TERRE HAUTE — For people who started off at one another’s verbal throats, Jim Misenheimer and I certainly buried the hatchet, quickly and deep.
After a couple of testy notes, two less-testy voicemails, one conciliatory real-time call, then a full-blown gracious invitation, Jim and I finally met for the first time about five years ago. It was smooth sailing from then on.
A professor emeritus of English at Indiana State University, a classics scholar, traveler, Air Force veteran, editor and incurable lover of what once was called “the legitimate theater,” Jim died last week at 77. He had waged a dignified, but losing battle with a variety of health issues and passed into the next realm in the familiar comfort of his handsome Farrington’s Grove home. His beloved wife, Carolyn, also a retired professor, kept watch the whole way.
I never had the pleasure of learning Shakespeare or Jane Austen from Professor Misenheimer, but I can imagine that his teaching style mirrored his general style, which was so verbally rich and refined, he seemed of another era and culture.
Although a Texan by birth and upbringing, Jim would have been at home in the time and company of Austen, Keats, Shelley and Lord Byron. No wonder he could quote them all at length the way most of us sing the lyrics of Top 40 songs from our youth.
Jim not only loved the English language, he viewed it as a sacred treasure – to be honored and protected, yes, but also to be used in the daily, sacred ritual of life. He possessed a fabulous vocabulary and, unlike so many contemporary Americans, never apologized for it or allowed it to atrophy from disuse.
That vocabulary was frequently on display in Jim’s letters to the editor of the Tribune-Star or in occasional guest columns. I reread several the day after I learned of his death. While their subjects usually were serious – bad drivers and trash on city byways – the artful, feisty construction of his sentences made me smile.
Lead-footed drivers on Third or Farrington streets were nothing short of “maniacal.” Of the downside of Farrington’s repaving, he wrote: “Alas and alack, it has become a cross street for misbehavioral traffic, which pays no attention to speed or care.”
Four huge containers of street debris that Jim and his neighbors cleared from their block was not just trash, but “disreputable trash” that included among other nastiness “bespoiled diapers.”
Nearly always, he pleaded for help from city authorities.
“We who reside here are ready for a serious remedy,” he wrote in the autumn of 2008.
Some of Jim’s harshest published words were meted out three years ago in a blistering condemnation of the Academy Awards telecast. Chief among the felonies he witnessed was the best actress award going to Dame Helen Mirren for “The Queen.”
“‘The Queen’ is a film that should never have been made in the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II, for the sake of both decorum and timeliness (or perhaps, indecorousness and lack of taste),” he wrote. Everything from host Ellen Degeneres’ jokes to Dame Judi Dench being “shunted aside” in the best actress category galled him.
“Alas, the depths of taste and lack of consideration for what is truly the best to which Hollywood has sunk is a shocking indictment of an area of our culture which should always aspire to the highest standards of conduct and aesthetic excellence,” Jim lamented. “Hollywood needs great and immediate help.”
Dame Judi was not picked at random to make a point.
As Jim’s obituary emphasized, she was “counted among his closest friends,” along with several other well-known actresses, including Kitty Carlisle Hart, for whom Jim penned a lovely Tribune-Star remembrance after her death in the spring of 2007.
The first evening I spent with the Misenheimers, I was treated to their large collection of correspondence with Dame Judi. Her personal notes, nearly always handwritten, are candid, funny and touching. She writes warmly of visiting with them when they’d come to see her in a play in London or New York and includes intriguing little tidbits from the sets of her latest films.
Jim always harbored the dream of getting Dame Judi to Terre Haute. And why not? While he was the chairman of ISU’s English Department, he’d gotten Kitty Carlisle Hart here in 1978 to receive an honorary doctorate. He and a national handful of Bette Davis fans campaigned for years to get the star her own postage stamp and were, at last, rewarded in the late winter of 2008.
I feel fairly certain that, had Jim lived long enough, Dame Judi would have made it to Terre Haute. She probably would have received not only an honorary doctorate from ISU, but also from St. Mary-of-the-Woods and Rose-Hulman – right after a ticker tape parade down Wabash.
