Spring Classes–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–February 1994, Part 1

My spring classes now began.  There was World Civ II with Dr. Williams.  Advanced Composition, a requirement for Writing majors, was with Counselor Dude.  General Botany was with Mrs. Rev, the Rev’s wife.  Botany Lab was on Monday.  American Lit II was with Dr. Nelson, my Film teacher.

Phil changed his World Civ II class so he’d be in mine.  I think we both had a class in Chase next, so he would rush over from Old Main to Chase with me after World Civ.

Phil and I studied for World Civ tests together, going through study guides and writing down answers to the questions or definitions, and, from what I can tell from my folder, reviewing lecture notes Williams gave us.

I still kept to my reading schedule.  I also still sat in roughly the same seat, in the third row or back, and Phil sat next to me.  Two of the girls sitting near us sometimes joked with us before class.  One was Barb, who was briefly one of my coworkers in about 1996 or 1997.

My test scores got worse now that I was there with Phil, and, amused, I always wondered if it had something to do with him being in the class with me.  Considering “worse” meant high B’s, no wonder I was merely amused.  Even Williams noticed, writing on my test paper when I got a B+, “good but you can do better.”


Dr. Nelson was a young man with black hair and thick-rimmed, black glasses.  He had a New York accent, which Phil would imitate.  Dr. Nelson would say “ill-yoo-strate” for “illustrate.”  Once, he said “illustrate,” then corrected himself and said, “ill-yoo-strate.”  Phil had him for some other class, I forget which.

This may have been the class which made me think American literature was boring, or the one that showed me it wasn’t all boring after all.  It introduced me to Allen Ginsberg and Beat literature, for one thing.

On the Road, the bible of the Beatnik generation and by Jack Kerouac, was a favorite of mine that year.  When I read it at Phil’s house while waiting for him to come back from Choir Tour, I listened to “Shine” by Collective Soul, a song which had only just come out, and thought the sound fit the book well.

The travels of the characters of the book reminded me of my own travels around America with my family, and made me long to be on the road again, myself.

On page 120 I underlined, “‘[T]hat even you, as you drive, fearful of the wheel’ (I hated to drive and drove carefully),” and wrote, “I knew there had to be someone else like that in the world!”  I was to find after graduation that I knew people who hated driving.

On page 122 I underlined, “My aunt once said the world would never find peace until men fell at their women’s feet and asked for forgiveness.”  I wrote beside it, “Phil does that.”

Yet another line, on page 126, reminded me of Phil: “He’s six foot four, mild, affable, agreeable, bland, and delightful.  He helps women on with their coats.”  Phil was six foot five, and except for the “bland” bit, was the same.

The line on page 128, “before he became cool and commercial,” reminded me of what people say about popular bands in modern times as well.  Apparently some things never change.

The line on page 138, “We’re in the South!  We’ve left the winter!” reminded me of how my family and I felt when we got to the South in December on trips in my elementary school years.

On page 175 I underlined, “In a dead silence the salesman gathered up his sad pots and left.”  I wrote, “The pots are sad?  In some ways Sal thinks like me!”  I have this odd tendency to think of inanimate objects as having feelings.  If one is thrown across the room or somebody grumbles about its ugliness or uselessness, I imagine it feeling hurt.

On page 231, my hometown South Bend was mentioned.  Sal seemed to feel the same excitement about crossing the country that I felt while traveling with my family.

Eventually, our class moved out of Old Main to a conference room in Jubilee.

Helene and I agreed to work together on one of the presentations (everyone had to get into a group of two or more and do a presentation on one of the stories), and ended up doing a story called “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver.

When we read Jazz by Toni Morrison (which I liked), a non-trad woman said, “We read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in my last Lit class, and we all hated it.  I was afraid this book would be like that, but it wasn’t.  I’m surprised.  I actually liked this one.”  But I read Beloved in 1999, and loved it!

I first got to know Helene in Lit class.  She was in her early 30s, a widow with two children.  She had met Phil in Sophomore Honors in the fall semester; they and Helene’s friend Kay often sat together at lunch spring semester.

I got to know Helene one day after class, after we’d been told about the class presentations we had to do.  She turned to me and asked if I wanted to do one with her on Jane Austen, because we both loved her work.

This year’s Sophomore Honors class was big enough for two classes, and had guys in it as well. Ours only had a couple, and none freshman year.  I wonder if they also had minorities in the other class?  We had no minorities in my Honors classes.  I don’t know why.


Advanced Composition was required for all writing majors, had Persuasive as a prerequisite, and was only offered every other spring, so I had to take it junior year.  There was no other time in my whole college career that I could have taken it.

We learned how to write various things that would come in useful in the real world, such as letters of recommendation, reviews, and opinion papers.  I did an interview of Seymour from the library.  Counselor Dude taught the class in the Honors room.

On March 17 we watched a documentary called Vernon, Florida, with Ned Burgess as director of photography, Brad Fuller as editor, David Loxton as executive producer, and Errol Morris as producer and director.  (Here it is, until Youtube yanks it.)

