This is the speech I delivered at the dinner:
Now, my speech. Forgive my penchant for logorrhea.
The Ruth Gorham prize salutes a woman who devoted her life to Graland, a woman whose service to the school and accomplishments as a teacher, archivist, and the “alma mater” to the alumni will never dim. This award pays tribute to the lady who in so many ineffable ways was the essence of this school, a lady who redefined the importance of commitment to this institution, its teachers, its families, its students.
A few uttered words cannot encapsulate a woman like Mrs. Gorham. It is she whom many revere as a wonderful combination of friend, mentor, taskmaster, storyteller, and mother. She was a master teacher years before the genesis of such an honor at this school. She cherished the written word. Woe to the student or teacher who uttered a grammatical solecism in her presence—I believe she had memorized Burnham and Lederer’s Basic Verbal Skills. My favorite comment of Ruth’s was, “You did not do good; you did well. Albert Schweitzer did good.” Her love of literature ranged from Shakespeare to Shane—- and a particular fondness for The Odyssey. Let us not forget her glorious ability to interrupt the lessons and recite poetry in the middle of seventh grade English.
My words may be fleeting, but the images in my mind will endure until I cross that bar and see my Pilot face to face. She was the friend who talked me out of my first resignation in December,1976. Yes, she recited lines from “Invictus” and counseled me, a bit of tenderness and tough love. She was the friend who encouraged me to teach seventh grade English with her and opined, “Tuck and I want you to concentrate on grammar. You worship the English language.” Also, she was the friend who taught me so much about the history of Graland School. I was the magistra’s fidus Achates. Often, Mike Teitelman spoke about the magic that was Graland. Mrs. Paul Gorham was THAT magic. She was our muse and our Mnemosyne. I even forgive her for nicknaming me Woody, as in Allen, not Beardsley.
Now, I must venture into the world of asides, those verbal rambles which I embraced from the moment I turned three. Don’t hasten to the exit door, for I promise no philippics or Papal pronouncements about either Audrey or Kate. No sitting on the piano or climbing on a chair or scrawling on lockers – not even prepositional madness with a desk.
Yet, like the serial killer I am not, I am possessed with the insatiable urge to be myself. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Echoes of “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” race through my mind. Well, I “guesstimate” it’s time for my version of the “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.” I promise not to sing, juggle, twirl a baton, or tap dance. Not even a spinning wheel. Maybe, a prance or two.
What is it? A quiz of course. . . Only twelve questions. . . Culled from my years teaching English. Oh, I am including questions from seventh and eighth grade English. The latter is important to me because the hallmark of eighth grade English was teaching with Kathy Stokes.
What was the name of the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Where does A Separate Peace take place?
What record does Holden Caulfield purchase for Phoebe, his sister?
Who flayed Marsyas at a certain music competition?
Who created the horse for Demeter?
Do the indefinite pronouns, each-neither-either, take a singular or a plural verb?
What are the four principal parts of the irregular verb, burst?
What is the old man’s name in The Old Man in the Sea?
Who suffers from asthma – or assmar, as Ralph pronounces the word – in Lord of the Flies?
Who is my grammatical hero?
Who is the goddess of wisdom in Greek and Roman mythology? Her major emblem?
What is J.D. Salinger’s complete name?
I must cease and heed the advice Abby Staunton Shafroth gave Henry Walcott Toll before he wrote and delivered his speech at the First Parents’ Dinner: Don't talk too much, and when you do talk, don't be a bore." I pilfer from Mr. Toll the following words, “The Lord had already decided how much of a bore I should be.”
However, before I bellow, “Ite missa est,” and you chant, “Deo Gratias!”— two meanings for two words – I must thank some ladies and gentlemen from my younger days: Madame Guiberteau, Jack McKenna, Katie Dodge, Tuck Ganzenmuller, Nancy Priest, Kathy Peryam, Lisa Johnson, Ludmila Glasscock, Russ Bissell, Jan Baucum, John and Joan Kuntz and of course, the triumvirate of Mike Teitelman, Tim Johnson, and Barb Wagner. Yes, many more names could follow.
One quote and I pledge I shall go gently into this good night. “I thought I heard you—one of you—saying it was a pity I never had any children. . . But I have, you know I have. . . Thousands of ‘em. . . thousands of em.”
That’s it, folks!