Her Very First Speech

Copyright © 1988,2011 William Mego

The inspiration that made twelve-year-old Jessica Myer want to deliver a pa­triotic speech came from an old movie she saw early one morning on cable TV. She had awakened before her parents, as restless young people will do on occasion, to spend a few delicious moments out of the con­stant scrutiny that is childhood. She never felt the self righteousness of being the first one up, so tomorrow she would probably oversleep. Jessica had many undone chores but, guided by the natural mech­anism that protects the young from both industry and organization, she switched on the television. She scanned the channels looking for some of the odd local programs that were only shown at dawn, programs that, she thought, must provide dismal enter­tainment for those people who worked all night, and who might now be finishing their supper.

When Helen Myer walked into the family room, she found her daughter watching the end of an ancient black and white movie about a small town man who, after re­tirement, had successfully run for Congress. She disliked her daughter watching TV be­fore breakfast, but could ­never seem to find the right words to explain why. So she simply poured a cup of coffee, and went out to inspect the flowers growing in the court. She and the girl had worked diligently early in the spring, mulching and tilling the hard soil and, although the flowers were doing well, the bed hadn''t been properly tended for qulte some time.

Later that morning Jessica approached her father. "Daddy?" She waited, . still enough of a child not to pre­sume an audience .
"Yes, Jess?"
Jason Myer looked up from his book. Jessica had become all legs and hair in the last year. She was standing by the door, trying to touch her outstr­etched hand with the tip of her toe. "You need' something?" he said.
"You're going to think this is weird," she said, "but just listen first before you say no. Okay?"
Jason sighed and nodded.
"I want to give a speech."

She wanted, she said, to deliver a short speech at the Fourth of July picnic held every year in the park near the fire station. The activi­ties, which included games, music, and a small awards ceremony, centered around a bandstand decorated in red, white, and blue bunting. Around noon, there would be an address by one of the officials, and a few announcements. It was then that Jessica wanted to speak.

Jason Myer looked at his daughter as though she had just swallowed a live goldfish. He should, he knew, be getting used to this girl by now. He listened to her reasons for wanting to give the speech, then concluded that she sim­ply wanted to do it. She could be forbidden. but never diisuaded. That was Jessica.

Two weeks later. the elder Myers were standing in the crowd in front of the band­stand. Jessica. who had given them no hint of what she was going to say, had been added to the program by a bored clerk who showed little interest and certainly no surprise at the request. Although Jason and Helen had not openly diiscussed their anxiety, as they were getting ready to walk over to the picnic Helen approached Jason wearing a pair of glasses disguised with bushy eyebrows and a big rubber nose. "Want one of these too?" she asked.

When Jessica, standing in her best dress and white gloves, began to speak, the program chairman was whispering instructions to her clerk, two boys were playing ball. and an old man was buying ice cream for his grandson. In a moment they had all stopped. It was a very simple speech. suggesting that peo­ple should pay more attention to the Declaration of Indepen­dence. It was easy to un­derstand and it said most of what was worth say­ing about American ideals. It was a simple speech, but for a few minutes the listeners were transported back to a time when passionate torch­light addresses of great clar­ity and elegance moved a simple, coarsely dressed people to begin the greatest experi­ment in human governance in the history of the world. When the girl finished, she thanked her audience and stepped down from the plat­form. She did not curtsy.

On the way home, all agreed that the reason there had not been more applause was surprise at the good quality of her speech. Jessica seemed pleased. As they walked through the court, Jason Myer looked down at the flower bed. Hundreds of seeds from the maple tree had dropped into the ground. Most had landed on the cement. or the lawn, or on the hard dry surface of the path. But some had landed in the flower bed,where the soil had been prepared and was ready to receive them. These few were beginning to grow.