discovered the zipper was on the wrong side, leading me to try the shorts on backwards.
My friend Ingrid arrived home one evening from a long return trip after a choir rehearsal somewhere. She had spotted a beautifully-illuminated castle from the Autobahn, and we all decided it was worth a daytime visit. On our next Sunday excursion, we searched unsuccessfully for the elusive structure, until we found Ingrid’s castle: a huge garden center complete with sculptures, statues – and extensive nighttime lighting.
I will end this article with an especially mortifying example of my innate dingbattiness. Early in the 1970’s I escorted my first student group to Europe. I was young; they were young; and we planned to visit several countries, using our Eurail passes for unlimited train and bus travel. We had landed in Luxemburg; from there we planned to hop a train to Paris. As the kids waited with the luggage, I had the train passes validated and then mailed postcards I had written to their families the previous evening. When I turned to distribute the passes and found only postcards in my hand, I realized I had mailed the train passes. My mixture of English-German-French eventually brought a post office employee who retrieved the passes, and a few hours later we were once again Paris-bound.
This lifelong series of goofs, gaffes and assorted embarrassing moments has enriched my life through woeful humiliation, instructive lessons, and interesting adventure. At least, that’s my story – and I’m sticking to it.