Friday, January 22, 2010
MR. MACGREGOR'S GARDEN
I am constantly surprised when I come in contact with young people who do not "get" simple literary references. While working at BMY, where we built trucks for the U.S. Army, the average age of the manufacturing workforce was twent-six years of age. The management team was much older and we were a Deming-style operation. The Team Leaders were all young, aggressive, and educated. One day, one of the Team Leaders, Sonny, was showing a problem to me and I told him to go in to see our Engineering Liasion John MacGregor to assist with the problem. As he was leaving, I laughed and said, "But don't go in Mr. MacGregor's garden!" Sonny gave me an amused look and both he and Mr. MacGregor returned to the manufacturing floor for John to look at the problem first-hand. After John had analyzed and given a solution to the problem, he and I walked away together and John laughed and said, "That kid came in and told me that you told him not to go into my garden but he didn't have any idea what you meant." I said, "Well, John, youth AND literature must both be wasted on the young." John said, "You better not use a George Bernard Shaw reference when he doesn't even know Peter Rabbit!" Knowing that John had grown children, I asked if they would understand those references and John said that they would, but he doubted if his grandchildren would, because of how busy the parents were.
Four years ago, we had one of my husband's nieces (a 16-year-old National Honor Society member with a 3.8 average) paint our fence as a summer job. When some other young people stopped by to talk to her, I told her she should do a little "Tom Sawyer-ing". She had no idea what I meant. Earlier this year we were talking about someone's unruly child and I said that I had named him "Red Chief"; the college-educated mother didn't understand the reference to O. Henry. We had to have one of our birch trees removed and the tree trimmer didn't understand the reference when I told him I'd named the tree "Robert Frost". These are all references that I learned in high school.
In talking to a high school senior last week, I was told that they report on four books a year and all the kids read the same book and take turns reading the book aloud in class. He said that he'd read "Gone With The Wind", "The Outsiders", "The Pearl" and he couldn't think of the fourth one. I said, "How could it take three months to read a novella; "The Pearl" isn't even a full-length book!" At least he knew the author was John Steinbeck. I remember, as a senior, I asked Miss Digman if I could report on "Lady Chatterley's Lover" which the publisher had recently won a Supreme Court suit to allow it to be imported into the United States from England. I had the unexpurgated edition which my oldest brother Bode loaned to me. Imagine my shock when I received my report back from Miss Digman, without the usual "A", full of red ink with the caustic comment, "Obviously you did not know this book is an allegory on the Industrial Revolution!" I was too smitten by page 155 to realize that!