Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meeting Jimmy...

Classes resumed after Christmas at a furious pace. The professors piled on the assignments making up for lost time. I was struggling in botany and hated it. There didn't seem to be enough time to get it all done, not with working three hours each day, and I had no choice about that.

Looking back, it seems that my work at the infirmary helped pay for my meals, because I only received a small check once or twice a semester. So, if I received a dollar or two in the mail, which I did from time to time, it was needed and welcomed. For a brief time, I found another parttime job typing for an accountant there just to have some spending money, but that only added to the frustration of not enough time to study. Two jobs and 18 hours was altogether too much and overwhelming.

The occasional outings with the Baptist Student Union were good for me, and I tried to reserve the time for them. I loved going to the pediatric floor at the hospital where the children always made me laugh. Visiting with the women prisoners at the jail was a heartbreaking experience, listening to the stories of their lives and what they had experienced. I had nothing to compare to it, but I listened and hugged them. Somehow, that seemed to help and they welcomed us back each week. My favorite trip was probably to the nursing homes. Never having really known my grandparents, I had a tendency to adopt anyone older than 75. I loved them all, and they were so excited each week when we came for our visit.

The weeks had tumbled quickly by and it was March already...March 16, 1964. We were having a blowing rain storm...the kind that turns your umbrella inside out and wrenches it from your hands. I had managed to get across campus but was pretty soaked and freezing by the time I got to my speech lab. There, we would sit in our little carrels, wearing headphones and listening to difficult vocabulary words, repeating them quietly into microphones. I wasn't real thrilled with this exercise or too sure of the use of it, but I complied. Sitting there in my little cubicle, I had my sweater wrapped around me, still trying to get warm.

I was quietly repeating the words I heard in the microphone, when I heard these words in my headset: "WHERE have you been?".

"Huh?" I thought to I supposed to repeat that?!

"WHERE have you been? I haven't seen you on campus, and I KNOW I would have seen YOU!"

"Okay, what's going on?" I thought to myself. I looked up and there in the instructor's booth was a very handsome young man, looking directly at me and smiling.

"Where would you like to go?" he questioned...speaking softly into his microphone. "I'll close the lab and take you anywhere you want to go".

Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I would probably say, "you've been watching too many romantic comedies", but I was eighteen and he was cute!

Jimmy did close the lab class that afternoon, making all the students happy. By that time, the sun had come out and a beautiful rainbow made a timely appearance. We went for a long walk around the campus, and Jimmy pointed out things that had been there all along...but I'd never even noticed. A junior and a speech major, he was from the coast of Florida. He was there on a speech debate scholarship, and he was very good at it. A Methodist ministerial student at a Baptist college, his plans were to go to Duke University after graduation for his masters and to become a Methodist minister.

With a quick wit, beautiful blue eyes and a disarming smile, Jimmy was the proverbial tall, dark and handsome. He invited me to go to a play on campus that night...MacBeth. As I recall, it was a lovely evening...and the start of a close friendship.

Home for Christmas

The days on the calendar flew quickly by. Thanksgiving had come and gone, and I was looking forward to a nice long break at Christmas. I was tired and "run down", to use one of Mama's expressions, after a bout with strep throat and a high fever. I had even managed to spend a few days and nights as a patient at the infirmary where I worked. The Christmas break would give me a chance to rest and catch up on all the school work I'd fallen behind on...not to mention preparing for the finals the week after my return to school. Not the best way to spend Christmas vacation, but I was thankful for the time.

It snowed the day before we were to leave for Christmas break. A deep blanket of white covered the campus. Icicles hung from the chapel and other buildings and weighed heavily on the tree branches. Everything glistened in the bright sunlight. It was a winter wonderland in the deep South. No one had come prepared with boots but we still tromped in the snow, throwing snowballs at one another and basically acting thirteen again. It added to the excitement of going home.

I was riding home with Sandra, one of my friends from Memphis, who was also a freshman there. Her boyfriend Mike had come down to drive us back to Memphis. It seems there was someone else with us on the trip...but I can't quite remember who it was. I gently remind myself that it has been forty-five years.

It continued to snow all that day, and the roads had turned into a solid sheet of ice. Driving was reported to be treacherous at best. Under normal circumstances, the trip took four hours. We left school about eleven o'clock in the morning right after our last class. It didn't take long, or very many miles, to know we were not looking forward to this trip. Mike was a good driver but totally inexperienced driving in snow; and now the snow had been packed under a sheet of ice.

I remember vividly that, at first, there was talk and laughter among us on the trip...and then silence as we realized how dangerous it was. We must have only been traveling about 20 miles per hour, but more than once, we slipped and slid totally across the road and into what would have been oncoming traffic...had anyone else been there. We passed dozens of vehicles abandoned on the side of the road or, even worse, wrecked. There were very few stores open and we needed to stop for gas. We also needed to get some food and something warm to drink. Unfortunately, this was before cell phones so we had no way to call our parents or anyone if, indeed, we were to need help.

We finally found a store open and bought some sandwiches and hot chocolate. We also filled the tank with gas. I remember calling my dad collect at that point. He said to find some where to buy chains for the car and that he would pay for them along with the gas. Luckily, we did find a store open and managed to get chains to fit. A little while longer and we were back on the road. The chains did help some, but it was still rough going. Twelve hours after leaving school, we pulled up to my front door. We were all exhausted but glad to be home.

Since that long ago journey, I've lived in Illinois and Iowa where it snows a lot. I've driven in snow storms and blizzards with white-out conditions. I've driven on sheets of ice. Yet, each time I do, I'm transported back in time to a car full of college kids trying their best to get home for Christmas...