One of the most valuable lessons life has taught me is to know the difference between salvation and salivation. It is so easy to confuse the two, especially in one’s youth. When I was a young whippersnappernipper, long ago, I would regularly insert an i when one was not needed, or omit an i where the high heavens cried out for one. I know I was not the only pimply young shaver to commit these errors. Over the decades, I have had conversations with, ooh, hundreds if not thousands of people who were – and in some cases still are! – fuddled by the difference. It should go without saying that confusing the two can have serious ramifications.
That is another word, incidentally, with which I had problems. I would commonly omit not just an i but also an a, giving it as ramfictions. This was because I thought it had something to do with stories about sheep. My dear departed Ma would regularly read to me a bedtime story about a sheep named Dolores, whose fleece became snagged on a wire fence at the edge of a field on a farm in a fictional place called Dippydopeyland. As her name indicates, Dolores was a ewe rather than a ram, so even if such a thing as a ramfiction existed, which it did not, except within my little head, her story would not have been one. But that was just something else that confused me as a child.
When I heard the word ewe I thought the speaker was referring to a yew. I suspect this was because, when it was my dear departed Pa’s turn to read me a bedtime story, he invariably chose to recite, in an eerie voice, “The Moon And The Yew Tree” by Sylvia Plath. The result was that I found Ma’s story of Dolores frankly incomprehensible. The Plath poem, on the other hand, with its fumy spiritous mists and sea like a dark crime and bonging bells and bats and owls and the moon bald and wild and the blackness and silence, I found almost unbearably thrilling, so much so that I began to salivate. I would often slobber on to my pillow before Pa got to the end of the poem.
Of course, I confused my salivation with salvation, and imagined Jesus was about to come and pluck me from my bed, and take me to his bosom, and up to heaven, where he wanted me for a sunbeam. Now, as it happened, if Ma and Pa were called away to a night rally, my dear departed Uncle Ned read my bedtime story, which for him was always Chapter V of Part III of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. That is why, throughout my childhood, I was convinced I was a cucumber.