Jim wanted Judi Dench to visit his city, which might seem an odd desire for a man with three degrees who traveled to 70 countries, served as an officer for both the Samuel Johnson and Charles Lamb societies of London, and who edited 16 volumes of the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature.
Terre Haute may have been Jim’s adopted city, but he was almost as protective of the place as he was of language.
Our initial acrimony, in fact, sprang from a misunderstanding about my opinion of my hometown. It’s too long a story to detail here, but Jim – ever vigilant for snobby put-downs of Terre Haute – assumed when I moved back that I had it in for the city. He wrote a scathing letter to Tribune-Star editor Max Jones. But Max, knowing Jim and me, held off on printing the missive and wisely suggested I contact “Dr. Misenheimer” to seek détente.
Jim melted after my first message. Then he apologized profusely for writing mean things about me. Then he asked me to “honor two professors emeriti” – Carolyn and him – with my presence at their home for cocktails and dinner. We were never again on opposite sides of any issue.
I find it difficult to believe that he will no longer leave mellifluous voicemails on my home telephone or pen another letter about the louts and riff-raff who treat Farrington’s Grove as though it were a race track or a landfill.
Jim Misenheimer was one of a kind. Terre Haute and I shall miss him, likely more than he ever would have presumed.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE — For people who started off at one another’s verbal throats, Jim Misenheimer and I certainly buried the hatchet, quickly and deep.
- Stephanie Salter
STEPHANIE SALTER: The more things change, the more they … change
What the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates slugger knew, so knew the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, the Buddha and Andy Warhol.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Making room for the least among us — and their kin
Christmas. Quiet time. Down time. Not exactly the kind of day most folks tend to contemplate their fellow Americans behind bars. And yet, the United States leads the world in percentage of population in jail or prison, far ahead of second-place Russia. About 2.3 million people — nearly one in 100 adults — are incarcerated in this country.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Carols for the worn, weary and wigged out
For those who are agog and aglow with “the season” — you who start bouncing and humming in Toys R Us at the intro guitar notes of “Jingle Bell Rock” — better search elsewhere for a soul mate.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Times change. Things disappear. Toilet paper here to stay
You may have seen an email going around with “Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime.”
STEPHANIE SALTER: What I learned on election day
When I identified myself as a volunteer for the non-incumbent mayoral candidate, the woman on the other end of the line cut me off. “Save your breath, dear,” she said.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Of politics, protests, coupons and e-wishes
It’s roundup time again, that periodic hunting down and herding together of items that have but one thing in common: They grabbed me.
STEPHANIE SALTER: ‘Understandable’ not the same as ‘wise’
Because I’m not running for office and don’t plan to, I figure I am free to publicly question the designation of some 30 stretches of city streets as “memorial ways” for police and firefighters killed on the job.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Where have all the protest songs gone?
A telling moment came during the annual Eugene V. Debs award banquet late last month, when the career protest singer and songwriter, Anne Feeney, implored a huge Hulman Center audience to join her for the refrain of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
STEPHANIE SALTER: It’s business as usual, but what does it cost to stay angry?
As painful and profoundly sad as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has been, I found the actual day a balm.
STEPHANIE SALTER: The unfortunate bottom line … St. Ann’s will close
Ever since word came down that St. Ann Church and Parish have less than a year to live, there’s been much invoking of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief.
STEPHANIE SALTER: The Economy: One complex, thorny, bedeviling issue
No matter how much time and energy I spend trying to understand the Hydra we blithely call “The Economy,” I often worry that its mystery will forever elude me.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Thinking, now and then, about now and then
I am lying, poolside, in a plastic chaise lounge, listening to pop music and watching water droplets dry on my skin.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Thousands of things she would have missed
For several years, until she received an official information packet in the mail, my mother planned to donate her body to medical research.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Marriage? There’s an app for that ... but it’s tricky
As I watched all the happy people celebrating passage of New York’s same-sex marriage law, I couldn’t help but project to a time when Indiana adopts a similar statute.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Back in the saddle — with the usual burr under it
I really didn’t expect to be gone nearly six months, but then, that’s par for the course these days: What I expect to happen and what actually occurs are often about 180 degrees apart.
