Jerry, Teddy, the iguana and me
By Susy Schultz
I admit it. I am easy. I cry at commercials, greeting cards and cheesy movies, especially those with a ridiculously easy and happy ending.
Give me "Jerry Maguire" and I am in guilty hog heaven.
Doesn't matter if I own the movie. If I find one of those romantic comedies on, I must stop and watch it. I am obligated to watch, cry and advise the characters: "He loves you, he does. Don't you know he just hasn't realized it yet."
Why? I don't know. Maybe I just love a happy ending. Maybe I enjoy rooting for love, the underdog and justice. This trait flies in the face of my professional cynical, skeptical and hard-bitten self.
Or maybe they explain one another. Maybe I need to see fictional happy endings to bolster me through the other stories I have covered. Maybe I just need a little magic, a little on-screen redemption.
Or maybe I like the privacy this vice affords. Let's face it, one of these movies comes on and the room clears. Exit the 14- and-11-year-old sons, the husband and the two dogs. The iguana sticks it out but only with a supply of lettuce.
The e-mail equivalent to my cinema sin is the Teddy Stoddard story. Maybe you've gotten the note. It has me at "hello."
"There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. ... Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
"Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn't play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. ... Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold Xs and then putting a big F at the top of his papers."
When she reads Teddy's records, she finds he was once a vibrant, happy boy. But by third grade, our Teddy was a lost soul: "His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."
Teddy needs a savior and Mrs. Thompson steps in. "The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class."
The four-tissue moment comes after Teddy gives his teacher a brown paper bag for Christmas with a ratty old rhinestone bracelet and half a bottle of perfume.
"She stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, ‘Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.' "
Six times in the last dozen years, I have been caught with Teddy's story on my screen and tears in my eyes.
Teddy never forgets Mrs. Thompson. He graduates from medical school and at his wedding, asks his teacher to sit where his mother would have been.
The happy ending comes: "Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ears, ‘Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.' Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back, ‘Teddy you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you.'"
This time when I got the e-mail, it had a twist. It names Stoddard as Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Des Moines.
I never checked out Teddy's story before, because the gauntlet was never thrown down. There were no facts. Now, I had no choice.
But it was with great trepidation that I dialed the Iowa Methodist Medical Center. I mean, who wants to know that two years later, Jerry Maguire divorces Dorothy Boyd, leaving her alone on food stamps, caring for little Ray and 9-month-old Nadia, making Dorothy the most vocal member of her sister's divorced women's group?
"It's a great heart-warming story," says Tim Hackbart, the Iowa center's public relations manager. "But our cancer center is actually named after John Stoddard, who was a businessman."
Once I started, I couldn't stop. I found Teddy on www.snopes.com, about urban legends: This is a "work of fiction penned by Elizabeth Ballard in 1976 and published that year in Home Life magazine."
The story has its own life. In an interview, Ballard even said she has heard people telling her fictional story as if it were their own. The story's popularity, according to Hackbart, is on an upswing. He says they received 30-40 e-mails about Teddy in the past three months.
I waded through about 1,000 Web pages brought up after I entered Teddy Stoddard into Google.
Teddy is on Inspirational Stories, Heartwarming Stories and Teachers Stories to name just a few. He
crosses over religious boundaries finding his way to Christian, Islamic and Jewish sites. His story is in English, Spanish, German and Arabic. Sometimes Teddy is black. Sometimes he's Stallard. He's made television, print and radio: Broadcaster Paul Harvey even told Teddy's story as fact on a 1998 radio show.
After a few hours, I was no longer depressed by the breakdown of Teddy's myth.
Maybe, I thought, we all just need a little magic. I think the iguana and I will pop in "Jerry Maguire" tonight.