I’ll never forget my freshman year speech class. If you went to a liberal arts college, you probably had to take one too. My professor arrived on day one holding a university baseball hat upside down filled with little, white, folded pieces of paper. She explained that one by one we’d be called up to pick 2 pieces of paper from the hat. Whatever was on those pieces of paper would become the subject matter for our story. We’d read them to ourselves and have to immediately deliver a dialogue to the class that would accomplish the following: First we’d have just under a minute to tell our tale and two, we’d have to make the class believe whatever we were saying. Suddenly the entire room was in a collective flop sweat. People looked stricken, like perhaps they’d just been told they came into contact with the Avian Flu. One by one she called our names. Like that scene in The Hunger Games at The Reaping when Jennifer Lawrence takes Prim’s slot, only minus Jennifer Lawrence. Goodbye Prim. Fourteen little lambs to the public speaking slaughter later, she called my name, “Christina Goose.” In the history of first days, no one has ever gotten my name right. I walked up, drew “an olive farm” and “sunglasses,” turned to the class and said, “It was a dusty, dry day in Tuscany and our tiny village was gathered around what was our last olive tree. We’d lost the entire grove to a frost in the spring. What had stood for thousands of years, punctuating our history and giving lifeblood to our families, was gone in less than 24 hours. The morning we discovered the loss was the darkest in our history. We had openly wept in one another’s arms when suddenly we heard shouting coming from Angelo’s farm. We ran there, where we found Angelo and one last surviving tree. It was a sign, a beacon of hope, bridging tragedy and rebirth. Our tears quickly turned to joy and to honor the miracle we feasted at the bough of her branches. As we sat together we started to toss out ideas for how to rebuild. We’d need money. Our mayor’s daughter had an idea…an olive festival with a big cash prize. Before the frost she’d written to them and entered our town into the contest. This tree would be our only hope. The entire town saw her off, an olive branch tucked carefully in her suitcase. Four long days later, the phone rang. We rushed to city hall and the mayor put her on speaker-phone. An entire town leaned in to hear her crackly voice from across the Atlantic. She spoke of the different regions who had entered, how amazing their olives were and the judge who always wore sunglasses so you couldn’t tell what he was thinking when our mayor shouted, “Get to the point, did we win?” After a series of clicks where it sounded like the line had gone dead she whispered, “Yes Papa, we won.” The entire town erupted and that’s how Frost Farms was born and a town was saved.“ When I finished, the room was so quiet I swear I could hear them blink. After a motionless minute a kid, that I’d later come to know as Jay said, “Raise your hand if you think Christina should have to go last each time.” Suddenly 21 hands shot up in the air. The funny thing was, my story wasn’t even that good. What it was, though, was believable. I don’t know the rules for fight club but I do know that whether it’s public speaking, pulling off a bolero hat or pretty much whatever else the two little pieces of white paper in your life say, if you commit, make eye contact and believe the story you’re telling you can sell almost anyone an olive farm in Tuscany, sunglasses or not. That is the rule of Speech Club….
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