I was quite young when I first discovered that words starting with S were likely to be bad. No, I don’t mean bad as in naughty — not that kind of bad word. No, I mean a word that portends tedium. Lengthy, boring and for the most part, indecipherable.
I think I was probably around five and just learning to read. I first noticed the connection between S and boredom. It was in church. We went to a little Baptist church in North Hollywood. Reverend Showers was a very nice old man. He could talk for hours. Well, it seemed like hours. I had no idea what he was saying, of course, but it didn’t take me long to realize that Reverend Showers long rambles coincided with the letter S. S as in Sermon. There were other words in the bulletin, of course, that started with other letters — 2 or 3 H’s which was fine because I loved to sing. There was always an O which was sort of fun, because I got to see how much money people dropped into the plate. Once I saw a $10 bill — that was pretty exciting because we didn’t have any of those at home. At least as far as I knew. And the offering plate had a lot of change which was shiny and rattled quite nicely if you tilted the plate a little. I usually didn’t get to touch it since my dad would hand it right past me directly to mother. But back to the S word — I soon learned to scan the bulletin every Sunday hoping for no S word, but it was always there.
When I was a bit older we changed to the Presbyterian church and there the S word was not so bad. The minister wore a long black robe and stood behind a raised pulpit which should have been intimidating, but he often told stories which made the people laugh, so that was good. He also quoted Shakespeare, which my father heartily endorsed. Nevertheless, the sermon was always long, but not as boring as in the Baptist church.
Later in life, as an adult, I encountered another dreadful S word — Symposium. This turned out to be a fancy word for conference. When I was the Law Enforcement Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s, they sent me to a conference every year to learn lofty and important things that every Law Enforcement Coordinator should know. After a few years, they stopped calling it a conference and dubbed it a Symposium. I could never tell any difference, but it sounded quite grand. Still, however, it tended toward tedium. But I digress, back to being a youngster:
When I was only a couple of years older, I learned another S word that portended long, boring and tedious: “Symphony.” Now my parents only ever took me to a handful of concerts, but I immediately discovered that a Symphony was a long, complex musical number that was way past my understanding. Symphonies usually had 4 movements and at the end of each movement, there was a pause and I thought it was over, but no. After the orchestra had a chance to catch its breath, they’d start up again! By the time it finally was over and people started applauding, I joined in with great enthusiasm. My parents smiled at me; I smiled at them. They believed they had a musical genius on their hands since only a few nights earlier, during dinner, I had correctly guessed the music on the radio. “That sounds like Beethoven,” I said. In truth, I only knew two composers — Beethoven and Mozart, and I had guessed right. Even these many decades later, I can remember the shock and awe — really — of my parents. What a brilliant child, their smiles said. It was only a few days later that they signed me up for piano lessons.
But back to the Symphony. I couldn’t stop clapping. I was so happy. It was obvious that everyone in the audience agreed with me because they were all clapping like mad, too, and some were even standing up. It took me awhile to realize we were not all clapping for the same reason. I don’t know about the rest of them, but I was clapping with great delight and relief because the darn thing was finally over!
Sometimes I still think that’s the case.