Notes from a cluttered desk


By Shirley Scott



My weekly schedule combined with the clutter on my desk made me sigh. Every seven days another article needs to be written, and the pile of paper scraps around my computer was threatening avalanche. It was one of those weeks when I would have to write my way out of the mess.

My habit is to jot on the nearest paper surface any idea I hear, see, read, or think, in hopes of using them in my columns. Each week I sift through assorted scrips and scraps until an article materializes or my deadline arrives – whichever comes first.

For example, a couple of Thursdays ago, I wrote “May 31” on the back of a junk mail envelope to remind me that I sort of miss celebrating Memorial Day directly on that date. Yes, the three-day weekend observance has been around since the early 70’s. And I understand, too, that the date is not important; what matters is that we honor our fellow citizens who gave their lives in service to our country. Still May 31 is the real day of remembrance from my childhood – when my parents referred to it as Decoration Day.

It also seems a shame that the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were merged, also in the 70’s, into a single Presidents Day commemoration. Few school kids nowadays know the individual birthdates – the 12th and the 22nd – of these two outstanding statesmen as we Boomers did when we honored them by cutting their silhouettes from black construction paper or colored dittoed pictures of cherry trees and stovepipe hats.

Then the other day I ran across one word scribbled on a page ripped from a small notebook I keep next to my recliner. I had seen several Nesquik commercials and wondered if it was the same product as the Nestlé’s Quik we used to drink at home.

As it turns out, Nestlé’s Quik debuted in America in 1948 and was marketed in Europe a few years later as Nesquik, the brand name now used worldwide. My sisters and I could enjoy hot or cold chocolate milk more often than when Mother had to “mess around” making cocoa from scratch. I also recall the commercial involving a couple of ventriloquist’s dummies; one was a dog named Farfel. The boy dummy, Danny, would sing, “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestlés makes the very best…” At that point, Farfel would intone, “Choc-late,” and decisively snap his mouth shut.

I am almost finished with my latest library book: How to Find Love in a Bookshop, a charming story set in a quaint village near London, England. In fact, I would rather be reading the last few chapters than typing this article.

I have been further charmed by the authentic British phrases used by author Veronica Henry, although a couple of times I have had to do some “translation.” Oh, like most Americans, I recognize a “lift” as an elevator and “telly” as what the British watch. But it has been fascinating to learn they turn to “cookery” books for recipes. They park in “car parks” instead of parking lots, are ticketed by the “ticket warden,” and “pip” their horns at other drivers. They buy wedges of Brie and Gouda from the “cheesemonger.” And talented gardeners have “green fingers” when growing flowers for the “button holes” grooms wear in their lapels on wedding day. Naturally, every new term has necessitated another note tossed onto my desk.

After last week’s article about June in Champaign County, I simply could not bring myself to reduce said clutter by discarding several pages of notes culled from the archives of the UDC – at least until I shared a few more of them.

In comparing the kinds of local information presented on the pages of the newspaper then and now, my 21st century self is always surprised by the “Hospital Notes” feature of the past: names and addresses of individuals admitted and dismissed on their respective dates. Current customs and laws would also never allow the notations of “medical” and “surgical” following each patient’s name. I even ran across a couple of children in for tonsillectomies!

Another type of information published in the 1950’s: a list of unpaid overtime parking tickets – back when Urbana had parking meters. Subscribers could read how many tickets had been paid in the previous week and also browse the license plate numbers and makes of cars whose owners had not yet paid up.

In 1959, when the last passenger trains made their final stops in Urbana, the UDC seemed wistful: “Thus the passenger train, which helped herald the coming of the industrial age to Urbana in the middle of the 19th century, will bow this week to the automobile, the bus, truck and airplane.”

The most interesting nugget of information tucked away involved a farmer in 1954 who received a suspended $50 fine in exchange for his promise to repair the damage he caused to East Water Street. It seems the plow attached to his tractor unexpectedly dropped, leaving a gouge 150 feet long and two inches deep!

There, I have reduced the clutter of slips and scraps on my desk by one thin layer. However, we all know that before long there will be another column based on a fresh batch of jottings from TV, Facebook, library books – and my brain. Now, where is that wastebasket…

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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