How "Miss Big Words" found Her Secret Love

Written by Ralph E. Shaffer

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Place: Lynwood Junior High, Lynwood, CA
Time: Spring, 1943, during World War II
Situation: 8th grade English Class

Teacher: "Class, what is the subject of most popular songs? They are often called BALLADS." [writes that word on blackboard]. "The kind of song Bing Crosby would sing."

Roger: "Most of them are about war!"

Teacher: "Well, Roger, you are partially right. That's true now, but wars don't last forever - we hope - and what do songwriters write about the rest of the time?"

[That stumps most of the class, but not Phyllis.]

Phyllis: "Most popular songs, even now,are about love."

Bill [to Eddie, sitting next to him, with hand cupped to keep Phyllis from hearing]: "What does SHE know about love?"

Eddie [whispering, and giggling]: "Not as much as Helen."

Teacher: "That's right, Phyllis. But are all love songs the same? Aren't there various ASPECTS [writes that word on board] of love? What about it class? Are all love songs about the same thing?"

Phyllis [boldly]: "Most - well, at least a lot - are about UNREQUITED love..." [Before the word is barely out she wished she had used a common synonym.] "... about love that isn't returned by the other person."

Eddie [in a loud whisper, so others can hear]: "Miss Big Words is showing off again."

Bill [with cupped hand again]: "I'll bet that's the only kind of love SHE'll ever get."

[Teacher writes UNREQUITED on the blackboard.]

Edna [tentatively]: "Does unre-QUIT-ed mean one of the - uh, lovers - just gives up?"

Teacher: "It's unre-QUITE- d, Edna. Can someone give an example for Edna?"

Jim [blushing]: "It's like when ... No, I better not use that example," [as Doug, one of the biggest boys in the class, glares at Jim.]

Roger [bigger than Jim and braver]: "It's when Phyllis had a crush on Doug and he ignored her." [class gasps. more giggles.]

Teacher: "We shouldn't get personal. How about an example from one of the great novels we've been reading?"

[Silence. Phyllis starts to raise her hand, then pauses.]

Peter: "Would John Alden and Purcilla Mullins be an example?"

Phyllis [to herself]: "It's PRISCILLA Mullins, Peter."

Teacher: "In a sense. Apparently John didn't know that Priscilla liked him until she said..."

Class [in unison]: "SPEAK FOR YOURSELF, JOHN!"

Teacher: "Good. But aren't there other kinds of love songs?"

George [a scrawny kid with wire-rim glasses]: "Wait a minute. Is it unrequited if Priscilla really did love John Alden? Doesn't unrequited imply a sort of rebuff of his love. She didn't rebuff it openly and she didn't reject his love for her. He just didn't give her a chance to express it."

Phyllis [thinking]: "Hey, George made a very good point. Too bad he's so geeky looking."

Teacher: "Very sharp, George. I think you are right. So we have unrequited love, if as George says, it is rejected, but what's the subject of other love songs?"

Phyllis: "Lots of them are about lovers who are apart."

Teacher: "Very good, Phyllis. Now, you all ought to be able to give an example of that one."

[Every hand goes up, even Bill's, but he doesn't wait to be called on]: "The war!"

Teacher: "Yes. But get specific. Can you name a war song about parted lovers?"

[Many hands are raised, but not Phyllis'. The hand raisers included many shyer girls who rarely answered questions in class.]

Teacher: "Melinda?"

Melinda [ had reached into her notebook and pulled out numerous lists of top 10 tunes for each week of the year. Eagerly runs through a short list of such songs. Gives names of singers, orchestras, and how high they got on the Billboard charts. Ends with "We'll Meet Again."]
Agnes: "But that's not an American song, that's English!"

Melinda: "Well, don't young lovers in Britain feel the same way as we do when someone goes to war?"

Brenda: " 'I'll walk alone.' The name of the song says that they're apart. And that's an American song."

Melinda: "I'll bet the English sing it too."

Teacher: "Those are two good examples of the kind of song Phyllis mentioned."

Bill [with cupped hand again]: "She won't have to worry about being separated from a lover."

Eddie [in very loud whisper]: "Yeah, she'll never have one."

[Phyllis glares at the two of them.]

Bill [to Phyllis, but loud enough for others to hear]: "Big words aren't gonna get you a boyfriend."

Eddie [raises hand but doesn't wait to be called on]: "What kind of love is it when you don't have anyone to love?"

Teacher: "Can anyone answer Eddie's question?"

[No hands go up. When it becomes clear no one has the answer, Phyllis gives it]: "Forsaken."

Teacher: "That's really a synonym for unrequited, Phyllis."

Bill: "Yeah, Big Words, you don't know everything."

Phyllis [a bit hurt that her error was made public, but she doesn't give up.]: "Unloved?"

Teacher: "That fits the girl who wants a boyfriend but doesn't have one. Or a boy," [she suggests as an afterthought,]

Eddie [in that loud whisper]: "Now we're back to Phyllis again."

George: "I think there is still another kind of love. Maybe it fits John Alden better than any other type of love. A SECRET love."

Bill [to Eddie, with that cupped hand again]: "That's the only type he'll ever have."

Phyllis [to Bill, louder than she should speak]: "And what kind of love will YOU have?"

George [ignoring Bill's slur]: "But when Priscilla tells John to speak for himself, and he does, his love is no longer secret."

Phyllis: "But I can't think of a song about secret love. Maybe you could write one, George."

George [who had long admired Phyllis but was afraid to let her know]: "Will you help me?"

[Bell rings.]

Teacher: "That means it's lunch time. We'll continue this discussion tomorrow. Meanwhile, maybe George and Phyllis will write that secret love song.]

[All the other kids scurry our of classroom. George and Phyllis dawdle.]

Phyllis: "Would you carry my book bag, George?"

George: "Sure, but you bring too much stuff to class." [Then, seizing the moment,] "Do you really think we can write a song about secret love.

Phyllis: "Sure. Got any ideas?"

George [unaware that he is fondling her book bag]: "I think so. We're smart enough. I've already got the closing line: My secret love's no secret any more."


The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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