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​Going to College

Willy and I were shooting a few games of eight ball in Bill Williams Tavern on a rainy December afternoon. He stopped for a moment to chalk his cue stick. Chalking wouldn't help him. He was a poor shot and had no idea of getting position with the cue ball for the next shot. He didn't worry about it because he usually missed the shot. He leaned down to see under the florescence light hanging over the pool table. “Nelson, let's go to college.”

This was December of 54 and I had graduated from Buckingham High School in 49. I had worked in a saw mill the first year out stacking lumber so that it would dry.  Then two friends said the same thing in the same pool room on another rainy afternoon. “Nelson, let's join the Air Force.” I think I have this genetic disorder on chromosome number 13. It causes me to agree with crazy people, be very gullible, go with the flow and unable to say no. More about the Air Force later.

That particular day in the pool room was too wet to haul chicken manure. For some strange reason I bought a used F-8 Ford truck. It was the largest truck Ford made in 1948. I had a manure spreading body put on the chassis and went into the chicken manure spreading business. Of course there was a lot of shoveling involved. I never had a cold. The ammonia and other noxious gases in the manure kept my nasal passages clean as a whistle. I once went to a friend’s home where a little blind girl lived. She would feel of my palms and ask what did I have in my hands? She had never felt of calluses before. I had calluses on my palms and fingers from the shovel.

I usually hired three other guys to help with the shoveling. We would load the truck with about ten tons of chicken manure, Drive ten or twelve miles from the chicken houses to the field. Manure would be blowing off the truck the whole time. Of course we looked at it like we were fertilizing people’s lawns free of charge. Once in the field, Willy would climb on to the top of the manure. His job was to punch manure down on the conveyor belt taking the manure to a spinner at the back of the truck. I put the truck in low gear, low axle and stomped on the gas pedal. The truck had a five speed transmission with a two speed axle. I was getting two miles to the gallon. Anyhow, back to the pool hall.

“OK, let's go. I'll pick you up tomorrow morning. I'll borrow Mom and Dad's Mercury. They should be pleased to hear I'm thinking about going to college.”
Now neither Willy nor I were college material. But ignorance is bliss and we didn't know that at the time.  I was in the last graduating class in Maryland that only went eleven years. There was no graduating class in 50. Everyone below us had to go an extra year. Our school offered an academic diploma, a commercial diploma, an agriculture diploma and the lowest of all, a general diploma. Guess what Willy and I had. You’re right. A nice plain old general diploma signed by the Superintendent of Worcester County schools.

We had not taken a single academic course. No chemistry, no algebra, no geometry, no literature and no biology. We had taken general arithmetic, general science, plain English and no foreign language. But we did take typing. Actually we were forced into typing class. We had two free periods in our senior year. The principal came to the library and marched us to the typing room saying we were only supposed to have one free period. It was about the only thing learned worth while in my senior year.

It was still a rainy day in December when I picked up Willy. We had no idea about what college to attend. We were going to the nearest college. If it had been a college for brain surgeons, we would have been brain surgeons. If it had been a college for double-aught-seven spies, we would have been spies. But it was a teachers college. We drove to Salisbury Teachers College ready to join the ranks of college students.

My command of the English language was deplorable. It was 'dis, does and dar. I omitted the 'th' sound on all words. Taylorville was really a backwater area. Very rural with farmers and fishermen. The further you got away from Rte. 13 which ran down the center of the Delmarva Peninsula, the more backward the people were. Also the further you went down the peninsula the worse it became. Most people didn't realize that the two lower counties were part of Virginia. The islands in the Chesapeake; Smith Island, Deals Island, Tangier Island and Saxis Island were absolutely the most backwards and uneducated.

During Queen Elizabeth Coronation back in the fifties, some inhabitants of the islands were taken to meet the queen. That was so she could hear 'Elizabethan English' being spoken as it was spoken three hundred years ago in England. Even in college, it was hard to understand the boys and girls from the islands. The children on Smith Island attended elementary school on the island. But from the seventh grade on they rode the mail boat back and forth to school.
 Back to the rainy December day.

Both Willy and I failed to realize that you are supposed to start college in September, not January. But as I said, ignorance is bliss. We were going to college.

We found State Teachers College and walked into the registrar’s office. We stood at the counter a few seconds and a well-dressed man came and greeted us. We explained we wanted to enroll. He nodded and agreed with everything we said. He gave us a questionnaire to fill out.  It was only one sheet of paper. A few minutes later we handed them back. He said the college would send for our high school transcripts. We should hear by mail from the college in a week to ten days.

Willy and I returned to the pool hall. We shot a few games of eight ball and had a few beers to celebrate our entry into the educated ranks.

Ten days later, I received a plain envelope from STC. I had been accepted. Go to the dormitory two days before classes start and sign up for a room. Get your class schedule the next day and classes would start the following day.

