Milton Scarborough’s tales of “Limerick Man”
For years, Milton Reigelman, director of international programs, special assistant to the president, and J. Rice Cowan Professor of English, spearheaded a local effort to persuade Danville to join the Sister City program. In 2008 his efforts, supplemented by those of others, came to fruition when Danville cemented a sisterly relationship with the coastal town of Carrickfergus in Ireland. If the choice of “sisters” had been mine, however, I would have picked a different Irish city, namely, Limerick. Limerick, which has lent its name to a certain quirky, lowbrow form of poetry, has, despite its superior size, a strong, if unrecognized, affinity to Danville, which is home to and inspiration for history’s most prolific writer of limericks, living or dead. I refer to none other than retired religion professor Eric Mount. Let’s call him “Limerick Man.”
Limericks are those funky, often bawdy, five-line poems with a rhyme scheme of aabba (Note: limericks have no known relation to a Swedish rock band made further prominent by the movie Mama Mia.) Dr. Mount’s interest in them dates from the day he discovered, while rummaging through family papers, some limericks written by his father. Since then, Limerick Man has written a ton of them. When I asked him for a few samples for use in this article, he went to a filing cabinet and pulled out a folder simply bursting with them. Later, he phoned to say that he had another such folder or two at home. While his limericks areusually not bawdy (bawdy would be inappropriate for a third generation Presbyterian minister and the father of the Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount, Centre ’91, representing the fourth generation), they are often, he admits, “offensive.”
His limericks were written for a variety of persons (friends, colleagues, family members, Centre tennis players, travel companions, fellow church choir members) and occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, trips–indeed, almost any special moment).
Years ago, for example, Mount coached Centre’s men’s varsity tennis team. At each season’s end a banquet was held, one of the features of which was his reading of a humorous and sometimes sarcastic limerick for each of the players (and sometimes his fellow coach, namely, me). The 1980 Centre annual printed all of that year’s batch, alongside the group photograph of the team.
In 1983-84, while dean of students, he spoke at the R.A. banquet, writing a limerick for each of the 24 R.A.s. In 1987-88, he gave a repeat performance for 35 R.A.s In 1994 he penned and read a limerick for each of the 12 basketball players at their annual banquet.
During John Ward’s deanship, Eric was sometimes requested to prepare and read a limerick for each retiring member of the faculty at the end-of-the-year garden party at the Wards’ home.
In retirement, the Limerick Man did not retire from writing limericks. He and his wife, Truly, who taught French at Centre, have led group trips to such destinations as Ireland, Scotland, and France. Mount wrote a limerick for every person on each trip.
More recently, he has written limericks for all members of the board of directors of NHOA (Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass), of which he was at the time a director. Those limericks were even recorded in the board’s minutes.
As for family members, he has four daughters, four sons-in-law, and 10 grandchildren. Just think of the annual possibilities for limericks!
By now, I hope, your appetite has been whetted for a few examples of his limerickal art. But from the mere 140 I have read for this article, where to stop—or to start? How about one written for the retirement of historian Dave Newhall (sometimes known as “Oz”), the original occupant of Jurassic Park.
Our distinguished historian named “Oz”
Could trace any event to its cause.
He cast critical eye
On the pact at Versailles,
And he treated no is ’till it was.
For R.A. David Hiestand he wrote:
For Dave Hiestand, the man of computers,
There aren’t masculines, feminines, and neuters;
But if a woman’s “softwear”
Leaves strategic parts bare,
He will “network” the fact that she’s cuter.
For Gary Bugg of campus security Mount wrote:
Gary Bugg is a lovable lug,
If you haven’t overswigged from your jug.
But the thing of great beauty
Is when he is on duty,
You sleep like a bug in a rug.
Another retired historian, Walter Nimocks, received this accolade:
In his garden he’s ever so skilled;
Tasty food from the soil he has tilled
To grace elegant tables
Is deservedly fabled;
But his specialty tends to be swilled.
Before I took a sabbatical leave to study religion in India, Eric wrote:
Now he said to his kids and their mommy,
I’ll be spending some time with some swamis.
And if I should convert,
You shouldn’t feel hurt
When I come back to town in pajammies.
The Limerick Man, however, has not simply written and spoken limericks. He has also played midwife to the birth of the limerick-writing passion in others, for example, colleagues Rick Axtell, who has written at least 7, and Milton Scarborough, who has written dozens, including the following one for the recent retirement of Professor Bill Levin.
Ethically, he’s not a rapscallion.
Ethnically, he’s not an Italian.
But he can tell Botticelli
From Liza Minnelli.
In art history, he’s an I-talian stallion.
Late in the fall term of 2010, newly minted Ph.D. Daniel Kirchner wrote his first limerick in connection with his successful oral defense of his dissertation.
In short, despite the retirement of the older generation of “poets” (Mount and Scarborough), the limerick-writing tradition has been securely established for a new generation (Axtell and Kirchner) in the religion and philosophy programs.
So why, you may be wondering, should silly limericks take hold in these two particular fields? Here’s one answer, apt in its form, if not persuasive in it argument.
At ultimate reality to peep
Philosophers and religionists dig deep.
But a wee bit of shallow
Lets reason lie fallow
And these thinkers their sanity keep.