Oxymoron: a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness,” or, “to make haste slowly”
Many people have visited Sunnybank’s secret garden for the last quarter century. A few really stand out for me, like this encounter, which happened during Traverse City’s Film Festival.
Two casually dressed boys in their early teens closed the last gate, made their way to a bench near my weeping birch on the front garden, pulled a small magnetized chess set out of a backpack and began playing. They made quick decisions, or, more often, thought for a while before moving a piece. I peered sleepily through the fringe of my porch-based stickless hammock and watched them pondering their moves in the still air of late afternoon.
One bespectacled youngster eventually spoke. “Barry, would you say ‘political science’ is an oxymoron? How about ‘library science’?”
Whaaat?? Those were intelligent, very interesting questions! Coming from barely teen-aged children!
I took a closer look. They were slightly built, perhaps a bit small for their ages, and certainly unusual. Not many youngsters would pull out chess sets and play patiently while pondering esoteric, unrelated questions. That behavior was more the purview of grizzled, elderly men moving pawns around faded boards on hot summer afternoons in New York City’s Central Park.
Oh, boy, I’d better dump that stereotype!
Barry, wearing jeans, a tee shirt and a solemn expression, glanced at his brother. “Well, as dad says, first define the central term.”
Grinning, they recited: “Science- systematic knowledge of the physical or material world through observation and experimentation.” They high-fived, and Barry pondered, then continued.
“Political scientists are usually ideological, and reflexively responsive to favored groups.
They tend to make statements based on cherry-picked, manipulated information, wishful thinking, opinion polls- and no independent research.”
He shrugged. “I’d say- yes, Those two words are an oxymoron..”
“And ‘library science’?” A long pause….“Books are organized according to an alphabetic and numerical system…” More deep thought. Then he sighed. “We should research this one. Why do you ask, anyway?”
“No reason, except that I saw the coupled words yesterday, and suddenly they didn’t seem sensible.”
I must have moved, because they suddenly noticed me folded into the hammock. Barry spoke. “Hi. We toured the garden- is it yours? -and liked it lots, especially the mirrors. Cool! Are they left out all winter?”
I rose, and went over to them, nodding. “Yep, and yep. They’re ordinary, been-outside-for-ages mirrors, protected by overhangs.”
I looked down at their board. “Who’s winning?”
“Nobody, yet. But I usually do. Ken tends to be erratic…”
Ken chuckled. “Yeah, but you‘ll get complacent, and then I’ll capture your king. I’m patient.”
“Are you here for the Film Festival?”
Both nodded. “Our parents love this stuff. But we get squirmy in dark theatres on nice days…” ‘
Barry interrupted. “On any day…”
“…so we’ll walk around ‘till their movie ends. We’ve been to Traverse City before, and know the layout. Some lady mentioned your garden, so we walked here.”
Ken offered a suggestion. “Put a little chess set in there. You’d be surprised how many people like to play. But then, maybe they’d stay too long…”
I laughed. “A three-piece suit had a long snooze on the big bench, once.
As for a chess game, individual pieces might wander off…”
“They’d stay put. Who’d find one chess piece useful?”
He had a point.
Oh, I had so many questions for these intriguing boys! But just then- Briiinng! My landline was ringing! Maybe it was my husband, Joe. I excused myself and ran inside to answer. Rats! That awful computer robot was pestering me again about changing my credit card. That machine never gives up! Choking off the call, I ran back outside as they finished their game and were about to leave. Barry had won again; Ken had accepted it with equanimity.
I had to ask one more question.
“Hey guys, where’s home?”
“Oh, New York City. We often play chess in Central Park, ‘cause we live near it.”
I waved goodbye, and sat down on the porch steps, grinning.
Ha! Central Park, after all!
Well, old girl, you were right: just subtract about 55 years, and add bright, and delightful!