Wednesday, January 30, 2013

College for a Country Kid

I overheard Mother and Daddy fretting about how to pay for my college tuition.  Only a few weeks away from high school graduation in 1962, I was angry that they were taking away my euphoria before I had a chance to enjoy it – before I walked across the stage.  I had never said I was going to college, anyway.  I sure didn’t want to.

Problem was, I didn’t know what to do if I didn’t go to college.  It was time to go out in the world, and I had no marketable skills, no natural abilities.  East Texas State College was only eight miles from our front porch, but it seemed like a foreign country.   My parents expected me to go, even though nobody else in the family had.

I knew money would be tight, knew about the medical expenses and the drought that had wiped us out.  How could I add college expenses to their burdens?  I searched through the college catalog of courses and majors.  Nothing there for me.  Why waste hard-earned money? 

When I told them of my decision, Daddy stared at the floor for a long time.  He always had a habit of drifting off, staring into space.  I hadn’t inherited his ability with his hands, but I had inherited that drifting off.  He stood and motioned for me to follow him outside.

I was surprised by the tone of the discussion that followed.  No longer man-to-boy, but man-to-man. Daddy believed that praise and affection drew value from their scarcity.  “Sounds like you’re backing out on college because of money.”

“I know we can’t afford it.  I don’t know what good a degree would do me, anyway. I got no idea what to do with one.”

“That’s the point of going, Jim.  They put that college over there in Commerce for kids just like you.  Go a year.  Give it a chance. You’ll find something that suits.”

“How are we gonna come up with tuition and books?”

“You always had a job of some sort.  You help out with gas and spending money, your mama and me will take care of the rest.”  He started back to the house, then turned and came back.  He put a calloused hand on my arm.  “You make the grades, keep out of trouble, money won’t ever be mentioned again.”

I was surprised at the intensity of his expression and his words.  A little tenderness crept into a selfish boy’s heart.  But I did not answer.

He focused his one good eye on me.  “Take the chance I never had.”

I nodded. Now I had to go. Daddy has been gone for more than forty years now, and that last sentence returns to my mind often.

I found a job at City Pharmacy in downtown Commerce jerking sodas, mopping floors, and delivering prescriptions.  No skills required.  Mother cosigned a note for a ’54 Ford so that I could get back and forth to school and work. I delayed college for the summer, dreading it every day.

In the fall, I stood in the Field House, staring at a sea of tables, kids and professors.  Everybody in that gym looked smarter, more experienced, and worldlier.  Some well-dressed young man asked if I was a freshman.  I said I guessed I was about to be and he handed me a beanie.  I stuck it in the back pocket of my Levis, hoping that wearing it was not mandatory.   

First published in Memories of Old ET. 

Another review for Go Down Looking.
I have enjoyed reading all my life--have read all kinds of stuff-- this from one who thoroughly enjoys the written word. Jim Ainsworth has a better grasp of the English language than any author that I have ever read!!! When he writes of a scene or a situation he describes it in such terms that put you inside the pages of the book-- you see, feel and touch the moment. Great job, Jim.
Charlie Smith 

1 comment:

Doc Turner said...

Jim, we moved to Commerce the summer of 66. I remember the Pharmacy and the old field house. It had a certain grand timeless quality to it. Maybe it was the way the ball echoed if I was shooting free throws by myself, or the sharp squeak of rubber soled tennis shoes on that ancient wood floor, or the faint aroma of a sweaty locker room that hung in the humid air...
I remember once getting a shot of Lincomycin in the rear end down at a doctors office near the corner across the street from the savings and loan. The doctor gave me a prescription to get filled. I found it hurt too bad to sit down to drive there, so I walked down the block to pick it up in order to delay the agony of sitting as long as possible. I had a bruise the size of an orange on my back side by the next day.
Do you remember the five and dime store on the north side of the square? The old gentleman I took for the owner would follow me up and down every aisle watching my every move, sure I was up to no good. He didn't know that i would steal a bean from a blind beggar, and it sure made me made. I finally told him when I was probably about twelve:"Mister, one of these days I might buy somethin' if you'd quit treatin' me like a crook!" and waltzed out. I guess i was a sure enough Turner even back then.