Monday, February 28, 2011

Horrid Example!

Lovers of language will remember the late James Kilpatrick whose syndicated column, The Writer's Art, was both entertaining and informative. Jimbo, as we called him, provided a little Saturday morning levity as Dave and I would take turns reading his column aloud. With his acerbic wit and ear for language, Mr. Kilpatrick could by turns make us laugh and teach us something about writing mostly by using Horrid Examples sent in by alert readers.

Agreement errors, over-cooked cliches, misused homonyms -- Mr. Kilpatrick would summon his Court of Peeves, Crochets, and Irks and render judgment.

In my sorority days, my friends and I would pour over Glamour magazine. Our favorite feature was The Glamour Don't. A roving photographer would snap pics of Horrid Examples in the fashion world. Errant bras straps, panty lines, a peasant blouse paired with a tailored skirt? Glamour Don'ts and Horrid Examples, one and all.

I always felt a bit sorry for the women in those pictures. I mean, did they buy Glamour? Imagine the shock of seeing your backside held up as a Horrid Example!

Seared deep into my psyche is the time I myself provided a Horrid Example, this one of the academic variety.

I was a mere first grader sitting at my desk in my green plaid jumper. We were finishing worksheets. The directions were straightforward: Color the picture and write the word below it. I came to a picture that had a round/oval shaped object with lines running through it.  

Lettuce, I concluded, thinking of my favorite food. I pulled out my green crayon and got to work.Writing was a little trickier. I was six! What six-year-old can spell lettuce? I gave it my best shot. Just imagine my shock when a visibly agitated teacher held up my paper as a Horrid Example and began lecturing about the hapless student who had colored a nut green and thought it began with the letter "L." Oh, the pain!

Forty years later I find  myself once again providing Horrid Example.

Kolbe spent Saturday afternoon at the local food bank sorting food. Their service project began with a review of what food was good and what food was bad. Bulging cans, ripped bags, moldy fruit - Horrid Examples! The most egregious example was an opened jar of peanut butter that  had several bites taken from it.

"Mom, you're not going to believe what some people do," Kolbe shared in a tone that spoke of dark  scandal. "They taste the food and if they don't like, they donate it to the food bank!"

"Oh, is that ever gro..." I started to concur with Kolbe's shocked assessment, but suddenly I was going back in time.

The Cub Scouts were going door to door collecting non-perishable goods. I rifled through the pantry trying to find items that were both nutritious and tasty. I wasn't going to be the Horrid Example who used a food drive to get rid of stewed tomatoes and canned okra. I found macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and a few other items.

Later that day I grabbed a jar of peanut butter. I pulled off the lid and was surprised to see the safety seal intact.

"Oh no," I groaned to myself. "I gave the open jar to the Cub Scouts!"

I hopped in my car and tried to track down the cache of goods, but it was gone, baby, gone. Gone to the food bank. Gone to one day provide Horrid Example to young Cub Scouts.

I am happy to report that this was not nearly as humiliating as my rear end appearing in Glamour nor as traumatic as my first grade misstep. In fact, when I realized that I was quite likely the source of the Horrid Example, I excused myself and laughed until I cried.

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