Vocabulary Words

I was pret­ty young at the time, in ele­men­tary school.  And I remem­ber we had these week­ly vocab­u­lary tests…ugh, not my favorite thing.  The teacher would give us a new list of words each week, and we had to learn the spelling of each word as well as the def­i­n­i­tion.

The most uncom­fort­able thing about the tests, by far, was that we couldn’t resort to just regur­gi­tat­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of each word and be done with it.  (No way, life had to be hard­er than that… even in ele­men­tary school!)  As it was, we had to have thought about each word A LOT, enough to know its essence, enough to use it in con­ver­sa­tion in front of the class.  We had to have a deep, gut feel­ing for each word:  in short, we had to real­ly know.

image of moon seen through tree

So this one night I was at home, cram­ming for the test the next day.  And I kept get­ting bogged down with the word “integri­ty.”  I could spell it.  And I could blankly rat­tle off the def­i­n­i­tion by mem­o­ry.  But every time I reliv­ed my teacher’s help­ful advice, to “think of the ‘soul’ of it, think of what it real­ly means,” the word just made me feel like a stu­pid idiot, a very young stu­pid idiot.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it, or get inside of it.

So I went into the liv­ing room where my dear (pro­fes­sor-sci­en­tist) dad was sit­ting in his big red chair, intent­ly watch­ing the CBS Evening News on TV.

“Dad, what’s ‘integri­ty’ mean?”

He said, “Aren’t you sup­posed to know that one already?”, or some­thing to that effect.

“Yeah,” I respond­ed, “but I still don’t get it.”

This was met with silence, except for the sound of the news in the back­ground.…

So then I said, “Okay, well can you give me an exam­ple of it?”

My ques­tion was again met with silence… all except for the very-famil­iar voice of the news anchor­man in the back­ground.

I was des­per­ate: “DAD, I don’t know what ‘integri­ty’ is!!  The test is tomor­row and I still don’t know, I still don’t get it!  So what do I think about?  Dad, what I should think of???”

I’ll nev­er for­get what hap­pened next.  He paused (still star­ing at the TV), and a flood of warmth sud­den­ly washed over his face… and then he slow­ly, very thought­ful­ly said, “Think of.….….….… Wal­ter.. Cronkite.”

Bam!  What an answer!  I didn’t expect that at all.

Wal­ter Cronkite!

I felt myself relax, and smile.  Wal­ter Cronkite… whose friend­ly face graced our din­ner table reg­u­lar­ly like anoth­er mem­ber of the fam­i­ly, beam­ing at us through our lit­tle black-and-white TV set.  Wal­ter Cronkite… with his reas­sur­ing voice, lead­ing my fam­i­ly and my friends’ fam­i­lies and it seemed like the whole world through such trou­bled times with his voice of hon­esty, clar­i­ty, and truth.  Wal­ter Cronkite!

And to think that, at that very moment, I had NO IDEA of what was to come–of how Wal­ter Cronkite would car­ry our nation through the entire Apol­lo space pro­gram all the way to the era of the space shut­tle… and of how his pas­sion about space explo­ration would thrill the world, ignit­ing everyone’s hearts with his “Go baby, go!” as Apol­lo 11 lift­ed off!  And I could not pos­si­bly fore­see that, in July 1969, I would sit with my fam­i­ly, hov­er­ing around the lit­tle black-and-white TV set, all of us hold­ing our breaths… and that we would watch spell­bound as Apol­lo astro­naut Neil Arm­strong slow­ly descend­ed the lad­der of the lunar mod­ule… and that we would lis­ten, speech­less, chok­ing back tears of amaze­ment and pride, as Wal­ter Cronkite’s stur­dy and patient voice would take us–all of human­i­ty–down that lad­der along with Arm­strong, down that lad­der to the sur­face of the moon! MANKIND’S FIRST STEPS ON THE MOON, one of the most poignant moments and impor­tant achieve­ments in all of his­to­ry, nar­rat­ed by the most mag­nif­i­cent, elo­quent and yet hon­est tour guide–my gosh, I had no idea that the best of Wal­ter Cronkite was yet to come.

What I did know, though, stand­ing before my dad on that infa­mous night before my vocab­u­lary test, was that my dad nailed it.  He nailed ‘integri­ty’ with his answer.  And, the next day, I nailed ‘integri­ty’ on the test!  I got it!  I used it, in con­ver­sa­tion in front of the class!  And, I real­ly knew it.  In fact, it was a sur­prise to me that I’d prob­a­bly known the word all along–it had been right in front of me.  I just hadn’t rec­og­nized it, the sound of it, the voice of it, night­ly, on the CBS Evening News!

To Mr. Cronkite,
as the world hon­ors you and mourns the recent pass­ing of your life,
I salute you.
I thank you for your steadi­ness, your ethics and untir­ing ser­vice to human­i­ty,
and espe­cial­ly for your exu­ber­ance in the explo­ration of space.
To me, per­son­al­ly, you were always the fourth astro­naut
to go to the moon,
the fourth crew mem­ber of Apol­lo 11.
Thank you for tak­ing me
and the rest of human­i­ty
for the great­est ride of all.

2 thoughts on “Vocabulary Words

  1. Anne, this is just love­ly! What a won­der­ful sto­ry and gosh, what a won­der­ful teacher you had to make you learn words so tru­ly. So glad I stopped by today!!!

  2. Sab­ri­na, I’m glad you stopped by too! Thanks for read­ing, and for your hap­py and pos­i­tive response. It’s nice to be blessed with inspi­ra­tion from so many won­der­ful peo­ple!

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