Friday, December 11, 2015

Day Sixty One. Influence: Imogene Bingaman

Influence: Imogene Bingaman

I'm twelve.

Priest says animals don't have souls. My dog Pepper who accompanies me on my paper route (I'm buying an Underwood portable typewriter) won't be in heaven when I get there. I'm not smart yet—I think I later became smart as an author, Air Force veteran and diplomat — but I know it won't be heaven if my dog isn't there. My parents were nominally Roman Catholic, and I made it through confirmation before not having religion.

My father Lawrence G, Dorr, Sr, didn't finish tenth grade but may have been the best-read man I ever knew. He loved to read of things he knew he would never see, like the architecture of Leningrad. Born in 1911, thirty years old the day before Pearl Harbor, he worked for the Government Printing Office in Washington all his life. He had a little interest in aviation and sometimes brought home balsa plane models for us to build. He was always careful about his appearance and demeanor, a proud and proper man.


My mother, Blanche Boisvert, was of French-speaking Manchester, New Hampshire stock and among the first women employed by the GPO circa. 1935, although she worked full time only briefly. They were honest, decent, unremarkable parents to me and my brother Larry, (I also had a twin who died at birth). Dad always had a job and a car.

I was a mediocre student, needed a mentor, and didn't have one. No one taught me to write for magazines. I just did. With one exception, teachers at Suitland, Maryland, High School — class of 1957 — failed to reach me. The Civil Air Patrol and the hope of being in the Air Force did.

Now, it's Day Sixty One since symptoms began of my Gliobastoma Multiforme, a fatal brain tumor devoid of discomfort — hey, now everybody wants to take me to lunch —and its time to think of how much Imogene Bingaman made me love the English language.

Large, red-headed, very teacherly, she would diagram a sentence and I got it! Suddenly, I knew about verbs and nouns. I got grammar. I had her in both eighth and eleventh grades and I loved what she showed I could do with words! She made it fun. My stories written in school were widely read. My first paid magazine submission was in the November 1955 Air Force magazine. Maybe I was going to write the great American novel.

Or maybe not.


Miss Bingaman challenged each student to write a letter to his Congressman. Mine drew a reply from Sen J. Glenn Beall, Jr., typical of the mediocre postwar politicians in Maryland in the 1950s. I forget the issue but Beall assured me that he would study every aspect of the matter and would announce his decision at an appropriate time. I was so excited. "He's going to do something!"

"Uh, well, no," said Miss Bingaman.

"Why do you mean?"

"Bob, his letter doesn't say anything."

Welcome to Washington constituent politics.

Today, there is no photo of Miss Bingaman, nor can I find the exact dates of her life. But I owe my interest in language to her. I owe my career as a writer to her. What if I had had several more such influences, much earlier?

High school classmate Steny Hoyer wanted to a journalist and always had a pencil in his ear. Today the second ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, he raises the quality of Maryland politicians.

I wanted to be an author.

My hearing impairment wouldn't enable me to attend the new school the Air Force was building in Colorado. So the day after high school graduation, I enlisted. They, too, saw some penchant for language and sent me to study the Korean language. When I slipped on earphones to monitor North Korea's MiGs, no one ever gave me a hearing test.

There is a character named for Miss Bingaman in "Hitler's Time Machine." I owe her so much.

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