Dr. Patrick was my first college English teacher. He had a reputation of being a bit “Weird,” but what others said about him didn’t frighten me one bit. In all my twelve years of being a student, from kindergarten to high school graduation I never met a teacher I couldn’t get along with. Maybe some of them were a little unusual and maybe some of them were tough, but they all appreciated a student making an honest attempt at learning.
English was always my favorite subject. I loved creative writing, even if the only opportunity to practice and develop my writing skills was writing letters to my friends who were at summer camp. I quickly ignored my mother’s advice about how to begin a letter. She thought the proper way to start was to first ask your friend how they were feeling, followed by assuring her that you were alright. I thought that was a boring and expected way to start. It was simply not my style to start my letter with, “Dear Bobby, how are you? I am feeling fine.”
No, not me. I had to begin with an attention getting statement like “Have you ever seen a grizzly bear asleep on your front lawn?” You could go in any number of directions with an opening question like that. The story probably has nothing to do with grizzly bears on your front lawn. But a good attention getter creates interested readers.
My English teachers always encouraged me to write in my own style. I remember in fourth grade writing an assignment about “What we did on winter vacation.” Our family didn’t go anywhere or do anything special that winter, so couldn’t think of what I could write about.
After some thought about some things I did do, I finally I wrote a story about it. I baked my first cake by myself, used the mix-master for the first time, followed by scraping cake batter off the kitchen wall. The teacher read my story to the class, not the stories of students who skied in Aspen or snorkeled in Eleuthra during vacation. My classmates laughed as she read it; they liked it! So I learned that it isn’t the subject matter that is important; it’s the way the story is told.
Dr. Patrick was a different breed of teacher. He was a huge man with bright red hair, thick eyeglasses and a roaring voice. His favorite word was “Gobbledegook,” and he used it frequently to indicate his displeasure. He disliked insignificant details that didn’t further the story line. He hated anything sentimental. He sneered at corny. He despised flowery language.
He was a no-frills guy.
Today, when I am writing a story, I think about Dr. Patrick. As I read and edit it I think to myself, “Gobbledegook!” as I erase some parts and improve others. I renew phrases and sharpen the writing. I finally learned the meaning of his word. There must have been a more genteel way to say the same thing as he did with the single word, “Gobbledegook,” but it couldn’t have given as much of a punch as that word did for him. Dr. Patrick and his special silly word made him unforgettable.