My Fellow Sixty-Niners:
go any further, let me explain something. Im going out on
a limb here people by suggesting that one of the shortest lived,
least known, and most relevant Oberlin traditions is The Great Wooden Spoon.
1895, some Obie came up with the idea that the most unattractive
person on campus should be awarded with a gigantic Spoon.
Im not sure why a spoon, but it bore the Greek inscription ho
aischros labeto, Let the ugly one receive me.
This is the Original Obie Ugly Stick.
students in Oberlin history have earned this coveted prize, although
I can think of others equally qualified. These are the Members
of the Order of the Spoon. The first was a guy named Charles
Brand (more re. him shortly). The second, Howard Barnes,
modestly announced that history was being made by his
receipt of the huge utensil. Neither was especially
eye-catching. The least attractive Spooner, however, in my
opinion was the last and apparently reigning titleholder, Vernon
Ozro Johnston. While some suggest the name Ozro (I
doubled checked to make sure it wasnt Orzo) gave him an
unappealing leg up, I still think he takes the cake. Thats
Ozro down below, so judge for yourself.
the Spoon thing ran out of steam, but fortunately Brand articulated
its credo at the outset. It was an undoubted axiom,
he declared, that the harder and longer someone works, the less
physically appealing they become, like some Darwinian law of human
alchemy. The Order of the Spoon claimed Abe Lincoln and
Socrates as Patron Saints. In the scheme of all things Oberlin,
deformity is proof of diligence. An undistinguished exterior
correlates inversionally with a distinguished interior (at least at
Oberlin). Appearances are deceiving; you cant tell a
book, let alone an Obie, by the cover. Its all so
Oberlinish: contrarian, idealistic, nonconventional, quirky,
and authentic. We gave an award for not fitting the mold.
what? Spoon, fork, knife, chopsticks, whatever, youre
wondering shy this missive itself isnt fitting the mold.
Why am I talking tableware? Two reasons: First, I
couldnt get myself to write the standard-issue OC update
Ive received and sped read in the past. All due respect
to the Alumni Office, Im going to assume either (a) you
dont care how many new buildings there are that we couldnt
use, which brilliant students won prestigious awards that none of us
did, and what fabulous programs have hatched since our departure, or
(b) you already know or at least know how to find out. Suffice
to say the place is thriving, looks spectacular, and pretty much
retains whatever you liked (or didnt like) about it way back when.
reason is Ive just won the Spoon. Im not saying
Ive aged any worse than the rest of you, or look like I could
give poor Ozro a run for his money (though I could lose some weight
and gain some hair). But from all outward appearances, Im
just about the last character to become Class Prez at this stage of
the game, let alone Pied Piper for the Final-Curtain-Call Love-It-Or-Leave-It
Last-Hurrah 50th Reunion in 2019. In fact, heres
what I wrote to support my conspicuously unopposed candidacy:
someone thinks I should be Class President at this point, I figure
its because everyone else who wants to already has. I
wonder whether many of you even remember me, since I dont
recall making any particular effort to meet people at Oberlin.
I was known (or rather unknown) for playing in a band, being smart,
and having a pretty girlfriend all of which are no longer
true. To be perfectly honest, I havent actually done
anything Oberlinian since leaving. It just sort of percolates
in the back of my mind. But that it does: I still believe
Oberlins a magical place and we were there at a magical
time. Weve common blood in our veins. Most of all,
being there with you whether we knew each other or not
made me more than anything before or after. Probably you
too. In conclusion: Im your basic Sixty-Niner.
again, Yeomen and Yeowomen, moi Class President? By what
paradoxical logic is that? I imagined confused colleagues
clamoring, Uh, why you? No way, pal! Still I
held steadfast to the Spoon, rattling my oversized utensil like a
scholarly saber. The disconnect, Sayeth the Spoon, is only
apparent: appearances are not only deceiving, but quite the
opposite. Beneath my seemingly disinterested, disengaged, and
institutionally inappropriate exterior, there lay, hidden even to me,
a rich interior, an untapped subterranean aquifer of Oberlin
memories, sensitivities, and affections that curiously, even
ironically, qualified me not only to win the Spoon, but be Commander-in-Chief.
And to make Camelot complete, I even finagled my old Obie
sweetheart, Carol McLaughlin (Fishwick), into being Veep. And
so it is....
dear constituents, I was nominated by a clandestine classmate bearing
some ancestral affinity to Ozro Johnston. The Spoon turned up
one day during spring-cleaning in his family attic. Once
knowledge of Greek atrophied (even for Obies), no one could decipher
its arcane inscription. Gnawed and splintered, the Great Spoon
had been abused by generations of dogs as a surrogate bone. Yet
by this benign twist of fate, the ghosts of Shipherd & Finney, et
al (ditto the rest of you in passive acquiescence) decided it is I
who ought to wield the Oberlinian scepter. With unwitting
fidelity, weve revived the Ancient Rite of the Spoon by picking
some Ozro who appears wrong on the outside, because hes right
on the inside. So here I am in the Big Apple thinking all about
Oberlin, and all about you, waving this gigantic Spoon. And
Im asking each of you to do the same: let our common
ancestry begin to percolate, start to consider what Oberlin meant to
you on the inside, how it molded us together, and how it made you you.
Each of us
is an Obie original, a spoonful in our own right. So as long as
Im Spoonmeister, Ill keep prodding you to show up at our
Last-Train-to-Ohio Well-All-Be-Gone Tha-Tha-Tha-Thats-All-Folks
Half-Century Reunion, and come full circle with the rest of us.
Plus its personal too: Ill need you there in 2019
to pass on this old Spoon to the next Orzo. I mean Ozro.