Thursday, March 12, 2009

Going to Pocatello High School I--the great speech

For the next couple of blog entries I am going to return to the spirit of some of my earlier blogs about growing up in Pocatello and tell about some of my high school experiences.

I was always rather shy, something did not bother me much until I reached 9th grade. It was then that I noticed that girls were not much attracted to shy guys--or at least, so it seemed to me. My father was a lawyer and seemed not shy at all. I determined that it must have been the fact that he was a good public speaker that got him over any shyness he may have had, so I determined to become a good public speaker. Hence, I began to volunteer to give talks in Church, took a speech class in high school, and entered a couple of speech contests. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I rated myself as a pretty good public speaker.
Like all sophomores at Poky High, I was required to take a biology class. There were two biology teachers--Mr. Whitmore, who was considered a biology fanatic, and Mr. Glendiman, who was considered, when he was considered at all, a pushover. Fortunately, not being much interested in biology anyway, I drew Mr. Glendiman. Mr. Glendiman was an elderly man, large of stature, but very leisurely of habit, and very--even extremely— short of sight. He had glasses whose lenses resembled the proverbial coke-bottle bottoms more than any others I have ever seen. His easy-going nature and his near-sighedness resulted in his being taken advantage of most terribly, I thought. He would take the role at the beginning of the class, but shortly thereafter many of the students would reseat themselves toward the back of the room and then when he had his back turned writing on the board, simply leave class. Later, if he called on someone who had left, a friend would call out, "He got sick" or " she had to go to the office", or, more often than not there would be no response at all. I doubt that it was as bad in his other classes as it was in mine, but since ours was the last class of the day, there was an irresistable temptation for many in the class to get away from school early. Mr. Glendiman knew, of course, what was going on more than most of the class members gave him credit for, but I think he felt that he was about to retire and it was not worth making a great fuss about if some class members decided to sneak out. Of course, if he called on them and they didn’t respond, then they simply lost class participation credit.
Mr. Glendiman decided that the best way to cover our section on conservation would be to assign class members to give a five minute verbal presentation on any aspect of the subject they chose and hope that the class members would choose enough diverse topics that we would get a good over-view of the subject. He gave us an entire week to prepare our presentations, but the whole thing totally slipped my mind until I was sitting in geometry class--the class I had before my biology class. At first I was in a state of shock, bordering on panic, but shortly a calming wave of rationilization swept over me. "I’m a really experienced public speaker," I assured myself. "I’ll just wing it. I will simply wax eloquent on the tragedy of the disappearing buffalo and explain how a good conservation program would have prevented the tragedy." With my speech thus adequaltely prepared I allowed my mind to return to the complexities of geometry.
As I actually entered Mr. Glendiman’s class I became a bit nervous about my presentation and was, therefore, relieved to discover that he intended to spend the first part of the period finishing a previous unit. After he had taken role--there were, as usual, many students absent, but no non-responses, since friends of the truants responded "here". I delayed the speeches as much as I dared by asking several questions, but finally, about half=way through the class period, Mr. Glendiman said, "I think that we’ve covered that unit enough. Now let’s begin with your speeches."
It actually looked like I might be given a reprieve, because the very first girl he called on actually had a speech prepared. It was a sort of capsule history of Yellowstone Park. It was short of the required five minutes, but it obviously had been prepared in advance because she read it verbatim. He then called on several others, who either responded with "Not prepared" or failed to respond altogether. I became very nervous as he was getting very close to my name. Just before me, however, was Ralph Harper. Ralph was, next to myself, the most diligent student in the class, which, in that class, meant that he was prepared about half the time. I expected, therefore, that he would be prepared, but I was in for a surprise--not only was he prepared, but he was prepared like a law student facing his first real jury. He had charts, pictures, graphs, and a speech so well rehearsed that it sounded like he was entering a contest. Suddenly, my planned harangue on the disappearing buffalo palled into insignificance and I prayed fervently that I might be given a day’s grace in which to prepare.
