Certainly, as a lot of language lovers, I’ve embraced several figures of speech over time, and one of my favorites comes from my old Parks and Rec pal, Brad Clark. Actually, it came to Brad secondhand, making my use of it an anatomically weird third hand.
According to Brad, during his formative years in Cairo, his father Phil, a no-nonsense pipefitter by trade, had a number of favorite expressions. Of course, there was that staple in the parlance of pipefitters and one adopted by many others that speaks of a certain excremental matter that always runs downhill, and payday’s Friday.
And, while I like the rather incongruous pairing, similar to America’s favorite barfly Norm of “Cheers” fame who once opined, “Women, you can’t live with ‘em… and pass the beer nuts,” that wasn’t the one I was remembering after my column posted last week.
Apparently, when Brad’s beloved father didn’t think his young charge was listening very carefully to a directive, Phil would ask rhetorically, “What’s the matter, boy? Your ears painted on?”
It’s a query in hindsight that aptly could been directed my way after a gaffe I need to own. For those of you who may have missed the column, it provided me an opportunity to allow six former Shawnee football players that I interviewed recently about their undefeated and once-scored-upon season in the fall of 1966 to acknowledge their two head coaches during their high school years, Jim Young and Larry Smith, who, after leaving Shawnee to pursue college coaching opportunities, went on to coach Division I schools to more than 250 collective wins.
Now in glass-half-full mode, I think I did an effective job weaving in some personal reflections of my six interviewees, both to provide glimpses of two coaches before sports fans nationwide would know their names and to show that great coaches impart lessons that can last a half century after their players’ game clocks ticked to zeroes.
Now comes the glass-half-empty moment. Following the publication of the column, I received a text from one of the six, Jeff Howison, the center on that team long before he would become a work cohort of mine during our days in education at St. Marys Memorial High School.
Typical of the gentle soul and encouraging force I knew him to be in dealing with students and his coworkers once upon a time, Jeff showed good folks never seem to change, saying in the text that he appreciated so much the coverage I provided his teammates and him. Then the other shoe dropped in the next sentence when he said, “Only ‘typo’ was that Coach Young is alive and residing in Tucson, Arizona.”
Of course, the quotation marks around typo was his gentle acknowledgment that it was my mistake, certainly not a typo, when I said that both Smith and Young had passed, something I could have sworn I heard during my interviews, had my ears not been painted on! While Smith did succumb at 68 to cancer in Tucson, his long-time friend and colleague celebrated his 82nd birthday in April of this year.
Like the famous story about my beloved Mark Twain, who had his death erroneously reported by a New York Journal obit writer once upon a time, Jim Young could certainly have borrowed Twain’s pithy response, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
While I’m thrilled to resurrect Coach Young and wish him many more years to reflect upon his accomplishments, I do feel compelled to say goodbye to someone else, Diane Pacetti, who passed away far too young at 66 on the same day and at the same age as rock icon Tom Petty, which I think Diane would have encouraged me to put in a column as a tidbit as amusing as it is inconsequential.
Diane was my first editor when I started writing for my hometown paper some 16 years ago, and it was she that taught me so much about the art of writing digestible columns that seek to meld entertainment with information.
Her encouragement to tap the nostalgic veins of my past and to take my readers into the English classrooms of my past were so important in helping me find my journalistic voice and produce writing so very different from the didactic writing my career required.
She was Midwest tried and true, born in my native Illinois, and worked all over the heartland region in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio and, during her Lima times, even lived on the very Latham Avenue that helped to raise me.
That’s it for this week, folks, an acknowledgment of my moments in life when my ears are indeed painted on and a very sad acknowledgment of the passing of one who helped me so very much.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.