We were sitting around the dinner table, telling stories as we do, when my six year old daughter began (verbatim),
The Annoying Radio
Once there was a radio. A very annoying radio. He lived in a store, and the store was owned by a man. The man sometimes heard the radio. Once he turned on the annoying radio. And you know what the radio sang? “Hello, how are you doing, howdy! Want to hear a song?”
“Okay,” said the man.
The radio sang, “A,B, C, D, E, F, G…”
“Stop, stop, stop!” yelled the man. “Why are you singing that song?”
“Because I like it,” replied the radio.
All the other radios were better singers. He just sang little songs like, “Twinkle, twinkle…” and that’s just what he sang at that very moment.
The man said, “Stop! Now if you want to learn better songs, I will teach you.”
“No, thank you,” said the radio.
“Why not?” asked the man.
“Because you see, I like singing my songs. My songs are very interesting to me. Because they are very nice the way I sing them.”
“Sometimes, you know, you just have to stop. I’m going to send you away in a box if you say one more word.”
“Okay,” said the radio.
“That’s it! I’m sending you away in a box.”
He put the radio in a box, and then he wrote on the box, RADIO FOR SALE. He put the box outside the radio store. Somebody found the radio. He asked, “Are you a good singer, or what?”
“The man says I’m a bad singer, but I say I’m not.”
“Well, if he says you’re a bad singer, I’m going to teach you how to sing good songs.”
Step by step the radio learned, until he learned how to sing. The guy sent the radio back in a box to the man who owned the radio store. The man asked, “Are you a good singer now?”
“Yes, the guy taught me how.”
“Sing for me, please!”
And that’s just what he did.
My eyes widened in surprise and delight, as I vaguely recollected John Cheever’s, “The Enormous Radio,” a story in the eponymous anthology I happened to read on my first long commute from Midwood to Morningside Heights. It describes a family who purchases a new radio — large, dark, ugly, and out of sync with their New York apartment furnishings and decor. A telling symbol of their troubled marriage and its buried secrets, the radio allows them to eavesdrop on the conversations, often arguments, of their building’s tenants. Yes, another kind of annoying radio.
And that brought to mind a query from a researcher who recently asked about the literature that would have been studied by a typical 9th grade English class in the late 1940′s or early 1950′s — more to the point: why his daughter, a 9th grader, was required to read the Cheever story, considered appropriate now, but perhaps not then. With due diligence I provided a lengthy, but sympathetic answer, including further references for consultation — and unfortunately never heard back.
Holly’s story spoke straight to the heart of education, putting us in our place as only a child can so artlessly do, revealing the patience and altruism of real teaching, the simple willingness to learn, and the sheer joy of giving back.