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Saturday, May 29, 2010




Judy is laughing because she's retired. 2 more days of work next week and she's free to write the book she's been wanting to write, whatever that is. Like for a lot of people, after a long career in the school system, everything changes around you and 30 years later it's not like it was before in hardly any way. The kids are different, the teachers are different, society all around us is different. There comes a time you're in foreign territory without going anywhere. She's been there quite awhile. She has a daughter working on a PhD in molecular biology at Berkeley, happily married to a guy working on his PhD in Chemistry. All of that makes for a mom satisfied that her girl made it through that period of the teens when a kid can go off in any direction. It's fulfilling for a mom to see her fledgling fly on her own.

Judy and Lucas are here from Georgia for the weekend. They'd like to stay longer, but Judy has to be back Tuesday and Wednesday to retire. Lucas would be retiring too, but the "economic downturn" stripped Emory faculty of their retirement. So he has to go on working. And he's at a place, too, where the world has changed under him and he's something akin to a stranger in a strange land. Teaching doesn't convince him any more that he's contributing anything of value to anyone. The school system has changed and the students have changed from year to year. Very little is familiar any more except the tedium of doing something you don't believe in any more. It's hard to let go of believing you're doing any good when you don't connect any more. I knew he'd given up trying when he told me a few years ago, "When I see a kid with a ballcap on backwards, I know he has nothing to say I want to hear." He said it for an example of how far he has allowed himself to separate from the tolerance he used to hold high. He knows what he said has to say about him. He tries not to be a boring old curmudgeon professor, and I know for a certainty he is not, but I believe there are times he'd like to let go and lose interest in the kids. That's his flaw, he can't let go of his interest in the education of the various young people in his classes.
Lucas was one of the first people I met when I started at the College in Charleson. The first student I met to talk with, I think his name was Howard Stahl (?) and he listened to jazz, the subject of our talking. First time we talked, he said, "You need to know Lucas Carpenter," the other jazz lover at the school. So I met Lucas and we've been friends ever since. He was accepted at Vanderbilt for graduate school. In his first year he was drafted out of school and had to go do a year in Nam. Like me, he didn't have what it took to dodge the draft, though we wished we did have what it took. Stationed at a base in Auburn, GA, after his "tour," he came close to marrying a waitress at a local diner. Went back to graduate school at Chapel Hill, where he met Judy, who was there in graduate school from Brooklyn, who did undergraduate at Stoneybrook, where Lucas went after Chapel Hill to get his PhD.
After some years of living on Long Island teaching at a college there, Lucas wanted back in the South. Applied for the job with Emory with Oxford College, a small school Emory took over several years before to keep it going. He got the job and was given an office space that had once been the office of his great uncle he neither knew nor knew of, who taught Math. For Lucas, that part of Georgia is the homeplace of his branch of Carpenters, like Ninemile, Tennessee, was for my branch of Worthingtons. I've seen Lucas and Judy all the way along in their married life, and am happy to say they've had a good life together. It's not been always smooth, but they work things out and continue to have one of the more successful marriages of people I've known. When Lucas gets praised for his daughter, Meredith's success in school, he says he raised her by negative example: don't be like your daddy.
When we get together we tend to talk a lot and watch movies. Getting together to run our mouths for a few hours is good entertainment for us. Like we were anticipating going to the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway, but I couldn't find who was playing on their website. I believed I'd heard some ads about Wayne Henderson playing there, but the website said nothing about anybody being there. We decided we'd rather sit on the deck, look at the trees and sky, talk until we have nothing left to say, recent Bob Dylan music playing in the background. We've all 3 been Dylan fans from the time of about his 3rd album when he was getting known beyond NYC. We laughed over news we'd heard on NPR a year or less ago that the world of American Poetry has accepted Bob Dylan as a poet. We laughed saying it's the other way around, Dylan has finally accepted being one of them, the man who gives his poetry readings with an incredible rock band on a big stage with thousands in the audience, absolutely independent of the world of Poetry. We've always been in awe of Dylan as a phenomenon in our lifetime the equal of Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, TS Eliot, the masters whose works never go out of print.
Judy worked her way through graduate school in Chapel Hill playing a guitar and singing "folk songs" ala Joni Mitchell/Joan Baez. She had long straight hair and a Brooklyn accent, authentic for urban folk music, sang well and played in a couple of differernt places around Chapel Hill. When she was done with school, she put her guitar away and never sang again. I asked her once to make a cassette for me of her playing guitar and singing songs she sang then, for fun only. Many years later when Meredith was about 15, I mailed the cassette to her. She didn't even know Judy could play a guitar or sing songs. And Meredith liked what she heard. It was a new dimension of mother in a time in her life when girls have problems with mothers and the other way around. Meredith and Judy, though, were inseparable. They were like each other's best friend all the way along. It's that way now with Meredith in San Francisco. They talk by cell phone every day, email, facebook, like best friends with a few thousand miles between them. For me, it's been a very beautiful relationship to witness all along the way, a mother-daughter relationship that's about friends who respect each other and exercise no efferts to control. Judy is actually in awe of what her daughter has become, the person she has become in her mid twenties, fully herself. Lucas, too, is in awe of her. As am I.
It's a joy for me to see this child,whose parents I'd known for several years before she was born and her all her life, in graduate school at Berkeley. For me to apply at Berkeley would be a waste of postage, trouble, everything. They wouldn't even laugh. Whoever opens the envelopes would take a momentary look and drop it in the trash, wouldn't even remember at the end of the day seeing it. Berkeley wouldn't take me if they had government grants to process the certifiably ignorant. And Meredith's husband, Greg, I feel the same respect for as for her. When not around them I might ask myself how do I talk with somebody working on a PhD in some science region I've never even heard of? Answer comes back, just like I'd talk with somebody who dropped out of high school. Person to person. In person to person, we're all equal. In person to person is true democracy. Meredith and Greg, both, are people I can know person to person easily and have good times. I think of all the generation gaps between us and wonder how we can communicate at all, but we do. Greg married a good cook, too.

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