Stay calm. This column has nothing to do with grammar. It is just that the classic definition of nouns helped organize my scattered thinking about an absolutely random week.
The “people” of my week were all German-related. I spent a delightful afternoon with two participants in the very first exchange between Graham High School and the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe, Germany – back in 1976 when the whole program began as an experiment.
The experiment, which became tradition for the two schools, worked well for 26 years. Roxanne Zerkle Shively and Detlev Ascher formed the only girl-boy partnership in that initial group, and their friendship has stood the test of time. Roxanne made two subsequent visits to Germany with me, and Detlev has returned to St. Paris ten times over the years – including last week’s surprise appearance at the Class of 1978’s 40th reunion, hosted by Roxanne.
As we conversed, part of my mind remembered the teenagers Roxanne and Detlev once were, when the age gap between us was a gulf of twelve whole years. But there in front of me sat two adults, successful in their careers, who know each other’s spouses and children and share pictures of their grandchildren. The difference in our ages has been reduced to only twelve years. Our visit was the very essence of time standing still even as it marches on.
And I understood, too, that a friendship between people of different nationalities is exactly that: a relationship based on shared experiences and concern. If only we could apply that concept to those of differing cultures, faiths, and political views, our world could revel in peace and security.
Then, the day before my deadline, I unexpectedly made the acquaintance of Graham’s new German teacher, when Maria Schulz Hickey stopped by for a couple of hours. As we “talked shop,” my conversational German got a workout, the likes of which my brain has not experienced in a very long time.
I am so excited for the students of Graham. On the heels of last year’s re-introduction of my favorite subject, Maria is using her engaging and natural personality to re-establish GHS tradition in her two German 2 classes and four German 1 classes – including the one at Graham Middle School. Willkommen, Frau Hickey!
The “places” of last week appeared in an article about American towns with offbeat names. I tried to imagine myself living in Boring, Maryland or Nothing, Arizona. There were opposites: Why in Arizona and Why Not in North Carolina. I plan to avoid Accident, Maryland and Hazard, Nebraska, but Money, Mississippi might be worth checking out. Fertile, Iowa seems appropriately named, and I am certain more than a few Buckeye fans would find a similar appropriateness in the name of Hell, Michigan. And it just might be possible to eat one’s way across the country with stops in Two Egg, Florida; Toast, North Carolina; and Hot Coffee, Mississippi before a quick visit to Sandwich – in Massachusetts or New Hampshire or Illinois – with dessert in Pie Town, New Mexico!
Actually, I think it would be fun to live somewhere with a melodic name. When asked for place of residence, imagine replying Chattanooga or Honolulu or Tuscaloosa. I would delight in a hometown named Walla Walla or Ypsilanti – or even the staccato Albuquerque. And what about Rancho Cucamonga? Wow!
I am less enthusiastic, however, about the official state abbreviations the Post Office wants us to use. Oh, I understand it takes much longer to write Pennsylvania or Connecticut than it does to scratch out PA or CT. But I think the old abbreviations served us well until 1987. At least Calif. and Tenn. retained the spirit of the charming letter arrangement in the complete names.
I fail to find any purported convenience when I have to look up the abbreviations for any state beginning with M or A. Our own state – the state celebrated in that 4-H camp ditty: “What’s round on the ends and high in the middle?” – is reduced to a nondescript OH. And schoolkids of the future will never again take pleasure in spelling: M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I. What a pity…
In a much more serious vein, the “things” of my week were white roses. I saw a report about a daily tradition carried out at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. Museum employees and volunteers place a single white rose on the engraved name of each victim on that person’s birthday.
One museum employee, whose brother died that sad September day, reported there is at least one person’s birthday to be remembered each day of the year. A museum volunteer, who survived the attacks, requests the white rose responsibility and often comes in on his days off to carry it out. And a former EMT, who volunteered that day, now owns the flower shop that donates the roses each and every day. A silently beautiful gesture…
Another “thing,” another beautiful gesture, but one based on sound, was last week dedicated in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Tower of Voices contains forty sets of chimes to honor the forty passengers and crew members who knowingly sacrificed their lives to prevent a fourth hijacked plane from wreaking havoc on its intended target.
And that is how the people, places, and things of my week played out in grammatical terms – unintentionally, of course.
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.