Wednesday, April 19, 2017


In yesterday's article I mentioned being required to recite When The Frost Is On The Punkin' in school.   I don't think there is much memorization in schools today.  Poems by James Whitcomb Riley were popular to recite in my mother's generation and obviously, also in my generation. 

Into her eighties, my mother could still recite The Duel ("The Gingham Dog And The Calico Cat") by Eugene Field and Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley. When I quizzed her about the "t" on the end of Orphant,  she told me that you better pronounce it that way with her teachers.

When my mother was in school she was very bright and she was allowed to skip a grade and then she was in the same class as her older sister Verna.  My grandmother approved of this because my aunt needed "help".  In one class they were required to learn a Riley poem titled Let Something Good Be Said.   It took a great deal of coaching by my mother and grandmother, but my aunt practiced the poem and was eventually able to recite it completely.

In the poem of four stanzas, each verse ends with something similar to: "Let something good be said".  At school, as my aunt proceeded with her recitation, at the end of the first verse she said, "Let sumpin' good be said." [Hey, we're from Fayette County; pronouncing "ings" is just a nuisance]  The teacher quickly corrected her and said, "Verna, that's SOMETHING--say someTHING--not sumpin'." My aunt continued with the next verse and ended with, "If sumpin' good be said".  The teacher exclaimed, "No, No, Verna, it's SOMETHING--now say someTHING!" The next two stanzas were the same with Verna saying "sumpin'" with the teacher correcting her each time. My poor aunt---the teacher made her say the word-- "someTHING"--100 times in front of the class.

My mother had the last word when she asked the teacher why they could say punkin'  instead of "pumpkin" in the Riley poem When The Frost Is On The Punkin'.  Correcting a teacher was not acceptable in those days and Mother suffered the consequences by having to memorize--and recite--another Riley poem!

When correcting in our family, it is quite common to hear someone say, "Say someTHING, Verna!"


--James Whitcomb Riley

When o'er the fair fame of friend or foe
The shadow of disgrace shall fall; instead
Of words of blame, or proof of theirs and so
Let something good be said.

Forget not that no fellow-being yet
May fall so low but love may lift his head:
Even the cheek of shame with tears is wet
If something good be said.

No generous heart may vainly turn aside
In ways of sympathy; no soul so dead
But may awaken strong and glorified
If something good be said.

And so I charge ye, by the thorny crown
And by the cross on which the Savior bled,
And by your own souls' hope of fair renown
Let something good be said.

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