By Bob Huber
Now that all the sentimental Valentine love stuff is over, let’s talk about why this month always gives me the flimflams. It’s an emotional roller coaster dating back to a religious experience I had in the fourth grade.
Each February in those days, docudramas were staged in towns across the land commemorating the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Students were tapped to publicly portray historic presidential moments, acting out these parts in citywide celebrations. My school was no different.
I had always been safe from such torments, because student actors were selected through some ridiculous academic formula. My grades were at a level where teachers often skipped my name entirely during roll call. For a long time I thought I was invisible.
But on this specific occasion our fourth-grade teacher, Miss Strudel, read from her clipboard as follows:
“Tomorrow is the celebration commemorating the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln. Our turn in this class is to portray Lincoln. Smooth Heine, you’ll be Lincoln writing on a coal shovel. Virgil Crotchmire, you’ll be Lincoln returning a penny. Bobby Huber, you’ll give Lincoln’s Gettysburg address…”
I shouted, “Whoa there, Miz Strudel. You must be kidding. I don’t have time for Gettysburg. I’m busy with the Lord’s Prayer. Besides, I’m invisible.”
I should insert here that my evil sister, Gazelda the Fifth Columnist, had informed my mother that I was secretly mouthing the Lord’s Prayer in church each week because I didn’t know the words. By a bizarre coincidence a small water snake found its way into Gazelda’s undy drawer that night, which shows that God always punishes transgressors.
But Miss Strudel ignored my heart rending outburst and said, “To continue — George Ellis, you’ll be Lincoln at the opera, and Donny Dillon, you’ll be Lincoln at the memorial.”
“How come I can’t be Lincoln at the memorial?” I yelled. “How come Donny gets the easy part?”
Miss Strudel kept reading, but I noted a change in her voice. She now sounded like Nazi tanks rumbling across Poland. “Achtung! You’ll find your lines, wigs, and beards on the work table. Have your parts memorized by tomorrow.”
“Memorized!” I yelped.
But I took the Gettysburg Address home after school anyway and moaned my misfortune to my mother. Always a soft shoulder, she said, “Oh, stop blubbering. You can memorize that little thing tonight while you’re learning the Lord’s Prayer.”
So late in the night I sat at my study desk amidst unfamiliar surroundings and memorized both the Lord’s Prayer and the Gettysburg Address. I finally fell into bed around midnight, my brain in tatters.
But the next morning when I recited the Lord’s Prayer at breakfast, my mother said, “That’s fine. I didn’t think you had it in you. But come Sunday skip the part about the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Anyway, I tripped off to school filled with heady confidence. By that afternoon, when the school gymnasium filled to capacity with weary parents, I was stomping at the bit to recite the Gettysburg Address.
Finally when it was my turn to step onto the stage, I faced a restless crowd. But I hitched up my bib overalls, adjusted my itchy beard, took a deep breath, and — hoping I wasn’t too invisible — shouted, “Four score and seven years ago….”
The audience hushed and looked up at me. I paused a moment for dramatic effect, then raised my voice another octave. “… our fathers …”
I paused again, this time searching for the next words, which for some reason eluded me. So I blurted out, “…which art in heaven….”
I knew I was off base, but I kept going. “…hallowed be thy name.”
My rendition of the Gettysburg Address emerged as the high-water mark of that happy February celebration. When I was through, not a dry eye remained in the crowd. In fact, I was such a pinnacle of fourth-grade oratory that I retired a champion and was never asked to participate in a school activity again.
You don’t want to know what happened in church the following Sunday.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.