Mrs. Morgan’s tenth-grade English class changed my life in a number of ways. “Maybe once in a very great while,” she would tell us, “you write something perfectly the first time.” Then, smiling empathetically, she would add, “That doesn’t happen very often,” and hand us The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. “Revise and rewrite,” page 58, were Mrs. Morgan’s watchwords.
In my classes today, I echo Dr. Strunk and Mrs. Morgan: “Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!” In my own writing, I continue to wage a losing war against the insidious needless word.
John Ewing sat on the other side of the room from me in that class. I don’t remember when I first noticed him, but I remember his response to one of Mrs. Morgan’s assignments. She had asked us to create new endings for tired old similes. (So, instead of “cool as a cucumber,” we might write, this being 1967, “cool as Ringo Starr.”)
When Mrs. Morgan called on John, he changed “smooth as silk” to “smooth as a ride in a Chevrolet.” He laughed at his own joke, along with other students who knew him from junior high. I suddenly realized, “Oh, he’s one of those Ewings!” Ewing Chevrolet was an institution in Canton, Ohio.
It’s a very dangerous thing, as I’ve learned over many years, to let John know you think he’s funny. “Don’t encourage him,” the kids and I caution anyone who laughs at John’s jokes, the innocent fool who doesn’t realize that once he gets started, there’s no stopping him.
But I’ll admit it here, since he doesn’t read my blog: I thought John was funny in high school, and I still sometimes do. In fact, I always thought, deep down, that I probably appreciate him and his humor more than most people. If you had asked me, even in high school, I’d even have said that we were a pretty good match.
I had crushes on innumerable boys in high school, and more in college, and then dated a few of them. John Ewing was always someone I kept track of. He was in the back of my mind.
So there’s a lot more to this story that I won’t go into here. We went our separate ways, never dating, and John started working with my sister Marge at the library and I was seeing a lot of our mutual friend Bob, and finally, Reader, I married him. In the years since, there have been times when I’ve had dark and angry thoughts about that boy.
But often, I think back to Mrs. Morgan’s English class and remember there was something there, even then. I felt a connection. And here we are, decades later, holding hands at movies, editing each other’s needless words, worrying over our elderly dog, and wondering where the years went. Much of the time, at least one of us is laughing at John Ewing’s jokes.