My freshman year in high school, I joined the school’s speech team, reputed to be one of the best in the state. My family and I had just moved from Tennessee to Kentucky and I didn’t know a soul. Speech team offered me an opportunity to express my inner buffoon (with tested, scripted material) and possibly make a friend or impress a girl and win a trophy or two in the process.
Storytelling was one of my categories. The first story I did was “Muldoon in Love” from Patrick F. McManus’s They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?
I can’t remember exactly how I got the book. I suspect my dad bought it for me since he seemed to be a McManus fan from various short stories in Field and Stream and other magazines.
“Muldoon in Love” is a story about a young idiot observing his friend (also a young idiot) trying to impress a teacher with various gifts. The teacher was obviously unfamiliar with the ways in which country boys expressed their undying devotion to a teacher. She was eventually driven mad by the process of receiving such unorthodox and disgusting gifts.
The story killed in competition. It destroyed. I cleaned up.
If you want to read to your kids and have any kind of knack for voices and gestures, the short stories of Patrick F. McManus make a great place to start. The stories are unerringly vivid and hilarious. RIP.