To my relief, he skipped over my name. Obviously, I was to be the grand finale, but since there was only about five minutes left in the class, I felt a surge of gratitude and relief. Surely, even in that class there would be at least one other person prepared.
No such luck. Mr. Glendiman read through the entire rest of the role with no takers. He layed down the role and said, "Well, that’s it. We’ll now hear from Merrill. We know he’s prepared."
Trying to look as confident as possible, I walked to the front of the room and launched into my speech. "We all know how terribly important conservation is," I began. "A tragic example of the lack of an adequate conservation program can be seen in the buffalo, which, due to lack of conservation, is almost extinct."
With a shock, I realized that I had just delivered the prepared part of my speech. The rest went something like this. "We used to have buffalo everywhere in this country--especially on the plains, but even in the mountains and other places too, but what happened? People starting killing buffalo right and left. They should have known that they needed a conservation program to save the buffalo, but they didn’t and now we hardly have any buffalo."
I paused as if to let this terrible truth sink in. What I was actually doing was hoping for some kind of inspiration. It came in the form of a book title I had seen my grandfather reading. "Most of you have heard of Zane Grey’s book--or possibly you saw the movie, "The Thundering Herd". Why did that herd thunder? Because there were thousands--probably millions of buffalo thundering and thundering." Of course, I had neither read the book or seen the movie--if there was a movie--so I had no idea if the thundering herd refered to horses, cattle, or even goats, but I hoped that it was refering to buffalo or that everyone in the class--especially, Mr. Glendiman, didn’t know either. "And," I continued with an increasing tone of desperation in my voice, "why did we need all those buffalo? I’ll tell you why. People depended on them for food and clothes. A hungry Indian would put his ear to the ground and hear the millions of buffalo thundering thundering toward him and he knew he would have food and a new buffalo robe and buffalo skin for his tepee and he would smile. But now what does he do? Because we had no conservation program, he cries. When was the last time you saw a tepee made from buffalo skins? And why? Because just at the time when we needed a conservation program we didn’t have one." I paused again, mostly because my voice was getting as high pitched as the top of the buffalo-skin tepee.
I was about to throw in the towel when I suddenly got a flash of inspiration. "Not only the buffalo, but the passenger pigeon and some kind of wild duck. Buffalo, passenger pigeons and special kinds of wild duck were common in this country. You saw them everywhere--on every prairie, on every mountainside, almost in every town and even on the streets. And what do we have now? Not a buffalo, not even a passenger pigeon or a wild duck in sight.There were plenty of them to enjoy and everyone loved having them around, but they’re all gone now. And why? We just didn’t have the conservation program we needed in time to save the passenger pigeon, the wild duck and, above all, the buffalo."
At that point the bell rang and never was a sound so welcome. "I’m afraid you’ll have to stop," Mr. Glendiman interjected. Then hastily added, "The three who gave their presentations get "A"’s the rest of you fail the assignment. Class dismissed."
I dived for my desk, grabbed my books and bee-lined as fast as I could out of the class and out the front door. I headed for the most secluded spot I could find--behind the gym building, hoping that no one would see me. I sat down to pein away the time until the bus came, wondering how I was ever going to face my classmates again. I was sitting there brooding, when a familiar voice sounded behind me. "Say that was a pretty good speech." I turned to see that Ralph Harper had followed me to my spot of seclusion.
"It didn’t sound too bad?" I asked hoping that it might not have been as bad as I thought.
"Didn’t sound bad at all." He reassured me. He paused for a moment to let his assurance sink in, then he added, "And you sure were right about one thing."
"Oh yeah? What was that," I asked hopefully.
He raised his hand to his forehead as though he were a hunter scanning the horizon, "Not a buffalo in sight." With that he laughed and ran off leaving me all the more to wonder how I was ever going to face my classmates again.

1 comment:

Gavin said...

This was one of my favorite stories growing up. Thanks for writing it down.