Unprecedented Certainty, or, Gassing it up around the chrismas tree, 1977

The Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College

The Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I discovered tacos at a party during my first college Christmas. Professors Molly and Ken Keeton had their Autumn Term students to their home, where we trimmed a tree;  I was overwhelmed with their generosity, sharing this intimate “family” activity with us. Years later, with several of my family Christmas trees under my belt, I realized their cunning as they had 17 students perform their holiday decorating for them.

After the tree, there was an endless buffet of bowl after bowl of taco fixings, international Christmas carols playing in the background as we mingled about and shared our dinners. A married couple, our first two college professors and mentors, Molly and Ken would get in an advertisement for a semester abroad that got my full attention: They would be leading a semester in London in the spring of my senior year. 1981 seemed impossibly far into the future to be planning one’s curriculum, but I loved Molly and Ken already, and I knew with unprecedented certainty that I would be on that journey with them.

Autumn term is the rather unique approach to freshman taken at Eckerd College.  Three weeks submersed in one class, 9-12 each day, before the upperclassmen arrive, it’s an opportunity afforded at no other school. I chose my autumn term, “Casual and Contractual Human Relationships,” because the reading list interested me and it fit in with my first major, Early Childhood Education.  This was 1977, I wasn’t too sure what the course title meant, but the other classes seemed awfully science-y and math-y. I arrived at Molly and Ken’s doorstep by the process of elimination.

Three guest speakers filled out the term with what we affectionately called the Sonny and Cher show. First up: a carrotop post grad with a Zen air about him. Some of my friends were doing some heavy lifting thru pre-med, pre-law type studies and here I was, being tutored in life skills by a Kahlil Gibran look-alike.

Secondly, we went on a field trip to a classroom filled with beanbag chairs (the only furniture) where we learned about late 70’s social work models.  The leader appeared to be welded to the beanbag (I wasn’t sure if she could get out of the beanbag on her own). There were some hard students, who had clearly chosen the wrong autumn term, they were brought around by the third speakers, a married couple who had both graduated the college the year before. Their gift to the class was a nerdiness and a permission-slip to hold on to some of our childhood values. If autumn term ripped a bit traumatic, this couple was the band-aid.

From the Eckerd College catalog, circa 1977

Foundations FDN 141 Casual and Contractual Human Relationships
Profs. Molly Ransbury, Kenneth Keeton

This project is an examination and discussion of human relationships offered by two professors, one in language and one in human development/education, who are man and wife. Primary emphasis will be on the advantages and disadvantages of various human pairing patterns. Students will read Alternatives to Marriage by Carl Rogers, Passages by Gail Sheehy, and Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane. Students will also consider first-person, direct accounts of the pragmatic, intelligent and healthful ways to manage conflict,develop personal boundaries and deepen personal relationships. Students will be involved in large group discussions and small group interactions with Drs.Ransbury and Keeton. Evaluation will be based on participation and a final project or paper that integrates knowledge gained and the personal application of that knowledge.

When my grade slip came in the mail, my parents did not see that I had gotten a top grade, they simply saw the name of the class and freaked. My father preferred the term “grab-ass” and mom was just quiet when the subject of school was on the table. I never showed them my final report, which after only three weeks of school, illustrated the beginning of my emancipation. The prophetic title of my project, “You can’t go home again” was a bittersweet essay on  homesickness, alcoholism and Thomas Wolf. It was half-true, half manipulation of facts to get the grade, but I did do all the autumn term reading and all and all, I was off to a good start. Oh, except for one little thing…

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