At the pool hall that night, I ran into Willy. He had been turned down. No reasons given. He went on to greater things with Western Union. He later worked in the Western Union office in the House of Representatives in Washington DC. He got to read all the telegrams being sent and received. But he told me later, none were worth reading.

A few years ago Willy's brother was marlin fishing out at the Baltimore Canyon, about sixty miles from shore. He suffered a heart attack and died. His drinking buddies strapped him into the fighting chair. They put a fishing rod in one hand and a beer in the other. When they docked at the marina a few hours later, there was Willy's brother in the fighting chair, still holding the rod and beer and dead as a mackerel.

Christmas of 1954 came and went. 1955 began and I was ready for college. My brother, Irving, picked me up and drove me to STC. I had an old duffle bag with sheets and clothes. He dropped me off, waved and was gone.

I wandered inside, duffle bag over my shoulder. The first person I met was the dorm mother. She checked my name and took me to room 26. My new roommate had been caught having sex with his girlfriend on the gymnastic mats. Everybody called him Matman. He was a nice guy but like me, definitely not college material. He lasted the semester and never returned after the summer break.

I made my bed and stood in the doorway listening to the other students. They were all returning from the first semester and knew each other.

The next day I walked over to Holloway Hall, the main building, and had breakfast. Then everyone went to the gymnasium to get their class schedule. I got in line and finally reach the first table. A woman glanced at my name and sent me to the last table. I sat down opposite some old man.

“Well, well, Mr. Lynch. I see you went to good old Buckingham High School.” He was looking at my high school transcripts. “I think you need a few remedial courses to get you up to par with the other students. I’m going to put you in a beginning algebra class. You should be able to handle that. Then a remedial English class. You’ll love the instructor. A sociology class, a world history class and a health class. That’s fifteen credits. You should be able to pass those with flying colors.”

I was nodding the whole time and hadn’t said a word. I finally said OK.
He rubbed his chin a few times. “There’s just one more thing. We’re going to put you on academic probation.” He picked up the transcript. “Your grades in high school are nothing to be proud of. The courses you took are absolutely worthless. Didn’t your guidance counselor help you or give you a list of courses to take.”

I shook my head. The guidance counselor at Buckingham didn’t have time to fool with general or agriculture students. He gave me a card with the classes and times marked. He pointed at a larger table near the door. “Go over to that table and pay.” He nodded and waved for the next student.

Mr. B looked at the card. “Two hundred and eight dollars please. Make the check out to STC. That is for room and board for one semester. Tuition is free if you promise to teach in the state of Maryland for two years.” He shoved a sheet of paper to me. “Do you agree? If so, sign.”

  I would have signed anything to keep from paying tuition. The registrar had made a copy of my discharge and signed me up for the G.I. Bill. I was receiving a hundred twenty dollars a month for going to college. Miracles never cease.

That first semester for me flew by. There were some weird people in that college and they weren’t all students. My world history instructor was an old woman with a doctor’s degree. She said her grandmother dated Andrew Jackson. She was so old it could have been her mother. She had a wandering eye. She would look at me, ask a question and someone two rows over would answer. It kept you on your toes. You had to be ready, no matter where she looked.

The president always wanted to meet Mr. Esslinger about his beer cans. He wanted Mr. Esslinger to quit littering the campus with beer cans. The students were drinking cheap Esslinger beer and tossing the cans out on the campus lawns.

Another instructor rode his bicycle to college. He wore the clip around his pant leg all day. The clip was to keep the rider’s trouser leg out of the pedal sprocket.
The biology instructor loved to ask little freshman girls how did the amoeba get to New York. Of course they didn’t know. One of his correct answers was to get on rte. 13 and head north.  He would give a ten question true and false quiz. He subtracted wrong answers from the correct. If you only got four answers correct, you ended up with a minus score.

After about a month, I decided I needed a vehicle. I asked my brother Irving to look for something I could afford. That Saturday I picked up a second-hand 1954 Skyliner Ford. It was a beautiful car. It had a green plexiglas roof that stretched from the windshield to the rear seat. Driving in a thunderstorm, lightning danced from window to window. Loved that car.  I paid eighteen hundred dollars. I sold mom the manure truck to get the necessary cash.

One of my new friends was an air force veteran from Marian Station. Now that place is out in the boondocks. Three of us went to the Plantation Beer Tavern near Crisfield. We spent the night at his parent’s home. The next morning we had fried eggs and bacon. Later we went outside. His father was skinning a bushel of muskrats. Salt water marsh was on three sides of the yard. He asked me if I noticed anything about the fried eggs. As soon as he asked, I knew they were duck eggs. They are a little larger and have an oily look. But they tasted OK. Back in Taylorville when we had an excess of duck eggs, my mother always made deviled eggs.

The semester ended. Somehow I had maintained a C average. Two Ds, two Bs and a C. I was happy. I had passed and survived.

I wasted the summer driving a laundry and dry cleaning truck.

I’ll write my college years at a later date. 

2171     7/9/2012