Speech to the Saginaw County Rotarians / Rachel Gardner

Salve and hello to the friends, family, and partners of the Saginaw County Rotary Club. You might know me as that gray skeleton that played Santa the year Jeff Treadwell was sick, but I’m actually the MC for tonight.

*pause for applause*

I’m assuming you’re all here for Marge’s mold salad, so allow me to give you directions to the buffet line in order to maximize the background noise of chewing during my speech.

*pause for laughter*

I think we’ve all met Herb Stanfield one way or another, usually by the bar.

*brief pause for laughter*

But most of us, I’m sure, know Herb from his duties as treasurer, fundraiser, and all-around man on the spot for the past thirty years.

*pause for obligatory family hooting*

Herb was one of the founding fathers of the Saginaw branch, and his level of dedication can only rate the highest of honors: a cheap alloy pocket watch.

*ponder waistband of underwear creeping up your midsection*

I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone here about his level of dedication, the hours he put in, the sweat he sacrificed, the lawyers he punched—

*smile coyly at visiting District Attorney*

—and the longnecks he knocked back. Our Herb is quite a drinker, isn’t he, folks? But enough about Lake Watahanoe.

*pause for feigned laughter*

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ and folks, I can bet right now that not a one of you in this room hasn’t felt Herb’s hand on your back . . . or unmentionables.

*cough, as if you’re fooling anyone*

Really, I guess you can’t count a body in this room that hasn’t helped Herb in some way; something about him just brings out this county’s generosity of spirit. Cash, casseroles, a friendly ear when he came under fire in ’86. Folks weren’t about to let a few schoolgirls put our own local Plautus on the spot. I’m sure we all remember the kerfuffle, no need to name names, on account of the injunction—oh, there I go using those ten-dollar words of mine.

*slap wrist*

But I’m sure we’d all say that Herb has also been pivotal for much of the policy change in the Rotary Club itself. I’m not sure if any of you were there for the day we allowed the ladies in as members. All five minutes of it.

*pause to reflect on life’s missed opportunities; stop halfway or you’ll be here all night*

You know, I near fell over from shock when they gave me this job. I really do have to apologize for this, guess I’m not much of a public speaker. Thing is, we couldn’t very well have Herb getting up here and trumpeting his own accomplishments, could we? Then what the heck would separate today from the other 364 days of the year?

*pretend to reach for water to create feedback squeal when your hand hits the mic cord*

*take advantage of momentary distraction to extract your underwear from crack canyon*

I guess you could say Herb’s shaped us all like a rock shapes the crotch of a tree it’s lodged in. What you have in Herb is the proverbial side hill-gouger; you either move aside or starve ’cause he sure as heckfire ain’t gonna move. He’s the only man I’ve ever seen give a criminal deposition from a rocking chair. And Lord knows we’re all a lot more careful with our daughters than we were in ‘85. Well . . . those of us that have ‘em. Only in Saginaw could a man like Herb become a fixture, I tell you. Any other town would’ve run him out, or at least given him a government job. You know, I once tried out for treasurer. Yeah. But they said Herb’s gotta have it, he’s got kids to feed. Some of them his, anyway.

*nod at relatives sitting stone-faced through the speech*

But enough of me running my jaw, I’ll get back to the blandishments—there you go, another ten-dollar word of mine—and let you folks gather your coats. I know you’re all itchin’ to hit the road, or the john after Marge’s mold salad. They told me to fill twenty-five minutes, and by God and His tiny little cherubim I will, even if that means I have to say, ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,’ seventeen times in succession. That’s what they’ll say about me, ‘He filled up twenty-five minutes.’ Put it on my tombstone, eat the flowers, and burn the hymnals.

*stare at the water as if that alone will transmogrify it into alcohol*

You know . . . the thing they never tell you when you get your degree is what you’ll be using it for. I never thought I’d be up in front of all of you, talking about someone like Herb. I was never much for public speaking, just never got the opportunity, I guess. But Jeff, he says, Jeff tells me there isn’t anyone else to do it. And I have to wonder, in this fine flock of countrymen we have here tonight, there’s not a one of you who could have come up here and done this for me?

*pause and gaze soul-searchingly out into the sea of faces*

Let’s face it, we’re not honoring a man tonight, we’re honoring an idea. An idea that clings to us, no matter how hard we try to dislodge its fingers from our throat. Herb is a small man for a small town, and he is all we deserve.

*raise glass*

To Herb, to life. Morituri te salutant.

*pause for crippling silence*

*go home and drink yourself stupid*

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