Amazing as they are, Hal’s many endeavors and accomplishments were dwarfed by his amazing presence—always solicitous, cheerful, and supportive. Central to this was his enormous good cheer—an optimism that will lives on in all of us.
It’s not surprising that he often told a joke that he attributed to Ronald Reagan:
A mother, worried that her twin boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- took them to a psychiatrist.
First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. "What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?" "Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."
Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. "What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. "With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming, "there must be a pony in here somewhere.”
Around our Syracuse University office this joke was so often told that it was typically shortened to the phrase, There must be a pony in here somewhere, which was uttered in response to every imaginable quagmire, never failing to lighten the mood.
Although Joan may know differently, this optimism seems to us to have remained with Hal throughout his retirement, amazingly, and despite the hardships of advancing age.
As evidence, I want to share the text of an email from Hal that I found amidst some correspondence we had over the years:
September 23, 2007:
“We are doing fine. I'm making adjustments necessary when moving from binocular to monocular vision. Joan says there is no change in my physical appearance. And I went to the driving range today and found that I can hit the ball with reasonable consistency. Having to concentrate more heavily on the ball when I hit it may actually help my game. There's always a bright side to these things.
Also, having my left eye the unaffected one is good for my golf game because, being right handed, my left eye is the lead eye and gives me a better look when following the ball. Always ‘the pony’!”
Hal’s optimism is a gift that each of us may choose to apply in our own set of circumstances. It is a gift generously given and modeled well. Thank you, Hal.
Kathleen A. Hinchman
Professor, Reading & Language Arts
Donna E. Alvermann
Distinguished Research Professor of Language Arts
The Omer Clyde & Elizabeth Parr Aderhold professor in Education