Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MTH and those monthly book reports

MTH and those monthly book reports

By Alice Dinizo 

    Mary Tynan Henning was the English teacher at Arlington Memorial High School

Back in those long ago years of the 1950’s and 1960’s when we oldsters were still students. She was a tough teacher, insisting that we knew nouns from pronouns, adjectives from adverbs, but we all loved her and called her MTH mostly behind her back. She was kind and loving to those of us who needed a little extra attention but she insisted that we all get those monthly book reports in on her desk on the last Friday of every month. No ifs, ands, buts or excuses, those book reports were due then or we’d hear about it by the lady herself. And Mary Henning read them, marked them and shared her praise with each class.

   “Kathy, you’ve done a first rate job on your report as always. Now I trust you really enjoyed that Victoria Holt book as much as you said you did?”
   “Reggie, your report on Jackie Robinson‘s biography was really good and I see you took your time spelling each word correctly. Good for you.”

 But it was Phil Bailey’s book reports that really stumped our beloved English teacher for weeks on end. Phil was no student, make no mistake, but on the last Friday of each month for almost an entire semester, Phil handed in the most interesting book reports that MTH had ever read. First there was “Good Friday Blues’ by Joe Castleman. Next Phil reported on “What Every Teenager Should Know” by Arlo Mummings. In November, his book report was called “Thanksgiving Memories” and the author was Grandma Thompson.

 MTH was truly impressed or at least she pretended to be and great lady that she was, she even took Phil’s reports home to read to her girls. Mary Margaret, MTH’s oldest, was one sharp pre-teen. She listened to her mother read Phil’s reports and said nothing. But the next day she went down to the public library to check with Mrs. Congdon, the librarian.
Maybe she could borrow one or two of these wonderful books. Mrs. Congdon hadn’t heard of any of Phil’s books and called her cousin up at UVM who’d never heard of them  either. Mary Margaret said nothing to her mother about her search. She knew MTH wasn’t “born yesterday”.
   Well, December’s book reports were due just before Christmas vacation, and Phil handed in “Christmas Secrets” by Ivy Morris. MTH smiled as Phil walked back to his seat. Then she spoke, “Phil, could I see you for a minute after class?”
  Phil was all smiles as he waited to Mary Henning to see the last student leave her classroom. Then Mary Henning turned to Phil, “You know, I have been so impressed with your originality in those book reports you’ve handed in to me. But, Phil, over Christmas vacation, I want you to read a real book, just for me.” And she handed him a copy of All’s Quiet on the Western Front.

   Mary Henning passed away several years ago to everyone’s great sorrow, but Kathy

told me that she met Phil Bailey in the supermarket not long ago. He smiled, asked after her family, and then admitted that he still owned and cherished that book that Mary Henning gave him all those many years ago. Phil had taken the time to read All Quiet on the Western Front over our Christmas break and loved every word that was written. It had taken him days of reading to complete the book but that vacation was a special time in Phil’s life. He carefully read a book a month for the remainder of the school year and wrote a thoughtful report on each for MTH. He never went on for additional schooling but continues to this day to read library books as he waits in between customers in his successful vacuum cleaner sales and repair shop.  Amazing how some hobbies begin!

Alice DiNizo was raised in Vermont in those golden years just after World War II ended. She grew up in Arlington, Vermont where Norman Rockwell lived at that time with his family. She swam with her friends in the Battenkill River which flowed under the covered bridge that faced his home. Moving to New Jersey over forty years ago was an interesting experience for Alice, who writes under her cat’s name, J.B. But tough old girl that she is, she’s learned to love her adopted state and enjoys writing stories about it. She also reaches into her memory and writes stories about her family and childhood experiences. She lives at the New Jersey shore with her husband, dog and cats and contributes on a regular basis to


Deborah M said...

Loved this story. I loved books since I can remember and don't understand someone making up a book report. LOL Sounds like he would have made a good writer!

Deborah Malone
"Death in Dahlonega"
"Murder in Marietta"

Liz Flaherty said...

What a great story!

Annis Pratt said...

Beginning at about the fourth grade we were handed reading lists for the summer and had to write a one page review of each in a little bound green pamphlet. I am astonished to look back at what we were assigned - all of the Gunther "Inside" books -Inside Europe, Inside Nepal, etc. However it was the books I read about the war we had just been through that hit me between the eyes. John Hersey's The Wall and Hiroshima were two that changed the moral trajectory of my life.

Caroline said...

Lol. What a great post. I kept waiting on you to spring it on us: Phil's grandfather, or dad, or even himself wrote those stories he reported on. It was hilarious that he was making them all up. Turned out nicely tho. I'd love to know more about your writing.

Caroline said...

Lol. What a great post. I kept waiting on you to spring it on us: Phil's grandfather, or dad, or even himself wrote those stories he reported on. It was hilarious that he was making them all up. Turned out nicely tho. I'd love to know more about your writing.