The Greatest Gift

The feminine half of humanity has a charm that naturally finds a place in my heart. I remember “My Fair Lady,” that musical with its lovely, barely educated heroine. And professor Henry Higgins was able to draw out the best in her — what a tremendous feat to make someone into their full potential. To give such a gift!

I spoke to my brother a few days ago, and he told me, now that he’s in California, people tell him he has a slight accent. “Of course,” I said, “you have a New York, Long Island North Shore accent like I do!”

You see, I met Henry Higgins at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Baltimore in 1965. We were at a round table of English teachers, and since Loretta and I arrived late, I introduced us to the table. On the opposite side of the table from me, sat a dimly remembered man who announced, “You’re from New York.” Aware that a New York accent is recognized throughout the country, I was at first unimpressed.

Then he added, “As a matter of fact, you’re from Long Island.” I looked at him sharply silently. Where was he from? Then, with a triumphant tone, he spit out the words, “You’re from the North Shore.” Astonished, I searched for a reply. I had grown up in Manhasset, L.I.

“Yes, east of Montauk,” I answered with humor. But nobody got it, not being familiar with the geography of Long Island. Nevertheless, I will always be grateful to that sage, that Henry Higgins, probably from the Midwest, for that brilliant display of phonology.

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