College

When I was 16, well into my senior year of high school, I went to see my guidance counselor – Floyd Hillman.  Mr. Hillman told me (the words are etched in my brain) “I think I can get you a job as an assistant plumber.”  I sat.  And wanted to cry.  An honorable profession.  But I didn’t want to be an assistant plumber.  I left his office.  Sad about my impending future.  But some of my friends talked about “college.”  College sounded pretty good. 

My father never finished high school and my mother never went to college.  So we never talked much about college at home.  I would finish high school and then go to work.  Even so, I mentioned “college” to my father.  “College?” he said.  “The only guy I know who went to college is Bill Swanson.”  He looked at me.  “You wanna talk to him??”  I nodded.

So we went to see Mr. Swanson.  He said “I went to Augustana College.  Maybe I could get you an interview.”  My dad said “you want that?” and I nodded. . . . not entirely sure what that meant.  My parents and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois — home of Augustana College — and I had an interview with Mr. Henning, the Director of Admissions.  It was April or May — around the time of high school graduation.  Mr. Henning said that the class was full.  And my grades were not great.  But he liked that I was an Eagle Scout.  He had a couple of discretionary spots.  So he offered to admit me on academic probation.  If I didn’t have a “C” average first semester, I was out.  So I signed on.  A few months later, I was in college.  My first semester – of 6 courses, I had 5 “C’s” and one “B” (in swimming).  I was in.  The second youngest freshman in my class (I’d skipped 2d grade).

This fall, I will have my 50th reunion.   I owe Augustana College for taking a flyer on a just turned 17 year old kid with mediocre grades.  I was given a chance.   It will be good to be back.  See old friends.  My fraternity brothers.  And visit. . . my college.           

Grilled Peanut Butter

(A favorite from December 20, 2012)

Did you ever have a special dish of your own creation added to a restaurant menu? I did.  Twice.  Here’s number one. . . . 

When I was at Augustana College, I was the quintessential night owl.  I would study (or play cards) until the wee hours. And often, as the second hand approached midnight, I and a few other guys would hitchhike (see 9/4/16) to the Round the Clock Restaurant in downtown Rock Island. And I would order a grilled peanut butter sandwich. With a dill pickle on the side. And a tall glass of milk. The interesting thing was that grilled peanut butter was not on the menu.

One evening at the Round the Clock, I had noticed a “peanut butter & jelly sandwich” on the menu. I was not about to order a PB & J sandwich, but it occurred to me that a grilled peanut butter sandwich might be just the ticket.  We slid into the booth and I ordered a “grilled peanut butter sandwich.” The waitress looked at me like I was a moon rock. I said “same as a grilled cheese but use peanut butter instead of cheese.” I felt like Jack Nicholson in the “Five Easy Pieces” diner scene. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wtfNE4z6a8   The waitress walked away shaking her head. She used gestures to explain the order at the window to the kitchen.  And she pointed at the goofy-looking kid in the booth. 

After a few weeks of this, when I walked in the door, the waitress would give me that knowing look “grilled peanut butter“? she would ask. I’d nod and smile “yes ma’am.” A few months later, “Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich” made its debut on the Round the Clock’s menu. And I became a legend.  At least in my own mind.

“Oh Shenendoah”

(A summer repeat – from 8/14/2011)

When my daughter Lauren was born – from the day we brought her home from the hospital (and for years) – I sang to her.  Every night before she went to bed.  I would play my guitar and sing “Froggy went a Courtin’”  “This Little Light of Mine” “Trouble in Mind” and a host of others.  But I would also lapse into some old songs that we used to sing in the Gamma Alpha Beta (“GAB”) Fraternity at Augustana College.  And I would often close the evening, as Lauren was closing her eyes, with the GAB “Sweetheart Song” or “Oh Shenendoah” — a song that the GAB’s sang at a Homecoming event one year (and won). 

When Lauren was married just over two years ago, I thought long and hard about what song I should have played for the Daddy/Daughter Dance at the reception.  Then it hit me.   And I smiled.  Lauren had some general notion about the universe of songs from which I would select. “Dad, you’re not going to have them play ‘Froggy went a Courtin’ are you?”  No. . . .  Instead, I picked that melancholy favorite that I’d closed each evening with — “Oh Shenendoah.”      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etC59HVD-tg 

The music started and we both had tears in our eyes as we danced to this song that will forever be in our hearts. 

For Want of a Nail. . . .

If there was a pivotal moment in my life, it was becoming an Eagle Scout. I owe a lot to that boyhood achievement: going to college; going to law school; getting a job; meeting my wife; having a daughter and grandchildren; and knowing how to deal with different “situations.”

The sine qua non for my acceptance to Augustana College was that I was an Eagle Scout (see post of 10/13/13).  It sure wasn’t because I was a scholar.   At Augustana, I chatted with a couple of pals who talked about law school.  Soooo, I went to law school.  At Augustana, I met Diane — who a year after my graduation introduced me to Donna (“Scott I have a girlfriend from New York I think you should meet“).  And because of Donna, we have Lauren and her family.  When I interviewed to be a State’s Attorney, the first 15 minutes of conversation was about Boy Scouts (I’d put “Eagle Scout” on my resume).  And I was offered the job.

Being an Eagle Scout taught a lot – including first aid (see 10/21/11 and 10/31/15).  That knowledge has saved the day on a few occasions.  An Eagle trajectory got me a job at age 14 (for three summers) on staff at Camp Napowan — a Scout camp in Wild Rose, Wisconsin.  The experience provided a major education and provided friends I have to this day.