STEPHANIE SALTER: On the other hand … we’ll have a lot fewer leaves to rake
Editor’s Note: Former Tribune-Star Assistant Editor Stephanie Salter’s column resumes today in freelance form and will appear on this page every other Sunday.
TERRE HAUTE — My neighbor, Andy, had just lowered the bamboo blinds on his front porch when we heard a mournful sound.
This was about as much fun as a doubleheader split could get for Rose-Hulman’s baseball team.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Another batch of my status-quo-defending misinformation on schools
The day after state schools chief Tony Bennett responded to my three-column education series, a longtime friend and veteran teacher called.
“I just read the superintendent’s rebuttal in the Tribune-Star,” my friend said. “All I can conclude from it is that you are a dumbass. Welcome to the club. Anybody who doesn’t buy into his vision of education reform is considered a dumbass.”
Stephanie Salter: One person’s roundup of significant folks lost in 2010
Every late December, as I comb through lists of notable deaths, I swear I will never repeat the process. It takes days of Internet research, mostly because I get distracted by looking up people about whom I know nothing.
Stephanie Salter: I've got some really good news for some of you guys
Of all the sentences I’ve imagined writing in my long, moss-covered newspaper career, this is not one of them: I am quitting my job to get married.
Stephanie Salter: A little history of mandated intermingling among U.S. troops
Back in July 1948, when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, predictions for its effect on the U.S. military were dire. Sen. Richard Brevard Russell Jr. of Georgia echoed the sentiments of millions of Americans in an address from the Senate floor.
Stephanie Salter: Another wronged woman becomes the nation’s paper doll
A few hours after the death of Elizabeth Edwards last week, the creepy, contemporary American ritual of vicarious grieving began in cyberspace.
“You are with your son now. Rest in peace.”
Stephanie Salter: You’ve heard from me — now, listen to the teachers
As e-mail from Indiana teachers and principals continues to pour into my box, the portrait of this beleaguered group grows more poignant each day.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Have you heard Indiana’s schools are failing? It’s a lie
In Gov. Mitch Daniels’ recent state budget PowerPoint, he put up a comparison chart: The percentage of Indiana public school students who’ve attained an advanced level of math achievement versus “the world.” Hoosiers lag behind the national average, trailing such states as Massachusetts, Oregon and New York, and such nations as Poland and Latvia.
Stephanie Salter: Bashing teachers in the name of education reform
As I read the Tribune-Star’s recent Page 1 news packages about the governor’s push for education reform, I kept seeing faces.
Stephanie Salter: After the turkey and before the pie, a round of giving thanks
As my colleague Alicia Morgan wrote last week, there is no downside to taking time out now and then to list and truly appreciate our blessings.
STEPHANIE SALTER: A story of just one corporate lobby ‘investing in advocacy’
For those of you who know in your marrow that the president’s attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system proves his socialist agenda, take the day off. What reporter Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg News shared this past week will be of no interest to you.
Stephanie Salter: Inside today’s grab bag …: Stamps, bands and GOP $$$
It’s time for another roundup of items, little ideas that can’t grow big enough for a whole column, but just won’t go away from my field of focus.
Stephanie Salter: Can’t make a decision? Consult strangers on the ’Net
A day after I heard screenwriter and director Nora Ephron talking on NPR about that moment in the aging process when you realize you are no longer cut out to be au courant, that moment arrived for me.
Stephanie Salter: The years may pass, but a friend will always ride shotgun
I should have known there would be a first-aid kit. Susan provided for every contingency.
How like her to have tucked a 106-piece, American Medical Association-approved kit under the passenger seat of her Honda Accord. How like me not to have discovered it until I was deep cleaning the car to get it ready to sell.
- More Stephanie Salter Headlines
- STEPHANIE SALTER: The more things change, the more they … change