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Being literal might not equal being sharp

April 06, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

Teacher and children's book author Peggy Parish published 12 books about Amelia Bedelia, a literal-minded but lovable housekeeper.

Her first book went into print about 45 years ago, and I enjoyed reading the series with my kids when they were little. The books are silly and the jokes corny, but they are good tools for learning the fun of wordplay - understanding words' multiple meanings. For example, Amelia Bedelia placed pieces of beef in the garden when asked to stake (steak) the tomato plants. She "sewed" seeds and "dusted" the potatoes.

When Parish died in 1961, her nephew Herman Parish took up the mantle and continued the series.

Amelia Bedelia lives, and she has a kindred spirit in Hagerstown: me.

I've long had a soft spot for Amelia Bedelia. I too sometimes misunderstand or take things a little too literally. I space out occasionally. It happens.

There was the time I left the St. Mary's parking lot, driving off without one of the kids in my carpool.

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I don't recall how far I got - maybe all the way home - before I realized my mistake. Sister Carmen Marie, the school principal, rolled her eyes and shook her head when I returned. I tried to assure her of my competence by telling her I had scored really well on my College Boards and Graduate Record exams. I'm sure she was impressed.

Several years ago, while still living on my Keedysville farm and still jogging, I drove out to the highway to log a couple of miles.

"Why," one might ask, "did you drive someplace to run when you lived on 60 acres?"

The answer is woodchucks, horse manure and dogs. I hiked the pastures, but if I wanted a head-clearing run, it was better not to have to worry about treading in a pile of manure or twisting an ankle in a groundhog hole. If I ran from our lane to the road, my dogs would accompany me and sometimes get in fights with neighbor dogs. That's a zone I didn't want to be in.

Anyhow, on a pleasant spring morning, I got out to the county road and started trotting along.

I hadn't gotten very far when a Maryland State Trooper slowed and stopped a short distance ahead of me.

Was I being pulled over? Surely I wasn't speeding.

Of course, I stopped to see what was up.

The officer politely doffed his hat and asked me how long I had been running.

How nice, I thought. What a good thing it is that public servants are interested in citizens' fitness.

"Oh, about four years," I answered with a modest smile.

Suppressing what I'm sure was an I-can't-believe-how-dumb-she-is guffaw, he clarified his question by telling me that the village bank had been robbed. He was looking for witnesses.

I've sharpened up a bit, but I occasionally slip and slide.

I don't remember the context, but a few years ago, Herald-Mail Executive Editor Terry Headlee almost had me reaching for Webster's when he told me that the word "gullible" isn't in the dictionary.

Ha, ha. I get it. Very funny.

Last December, my friend and former editor Jake Womer observed me in my version of La-La Land when he brought me some wonderful Bruce Springsteen CDs and a bottle of red wine with the unintentionally but perfectly apt label, "Toasted Head."

I handed him the corkscrew and went to work on the salad. His totally reasonable question, "Where are your glasses?" received what must have been a bewildering answer from me.

"On my head?" I asked, wondering why he needed to know that before he poured me some wine.

Was it some sort of preimbibing sobriety test?

OK. So I could be sharper.

Meanwhile, I'll raise my glass to Amelia Bedelia.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail.

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