I am an inveterate list maker. I always considered list making an occupational necessity; but eight retirement years later, I still begin each day by jotting down a simple to-do list.
Musing about lists and list makers, I could not help myself – I made a list of lists. Some are as mundane as mine: grocery lists, shopping lists, lists of errands. Others are more specialized. Wives prepare honey-do lists for their spouses, while politicians place nominees on the latest short list. The all-purpose laundry list is applicable to any number of situations.
Historically, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of the 1200 Jews he put on a list made in response to Nazi atrocities. “Blacklist” became a verb during the era of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.
And can we forget David Letterman’s nightly Top Ten List? In reverse numerical order, he itemized current events or the “Top Ten Lessons from Woodstock” – and the “Top Ten Numbers Between One and Ten”!
Nowadays Craigslist serves as an internet marketplace, where people buy cars, sell pets, and find roommates. The World Wide Web is rife with all manner of lists: “10 Luxury Campsites” or “Grandma’s 20 Best Chicken Recipes” to name a couple.
I recall few lists and little list making from my younger years. Mother did keep a running Christmas list in a notebook tucked away in her pocketbook. And at some point, Casey Kasem debuted his American Top 40.
It was at Otterbein, however, that I finally came to listing. I recall in excruciating detail my first college lecture, when I wrote at breakneck speed to copy every word delivered. Unfortunately, the resulting pages of scribbles and scrawls provided few clues to what my Western Civilization professor had actually said.
As four years passed, I learned to listen in a more organized manner. My notes contained “stacks” of bullet-pointed information about classroom discipline and Victorian poetry.
As a classroom rookie, I trained myself to present daily lesson plans to five freshman English classes. My district-issued lesson plan book held the official version, including behavioral objectives and predicted outcomes, but I needed something practical in my hand as each 40-minute period ticked by. I began filling stenographer notebooks with ordered lists of each day’s details.
As school life evolved into a jumble of German classes, extra-curricular activities, and trips abroad, I armed myself with notepads and sticky notes. I listed my weekly goals on a notepad page to which I attached a yellow Post-It with items to be completed that day. Every morning as the first bell sounded, I popped a teeny-tiny sticky note on top of the whole thing with what “must be completed today or life as I know it will cease to exist.” My handy, triple-layer companion was pretty much foolproof, except when it wasn’t!
Predictably, a few days ago I found an internet list of “10 Reasons Why People Make Lists.” As demonstrated by my former elaborate system based on office supplies, lists are often memory aids. In my case, I am more likely to remember what I write. The key, of course, is remembering to look at the list!
I also agree that lists bring order to chaos. The very thought of organizing a school-wide blood drive or a group trip across the Atlantic often threatened to overwhelm. An ongoing series of chronological lists, however, calmed me and provided important focus. Thus, I was much less likely to run short of cookies in the bloodmobile canteen and much more likely to arrive at the airport with the entire group’s plane tickets and passports.
Remembering our dearly-missed father on his birthday last week reminded me of his list-making style: paltry when compared to mine. He did have one list, however, one that he wrote almost a half-century ago, when we relocated from our childhood home.
The move was necessitated in 1965 when the landlady unexpectedly sold the farm on River Road. Fortunately, my parents managed to purchase the sixty acres on Ford Road where they lived out their years.
It has always been difficult to fathom the true impact of the Great Depression and the war years on my parents. My dad’s folks especially scrimped and scrapped to provide for their sprawling brood. Later, my own parents spent the early years of their marriage renting and farming-on-the-halves on other people’s property.
It was a life’s milestone, then, that my father finally became a landowner at the age of 45. The self-involved adolescent I was at the time could have never understood what it all must have meant to him.
That is when he made his list of plans for his own farm – written on a slip of paper with the stub of a pencil he sharpened with his pocket knife. I never actually saw the items on his list, but from time to time he took the folded paper from the pocket of his flannel shirt – and crossed out a line or two.
I cannot definitively state the purpose of my father’s list. Maybe it was a bucket list of improvements. It might have been a reminder of what he wanted to accomplish. Perhaps the list represented to him what a man can dream to achieve when given a chance.
Of this, however, I am certain: the true significance of any list dwells exclusively in the heart of the list maker.
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.