My awful moment

RoyalsOf late, I’ve been reading Oops! Or, Life’s Awful Moments, written by the late Art Linkletter. It’s bringing a smile to my face.

The publisher describes the book as “a funny, down-to-earth sampling of those unexpected situations we all suffer and somehow manage to survive.” A few examples will suffice.

A man sneezes during a badminton game and his false teeth sail across the net like a birdie. A girl does a jackknife into a pool while her bathing suit does a swan in another direction, leaving her blushing all over. A little boy in a crowded church hears the chimes for Mass and shouts “Avon calling!”

Linkletter interviews a young girl who says she would like “a plain old man” for a husband. “Give us an example,” he prods her. “You!” she exclaims.

“Why does your mommy like your daddy’s job as policeman?” he asks another child. The answer is a classic: “’Cause he brings home wrist watches, earrings and lots of jewelry.”

“What do you want to be?” Linkletter asks a boy. “A fireman.” “Why pick that?” “Because my dad says I’m dumb enough to be one.” “What does your dad do?” “He’s a fireman.”

Linkletter asks perceptively in his introduction: “Have you ever tried to put your best foot forward and found it wedged firmly in your mouth?

Been there done that.

Linkletter continues: “The road of life is strewn with the banana peels of embarrassment.”

My awful moment is, as they say, one for the books.

A decade ago, I wrote a book chronicling the history of a certain church in the Province. Let’s say it was in the town of Bumblebee Bight. No sooner did the book appear in print when I received a phone call from an irate reader. To protect the identity of the guilty, let’s call him Wilson.

“How do you think the Princess and Prince got down in Bumblebee Bight?” Wilson asked.

A heated conversation then ensued.

Later I went to my book and reread what I had written. There it is in black and white: “The visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in November 1951 was quite a community event. They walked through the Community School. The three denominations – Pentecostal, Salvation Army and United Church – cooperated in activities throughout the day, including a parade and an ecumenical meeting at night in the United Church.”

I also checked out my research notes. The transcription of my interview with Wilson reveals the following: “You had free access to the school. Any time there was a special occasion, you’d go up and go in and have a little talk to the students and so on. There was still a feeling that it was a Community School, so you were kind of restricted in what you could do spiritually…. For instance, when Queen Elizabeth was here, that was quite a community thing and they went through both schools, too.”

After all, Wilson had used the word “here.” Didn’t that mean Bumblebee Bight? I thought so, but apparently not.

When quoting Wilson for my book, obviously I had taken leave of my senses when I wrote that the Royals had actually made a trip to outport Bumblebee Bight.

In retrospect, I know what happened. Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, made their first visit to Newfoundland in 1951, on behalf of her ailing father. During their Royal Visit to St. John’s on 11 and 12 November, they were involved in ceremonies at the St. John’s waterfront, the St. John’s War Memorial, the Church of England Cathedral, Feildian Grounds and Government House.

But apparently not Bumblebee Bight.

It was, I must admit, my awful moment.

Later I wrote Wilson a letter of apology, for having quoted him out of context. My concluding paragraph reads: “My only consolation is that this incident shows in stark colour that I’m far from infallible! I suspect that all books…contain an error or two. This is unfortunate, and I feel badly about it. Please accept my apology. It will serve to make me more observant and careful that similar errors do not creep into any books I write in the future.”

And, as far as I know, such blatant errors have never since snuck into my more recent writing.

Perhaps Linkletter should have the final word: “Life leaves us all looking a little ridiculous at times, so we might as well relax and enjoy it when the laugh is on is.”

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