We were directed to watch, take notes, not say a word about it to each other right away, write a reaction paper, and then talk about it afterwards.  These are some of my notes:

That red-clay road reminds me of my uncle’s ranch in Texas!…I haven’t seen any women or young people yet….Finally!  A wife!…

Several guys, varying ages; one with a wife, who we only see once; quiet, peaceful town–officer says the worst that happens there is shoplifting….

Interesting movie–strange–the people don’t seem to change our stereotypes much.  [I meant stereotypes about backwater, southern towns and their people.]

No one of another race–are there any?  And are there any young people?  I did hear some kids playing, once….

Seems like you’re really there–colorful; like you’re standing there watching the scenery and the birds; could be someone’s farm or back road….

Are these people really the norm there?  They seem strange to us–the turkey hunter, the old man with his turtle and possum….

Tiny town, is the impression; the name sounds familiar….One old man, originally from Chicago, says ‘they think this is the real world, and it’s not–they’ve never even touched/seen the real world,’ but he seems to fit in pretty well with the others–laid-back, knows the land, seems strange to us….

The preacher seems ‘normal’ until we hear his sermon–all the emphasis on ‘therefore’–don’t quite understand the importance because we don’t hear enough of what he means to point out about it.

[He gave a whole sermon about the use of the word “therefore” in the Bible.  Just because it was used a lot, he thought it had some significance.  He had a southern accent, so he’d say it really funny, and he emphasized it like this: “THERE-forrrrre!”]

The officer seems ‘normal.’…What is ‘normal,’ anyway?…Here’s a new catchphrase–‘And that’s him, right over there’–(hunter pointing out turkey feet and ‘beards’)….

We get to see that religion does play an important role in these people’s lives, after wondering for a while if it does….

Sand grows?  Must be true, if the sand is growing upwards in her jar, and if they can quote stats on it.  The older couple–yep, they were wearing clothes from the 60s or 70s–are striped pants a staple for men?–odd thing is, those bellbottoms or straight-legs (her) are back in style….

Opens with the sound of a harmonica and a guy humming–sounds like he’s gargling–and a shot of a truck driving along.

As for the growing sand:

Well, as they say, the joke was on me. I was giving a lecture at Brandeis University. I was in the middle of my spiel. Sand doesn’t grow, but they think it does.

Someone in the audience – a professor of geology or something like that – said that sand from the White Sands Proving Grounds is not beach-sand. It’s gypsum, and gypsum absorbs moisture.

When the Martins took the sand from New Mexico to Florida, they took the sand from an extremely arid climate to a climate with high humidity. Maybe the sand was growing.  –Errol Morris, from his website article, “The Errol Morris DVD Collection


Botany was in the same room I’d once used to take my registration tests, back in February of 1991.  It was so weird to be in there again, since I hadn’t set foot in it again until now, so it had seemed to only exist in dreams.

It was a wide-open room with many chairs set up in raised rows, each one higher than the one in front.  The chairs had tiny desks attached, which you would lift up and click in place.

In the front of the room, which was opposite the door, there was a podium and a movie screen.  I was to be in this room at least twice more my senior year, but not for classes.

Mrs. Rev spoke of her husband as her “lover” one day after Valentine’s Day, when he gave her flowers, I think left on the doorstep or by her office door.  She and Phil’s mother became friends.  She was a sweet person who loved plants.  She was also the Phi Delt faculty adviser.

One reason I took this class, besides needing the credits, was to hopefully identify those elusive plants in Collier Encyclopedia’s “Atoll” article.  Back in high school, I wrote several versions of a desert island novel named Jerisland, and used that article to describe the island.

The article listed the various plants an atoll would have, but unfortunately, it only listed the scientific names–and most of them were obscure.  I looked in all sorts of books to find out what they were, but still could not find them.

Eventually I found a book on trees which helped, but it still didn’t explain all of the trees and plants.  How could I describe the trees of the island–what they looked like, what their shade was like, what fruit they bore, what could be made from them or their bark or fruit or fronds–if I couldn’t even find out what kinds of trees they were?

I used my Botany textbook to find a few answers, and also asked Mrs. Rev if she had a book on tropical plants.  She didn’t and couldn’t find one, to my disappointment.

It seemed that if you lived in the Midwest, finding a comprehensive book on tropical trees could only happen in your dreams.  Nearly all the books I found in bookstores or libraries were about North American trees and plants.

I believe I started searching for these trees back in around 1990, because I began writing Jerisland in 1988 or 1989.  So this had been a long search.

I gave Mrs. Rev a list of the trees on March 14th, but she couldn’t find out what they were.

I tried looking on the Net several years later, but still didn’t find a whole lot.  I believe it was 2007 when I looked again, and found all the information I needed, right there on the Net, describing every last one of those plants!

Unfortunately, I stopped writing that book in 1995, and don’t know if I’ll take it up again.  But now I can if I want to!

But back to Botany class.  Our labs were in a different room in the Chase center.  It was set up typically, with sinks and those black-topped tables you generally find in high school science rooms.

Botany was a fun class, with its sporangia and gametophytes and angiosperms and all those other fun words.  I found parts of it amusing; for example, I wrote on my notes one day when the teacher spoke of lettuce: “I was glad when they said unto me, Lettuce go into the house of the Lord.”  I drew a pig next to the word “unpigmented,” and a squirrel next to notes about the food chain.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992:Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: