My College Friend
Spent an hour or so chatting with my college friend.
Yes. My ONE college friend.
Now, I’m not a recluse, a hermit, a serial killer, or an ogre. I don’t hate people—or not any who don’t deserve hatred and scorn. (And yes, there are those, no matter how hard one tries to be non-judgmental.) I have many friends, now, and former colleagues who feel almost like family. I met them at my second college—but as a married adult working and raising children, when none of us could hang out together.
But I only have one college friend from that all-important first year of my “adulthood.”
To be honest, most of the blame could be attributed to my family. We children were raised with the “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule. No one spoke to me, so I spoke to no one. When I spoke, I was awkward and unintentionally rude. On one occasion, I met a Giant Schnauzer—well, I met the lady walking her dog.
But she didn’t start a conversation, and I had to meet that dog—so I spoke to the dog, not her. As I walked away, I told her kindly, I thought, that “it was nice to meet your dog.”
My sister considered murdering me in that moment. She was in college in LaGrange, knew the lady in a walk-on-by way, and claimed she would have to drop out of her last year to escape the embarrassment of my rude (but accurate) encounter.
With that history, I didn’t need to be forced into the role of high school dropout mere months later, when schools in Georgia were ordered to integrate.
I was a junior at Greenville High School. Good grades, sure I’d get a scholarship to the University of Georgia when I graduated. Except—one afternoon my chemistry teacher kept me after class.
My chemistry teacher and I had a strained relationship. Not to brag, but almost all my teachers liked me. I behaved, and I had excellent grades, if you give me a pass on Algebra—the first ‘C’ I had ever gotten. I did write a 300-page novel during that class, but it wouldn’t have mattered—if it involves math, I’m done.
She also had a daughter—the de facto valedictorian of the small high school. And the teacher thought I was trashy (she used a kinder word) because of the bright yellow, knit sweater with a front zipper. The only piece of clothing I ever loved that wasn’t navy blue, but she told me “decent” girls look best when they’re modestly dressed.”
None of that mattered when my chemistry teacher handed me a large box of towels and told me I had been accepted to Reinhardt Junior College in north Georgia. No one approached me, I didn’t want to go—but there it was. My parents and chemistry teacher scuttled the plans I had for a university education.
The saddest part was that the reason for my expulsion was that Greenville High would begin the following year with both Black and white students in attendance. I begged to stay anyway. I didn’t care who the other students were—I wanted a high school degree. I wanted to go to the University of Georgia and become a teacher.
Nothing I wanted mattered then.
My first few days at college were horrible. I felt betrayed, abandoned, incapable of doing anything. Until I met my college friend. She was doing laundry when I went in to buy a Coke and work on editing Preach, the handwritten novel I knew John Wayne would love.
You don’t speak unless spoken to. She asked about the book, and when I mentioned the part a palomino named Taj would play in the story, she told me she had horses—on campus.
And we’re still friends. Over the last fifty years or so, we would lose each other—and she’d find my address. Most recently, she sent a message to my author page, saying “If it’s you, let me know.”
Today she protested that my loyalty was misplaced, and that she “just wasn’t the saint” I thought. I told her the truth—I never needed a saint.
I just needed a friend.
We all do.
Who gets you through those tough times in life? A friend or family member? Maybe your favorite book, or a horse you can hug or a dog who is always there. I’d love to hear who your angel is or has been!
Sometimes I feel guilty. I post and write more often about adventures I have shared with Stephanie Parker McKean than I do of those with my sister Vicky, and brothers Jeff, Jerry and Chris Potter. (I lost the brother nearest me in age, Greg, years ago. He shared many of our adventures, and if I write about the amusement park next, will have a starring role.) I love them all dearly—but Stephanie is just a couple of years older, and has largely stayed west of the Mississippi, so we spent a lot more time together, in spite of our own lengthy separations.
Steve and I sympathized with the amphibian—and we undoubtedly named him, although I don’t remember what—and she decided that with an eye hanging loose off the side of his head, he’d be in danger of being captured again, but would be unable to escape.
So, she sterilized a long sewing needle with alcohol we sneaked out of the cabin (we lived in a log cabin with half a roof), and carefully sewed the frog’s eye back on his head. Frogs are squirmy, and she’d never operated on a frog, so just getting the eye in the general vicinity of the socket seemed good enough. My job was to hold the squirmy slimy guy and cry. Stephanie might remember better—I don’t think the bullfrog survived our kind intentions. But if he died there in our yard, at least the neighbors couldn’t gig him again. Right?
During our stay in Splendora, we also tried to keep a stray black cat from getting shot. Feral cats ate chicks, and much of our food at the time came from a small flock of chickens. After a few chicks disappeared, the cat became my father’s number one enemy.
Steve and I didn’t want the poor cat to be shot—such a painful way to die. (And the cat never bothered her hen Blinky, so she couldn’t see getting rid of the cat by shooting it) Once again, she stepped in to perform medical magic—we would put the cat to sleep. Everyone knows that putting an animal to sleep is the humane way to end its life. We sterilized water by boiling it in a rusty old can, sneaked a full bottle of aspirin out of the house to add to the mixture, threw in some leaves—and I think we added a few drops of motor oil, commonly used in the south to treat mange on animals. I’m not sure where we heard oil would make animals sleep. We force fed the cat the “medicine” out of a doll’s baby bottle and watched with worry. The cat went about its cat business, and we were afraid when dad came home from work, he would shoot it. The cat disappeared, eventually, and we looked around for the lifeless body—the cat was lying on the far side of the corral. We discussed burial plans and whether we could sneak a shovel out of the cabin without being caught.
Stephanie went to get the shovel, because I always messed up secret plans. She raced back, red-faced and gasping for air—but no one had seen her. We chose a spot, began digging—then turned to see the cat sitting by the fence watching us. We had failed again to help an animal in need, although we were both secretly relieved that the cat woke up. I think we knew in our heads if not our hearts that dead is dead.
The attempt encouraged the cat to move on to less sympathetic chicken owners, and the last we knew, it was alive and well in Splendora.
Thankfully, we moved soon after, and never subjected another animal to our cures.
We left Texas, and headed east–to Marietta, Georgia, Then we opened a pet shop.
Talk about fun…
Below, Stephanie Parker McKean, Victoria M. Potter and me, Leslie P. Garcia. Here, we were at a book signing in AL with author Sara DuBose!
3 thoughts on “Stories We Haven’t Told”
I would love to hear from readers–in no small part to know if this section is working. It hadn’t been. 😦
Awe, love you. We are friends forever.
We are! And I’m glad!