The teacher may be sure of what he’s teaching, but it’s never certain what the students learn. Time colors our memory, and the day’s events distort our mental view and we tend to see the present through the windows of our past. In grade school, and I can’t remember which grade it was, our teacher had us play “Telephone” to show us how unreliable and dangerous gossip can be. That’s what she was teaching.

Some folks prefer an amusing distortion to a boring truth. AP photo

She had us all line up and whispered something in Nancy’s ear, so Nancy could turn and whisper it in the next one’s ear, and that one would turn and whisper it to the next and so on until we could hear how it came from the last one in line. That was the game of “Telephone.”

So the teacher whispered, “Elephants don’t like eggplant” in Nancy’s ear, and what came out the other end of the line was “Ellie Blount is pregnant.” I remember there was a little surge of giggles and squeaks all around the room.

However, as a lesson, I thought it was a great way of teaching us that gossip and rumor are unreliable, and that we should always be wary of gossip, especially if they are whispering. That was the lesson I learned in grade school playing the game of “Telephone,” but there was more to it than I understood at the time.

Now that I’m older and have some perspective, I remember the several voices, just after the telephone lesson saying: “That was great fun!” “Let’s do it again!” “Yes, we’ll do it every morning right after we come to school!” “Such fun! We’ll do it every day!” “Let’s make Nancy pregnant next time!”

I realize now the game goes on all around us, and when someone asks, ”Did you hear what so-and-so said?” I have trouble suppressing a shudder. It’s hard to understand a whisper, and you can’t correct it if you can’t hear it clearly.

I think that’s why they whisper, so nobody can kill the fun by putting the story straight. Some folks prefer an amusing distortion to a boring truth, and what they were learning was how to make it so.

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident and can be reached at [email protected]

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