The Column That Would Not Die has spawned The Contest That Might as Well Go On, Too. Art Buchwald, you may have insisted upon running the same column every Thanksgiving for the last35 years, but our headline writers threw in the napkin after a third of a century. So two years ago we asked readers to submit proposals for headlines. Last year a nun won, which we thought was very nice.
This year the contestants ranged from the proud sister of "a modestly creative writer" to a polyglot run amok whose suggestion of a Greek phrase attributed to Diogenes Laertius, while obscure and only tangentially related to the column, certainly got the prize for originality.
The contest also provided an opportunity for embarrassing admissions. One perturbed close-reader admitted to not understanding the column. ("Undoubtedly Priscilla marries the young Lieutenant since she asks him to speak for himself, and he did love her too," the reader wrote. "BUT if that leaves Miles Standish heartbroken why would the people give thanks to him for le jour de Merci Donnant?" She suggested the headlines "What Did I Miss" and "The Turkey That Got Away.")
But the winner is 17-year-old Ashley Daltan, who not only is president of her high school French club at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, but also thinks the perennial column "is really cute."
"I love stuff like that -- the play on words," she said. "It took a lot of thought, the article, and I thought it was really cute."
The lucky winner will receive an autographed copy of Art Buchwald's latest tome, "I Think I Don't Remember."
Ashley and her French III classmates wrote potential headlines as homework over last year's Thanksgiving break, producing such also-rans as "Thanksgiving Without le Pain," "Vous Grossissez Vite: When You Eat Turkey Meat" and the classically simple "Ah! Turkey! Bon Appe'tit!"
French teacher Cynthia Poole said she has read the Buchwald column for years and each Thanksgiving brings it into her classes. Last year she assigned the headline homework as an "exercise in creative thinking."
And what did she think when a good number of the entries -- including Ashley's -- seemed to be poking fun at the column, what with the double meaning of "turkey" and all? Does she encourage this sort of irreverence toward the column?
"I use it as a cultural jumping-off point," said Poole, laughing. "Therefore we take it very seriously.
"I have to tell you, every year it gets harder," she said. "They don't read Miles Standish any more. Every year I have to give more and more background."
The grand tradition-maker himself understands.
"They don't know the English now," said Buchwald of the youth of today, Ashley Daltan excepted. "Football has replaced the legend of John Alden and Priscilla Mullens."
Perhaps that means the column's day has passed?
"I would never, never change anything," Buchwald said. "It's sacred. By now, it's gotten to the point where people ask you six weeks in advance, 'Is it going to run?' There's a whole cult out there of turkey fanciers. It's not just the column anymore. It's all of Thanksgiving. It's intertwined."
So keep those headlines coming -- Buchwald Contest, care of the Style section. This column may outlive us all.