Perilous punctuation.

On a conference call last week, I remarked that some members of our group would not be attending. “So it’s just we,” I said to the four people on the call.

“Perilous punctuation!” a colleague exclaimed. “You learned that grammar at Hutchison,” he continued, “from that teacher with the cat-eye glasses who graded harder than any other teacher, the one who talked about ‘perilous punctuation.’ My wife talks about her all the time. What was her name again?”

Mrs. Newberry.

That was her name, when I was a student.

She goes by a different surname now, but I’ll allow that change to remain private and known only to those who actually know her.

In honor of the woman who honed my writing skills and taught me, my classmates, and scores of other girls, so much more than the mechanics of punctuation, I offer this repeat from the archive, originally written and published on the occasion of her retirement, almost a decade ago.

She inspires me, still, and for her influence on my life I remain eternally grateful.

Note: The slightly salty language ensures that my alma mater will never lay claim to this particular tribute. With that fact I am well pleased.

“Dear Mrs. Newberry”

In every high school English class,
Dear Mrs. Newberry, you kicked my ass.

That we hard workers all might be,
You told us to expect no more than a “C.”

You walked us through Dante, Shakespeare and Chaucer
With a passion you imprinted like a hard steel embosser.

And your cat-eye frames caused quite a fit
Long before Urban Outfitters made them a hit.

With your schoolmarm tone and firm demeanor
You ensured none of us would be a preener.

But your legacy, I’d venture, stretches far beyond
Memories of lectures and Honor Code bond.

For some of us you inspired that, because of our smarts,
We could be more than the sum of our parts.

So upon your retirement I write you this ode,
Wishing good cheer and happy abode,

And scores upon scores of “hip hip hooray,”
To you, dear Mrs. Newberry, first class all the way.


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