Thursday, June 13, 2013

Early Times

My wife received her college degree in Magnolia in 1966 and immediately got a good teaching job in Willisville. I finished in 1967 and received an NDEA Fellowship to Auburn. That was a three-year fellowship designed to take recipients from B. A. to Ph. D. in a hurry. It took me a little longer than three years, though. We went out there pulling a small U-Haul, I called it our y’all haul, since we were going to Alabama. We moved into student apartments there shortly after May graduation and I enrolled in summer quarter. The move took what little reserve money we had saved, next to nothing, and my first payday was on up into the summer, so pickings were mighty slim for a while.

We ate a lot of cornbread, peanut butter and popcorn. That was before the Lord delivered me from nicotine, so I rolled my own with cheap tobacco during that period. I got some odd looks while sitting on the steps of the Caroline Brown Draughan Library rolling a cigarette in 1967. I suppose people were wondering what kind of substance I was fooling with, even though I don’t think I looked much like a hippie.

Payday finally came, though, and we went out for dinner at a drive-in restaurant that specialized in seafood dinners, you know, fried fish, crab cakes, an oyster or two, shrimp, some fried clams, hushpuppies, French fries and slaw. I felt that $2.10 a plate was highway robbery, but we were splurging and it sure was good. I think that is when we became recreational eaters and seafood, a.k.a. catfish, is still our celebrative mainstay—when we can find good catfish.

Well, once the income kicked in, we lived a little more comfortably, though the graduate program in English literature was deeply challenging. I became acquainted with true eccentricity on the part of several of my professors and later in my career I saw that many of my students doubtless considered me just as unusual.

During my second year of graduate school at Auburn, my wife became pregnant and we were ecstatic. When the labor pains started rather late one night, we were prepared. We put the packed suitcase in the car, called the doctor who contacted the hospital, got in the 1966 Dodge Dart and headed out to Lee County Hospital in nearby Opelika, Alabama. At a little after 8 a.m., Alicia Dawn Ford arrived and she didn’t seem too impressed when I introduced myself. The only person less impressed with my introduction was our second daughter, Ann Elizabeth Ford, a decade later. When I said, “Hello, I’m your father, Dan Ford,” Ann shrugged and said, “Yeeeh.” My girls love me but they are not easily impressed.

I think Alicia liked it, though, when a day or two later I walked her up the stairs to our apartment there in Auburn. My main memory of her early life is that only two creatures could hear her very high-pitched distress signal: bats and her mother. My wife and I would be watching television or reading and she would suddenly bolt from the room and return tending to the baby. “I didn’t hear a thing,” I would say and my wife would reply incredulously, “Really?” I think I must have had trouble with the upper register sounds even way back then.

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