All in all, I’d have to say that being an Eagle Scout was the “nail” (Poor Richard’s Almanac 1758) that made all the difference in the world for yours truly.  And you know what?  That achievement has made – and will continue to make — all the difference in the world for a universe of young men.              

Brothers

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.  It is like the precious ointment upon the head . . . . and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion . . . .”  Psalm 133

I have a hundred brothers.  They are scattered to the four winds.  They are my fraternity brothers from Augustana College.  Members of the Gamma Alpha Beta – GAB – fraternity.  I wasn’t destined for college (see post of October 13, 2013).  My future was to work after high school.  Frankly, it’s a fluke that I even applied (after graduation) and got in to college.  And came to know my brothers. 

Last weekend, we had a reunion of brothers from the GAB fraternity.  Donna and other wives attended.  It started Friday night and went to Sunday afternoon.  What a slice.   I am truly grateful for the opportunity of meeting, knowing and loving the men who are my brothers.  There are amazing memories and stories (many of which are gladly remembered — and a few that won’t be repeated).  I remember one dark night when my entire pledge class was corralled by police and taken off to jail.  One astute pledge escaped by pulling himself up onto a fire escape.  Me.   🙂

The GAB’s won the Homecoming Sing with the ballad I sang to Lauren every night when she was little — “Oh Shenendoah.”   It was that song I picked for the Father-Daughter dance at her wedding (see post of August 14, 2011).  We both had tears in our eyes as the music played.  One brother – my roommate of 3 years – Colonel “Ox” – has been a glue that helped gather up about a hundred GAB’s on our mailing list.  And we chatter like old women in our emails.  Yet we all contribute in our own way.  It’s interesting how when you meet old friends, you kinda pick up where you left off.  It’s as if time stood still and you’re back being 19 years old again.  In my brain, I’m still 19.  Now if only my body would cooperate . . . . .        

The “Big Lesson”

In my prior post on “College,” I mentioned a “big lesson” from Dr. Erickson.  I spoke of this lesson in a paper delivered to the Chicago Literary Club on April 2, 2007 (see www.chilit.org).

September.  Freshman year. My second or third week of college.  On academic probation.  Dr. Erickson was teaching a course in political science. I had been slouched in my chair, probably doodling and not paying much attention to the class. Suddenly, I heard my name “Mister Petersen.”  It was Dr. Erickson asking me to answer a question. With considerable ease, I looked up and offered “I’m not prepared” and I went back to whatever it was I was doing.

Dr. Erickson padded over and stood by my seat. “Stand up,” he said. I looked up. “Stand up,” he repeated. So I stood up.

Mister Petersen, so you’re not prepared?  Well, let me tell you – if you’re not prepared to answer a simple question, you will probably not be prepared to answer the tough ones. You’re not prepared today so I would bet, Mister Petersen, that you will not be prepared tomorrow either.  Perhaps you don’t care.  And if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.”

The sweat began trickling down my neck. And he went on.

Mister Petersen, you have two choices in life. To try and be prepared for what needs to be done. Or not.

Dr. Erickson finished his comments and from that day forward, I was never again unprepared for his class (duhhh – I’m not as dumb as I look).  I was generally quick to raise my hand and I was usually ready with an answer.  Others in the class had learned a lesson that day too (at my expense).  I ended up getting a “C” in the class and I took four more courses from Dr. Erickson (A’s and B’s).  Poly Sci became my major and he was my faculty advisor.  No – I didn’t whine because he badgered me.  I was truly grateful for the lesson.   More kids should have such lessons (or perhaps the one I posted on November 23, 2011) . . . .   

College

When I was 16, well into my senior year of high school, I went to see my guidance counselor – Floyd Hillman.  Mr. Hillman told me (the words are etched in my brain) “I think I can get you a job as an assistant plumber.”  I sat.  And wanted to cry.  I didn’t want to be an assistant plumber.  And I left.  Sad about my impending future.  But a few of my friends were talking about “college.”  College sounded pretty good. 

My father never finished high school and my mother never went to college.  So we never talked much about college.  I would finish high school and then go to work.  Even so, I went home and mentioned “college” to my father.  “College?” he said.  “The only guy I know who went to college was Bill Swanson.”  He looked at me.  “You wanna go to college??”  I nodded — having little clue as to what that meant. . . .

We went to see Mr. Swanson.  He said “I went to Augustana College.  Maybe I could get you an interview.”  My dad said “you want that?” and I nodded. . . . not entirely sure what that meant.  My parents and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois — home of Augustana College — and I had an interview with Mr. Hemming, the Director of Admissions.  It was April or May — around the time of high school graduation.  Mr. Hemming said that the class was full.  And my grades were not great.  But he liked that I was an Eagle Scout so he would find a spot for me.  He said I could be admitted on academic probation.  But if I didn’t have a “C” average first semester, I was out.  So I signed on.  A few months later, I was in college.  My first semester – of 6 courses, I had 5 “C’s” and one “B” (in swimming).  I was in.  The second youngest freshman in my class (I’d skipped 2d grade).

My 45th reunion was this weekend at Augustana.  I went.  First time in 35 years.  I owe Stanley Erickson for a big lesson and Dean Ribbick for things that go unsaid.  And I owe Augustana College for taking a flyer on a just turned 17 year old kid with mediocre grades.  I was given a chance.   It was great to be back.  See old friends.  My fraternity brothers.  And visit. . . my college.