After two years of high-school honors English with way too much Chaucer, Milton and Donne, taught by nuns old enough to have read the first printings, I begged my parents to let me drop into what was called “rapids.” The teacher was a lithe, bespectacled former hippie who taught the poetry of Annes Bradstreet and Sexton; and Lennon and McCartney. I decided I liked literature and, as a fallout, writing. So if someone had asked which teacher had left the greatest impact on me, I would have replied: “Mr. Checchio, junior English.”
That was, until last month when I was friended on Facebook by a former colleague’s cousin; at a paltry friend-count in the 160s, I’ll accept just about anybody. My first action is always to “see all” of my new friends’ friends. And near the top of this list was Barry Gibb. His name really isn’t Barry Gibb, but Bee Gee are his initials, so I’ll call him Barry Gibb here.
I received my bachelor’s degree in journalism, then embarked on a career in the magazine market. Getting a master’s in writing now would be a breeze, I thought. It was, until Professor Barry Gibb came into my fall schedule. Our first assignment was a 1200-word profile. I chose my cousin Bela, a Holocaust survivor who still possessed his baby brother’s shoe, kicked off during the Birkenau selection and which – in an extraordinary turn of events – helped him escape Auschwitz.
B+ Wha? “Your overuse of the pronoun ‘it’ is dismantling." Professor Barry Gibb had, in what I saw as venomous red, underlined five places I’d used “it” as my following references, go-to pronoun. “How many ways can I say ‘shoe’?” I queried my writing friends, who all chuckled.
I substituted words like “relic,” “tiny treasure.” The writing felt forced, until, in a lightbulb moment, I replaced every “it” for what “it” was. “Shoe” I typed in at all five locations. I got an A on the revision and didn’t use "it" again for the remainder of the term; but when the semester ended that December, I bailed on Barry and returned to my old wicked ways. “F--- IT,” I joked.
Most times, teachers fade away, like all those Sister Mary Margaret Catherine Whatevers. Sometimes they leave an imprint, like Mr. Checchio. However, my guess is that teachers would love to be in that small “club” of educators whose lessons come screaming back to us years later and when we least expect them – like "it" did for me four weeks ago. I had four unnecessary, replaceable “its” in this essay the first time around. Without them, this reads much better. I’m thinking I may friend Professor Barry Gibb – and send him this column.