Favorite Insults – No. 4
Jess breezed through high school. She did well in traditional ‘college prep’ classes of the time – Advanced Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. With a logical and agile mind, she also snookered the eco-earth sciences, although at the time, some twenty-odd years ago, those studies were called agricultural or husbandry sciences. More-or-less bored with the ‘hard’ sciences, she overloaded her schedule when her counsellors allowed it, adding the less ‘traditional’ sciences. Simply because she enjoyed them and because, she said, “Well, you never know…”
Not what you’d call “bookish” if you were just looking at her, Jess managed it all, as you’d conclude from what I just said, handily. Except that she was the star forward on the girls’ basketball team, she’d also have held one of the coveted spots on the basketball cheerleading squad. Selected as varsity cheerleader, considering the hunks on the boys’ basketball team, and the proximity there, if I need to explain the significance to you, you’re not going to have a real appreciation for it anyway.
A smallish school system, the coaches and counsellors there were pretty hep characters. Through some minor rule-twisting, in football season, Jess was a varsity cheerleader. There was no girls’ football team; those teachers were cool, but not that far ahead of their time. Once again, if I have to stop to explain the advantages of being a varsity football cheerleader, you’re not going to understand much more when I get done wasting my breath than you do now. Suffice it to add a bit of color to Jess’s character, Jess and Barton Crutchfield, quarterback for the Polsten Polar Bears, were a pretty hot item from the end of Sophomore year up to graduation.
Barton was not, let me put this as tenderly as I can, academic. He got by. Largely because Jess beat most of what Barton understood into his thick skull. There were times Barton probably wished he had his football helmet over his ears when Jess went to work on him for upcoming exams. Yeah, Barton was not a scholar.
Lest you get all starry-eyed and think this is going to turn into a slobbering love-story or some silly romance, Jess and Barton grew apart. Did so rather quickly the autumn after high school graduation. Barton managed a full football scholarship at Greenridge College. Toughed it out and as an eleventy-sixth draft pick, which is just short of walk-on, went on to a less-than-sparkling two-year professional career. Barton Teaches Phys-Ed in Pistonville now; usually has a football team every year in the mix for state finals.
Those coals of romance were fairly-well peed-on autumn of high school graduation when Barton rode the bus for an hour to Greenridge and Jess, also on full scholarship, rode a jet for four hours back east to South Hempwich Institute of Technology. Hempwich is fondly called ACU or Atom Crusher U, because donnybrooks erupt when South Hempwich Alumni endeavor to otherwise abbreviate the school’s full name. The underlying problem is not that ACU folk have no sense of humor, but that non-ACU people can’t understand why ACU folk don’t get religiously incensed. Non-ACU people charitably fill the void as a public service.
Now we’re getting to the moral of this story. ACU studies were a little stiffer than those Jess put up with back in Polsten. She had to work some. Chasing undergraduate and master’s degrees simultaneously, when she finally hit stride last quarter of Junior year, she needed not one, but two electives to fill holes in her schedule! There were no “Western Beef Breeds,” “Endemic Wheat Disease in Southern Saskatchewan,” or “Pollution Control in Four-phase Irrigation Systems” for Jess to amuse herself. Art. And Humanities. Scads of art courses. Humanities too, probably, but art caught her fancy. Jess assumed she’d have to take five or six courses to occupy her time but on her academic advisor’s advice, took just three.
You guessed it, Jess fell in love with all things ‘artful’ or high culture. Painting, sculpture, music, poetry, basket-weaving – all of it. And not just a little bit in love. Insanely so. Her Momma had to enlist all Jess’s aunts, uncles, and old schoolteachers to convince her dropping out of science studies in favor of Art and Humanities then, so close to sheepskins, represented a poor choice. They managed to get Jess to graduation from ACU – BS and MS, double-majored – and honors to boot.
Which was good. Which came with a tiny bit of bad. At least uncomfortable. Jess sent her Momma a ticket to the big whoop-de-doo graduation ceremony in the big city back east. Scared the hell out of Jess’s Momma. Jess’s Daddy, you see, went to his reward Jess’s Junior year in high school. Momma was not ready to take her first jet ride, solo, to a city more populous than her home state. Long a widower myself, and not averse to taking-in the big city sights, I agreed to accompany Momma to the big deal. And it was a big deal.
With the “Pomp and Circumstance” organ stuff still in the air, Jess and Momma chatted afterward while I just took it all in.
“Momma, I’m not going home.”
“Jess! That job at the college! Why, what of that?”
“Already talked to them about it, Momma.”
“But in a few years, you’d be tenured. You could relax. Get married. Have children.”
“Momma, I’m going to get a doctorate in art studies. Maybe then, I’ll teach.”
“Art? How can you make a living with that? How can that be a legitimate study?”
“Momma, you need to come with me to the Metro to see the art. You’ll understand then.”
Which we did. The very next day. I’ll tell you straight-up, the Metro was amazing. Seeing old masters I’d only seen in books, I still cannot believe the difference it made in my opinion of different styles, use of color, subject matter, and interpretation. Then there were the statues, marble, bronze, ancient, simply old, and modern. Photography. Absolutely unbelievable. Frankly, there was a lot I didn’t understand as Jess explained it to her Momma and me. I couldn’t say then what Momma was thinking. She wasn’t talking much.
“Now, Momma,” Jess began at the entrance to the ‘Modern Modern!’ exhibit, “this is what made me understand my real love is not Applied Physics, but Art. This art, Momma! I’ll do my dissertation on this…”
The title was apt. No matter how deep your opinion is rooted in good or bad stereotype, ‘modern’ was there. I thought it impressive.
“What do you think, Momma? Can’t you just feel them?”
“What? Like that one?” Momma pointed to the centerpiece on one wall. “Those are not pictures. They’re dribbles, paint clots!”
“Why Momma! That’s Jackson Pollack, one of the most esteemed modern artists there is.”
“Yes, Momma. Abstract expressionism. See the raw emotion? The sensitivity? The wonderful use of color and texture?”
“Jess, dear, I have drawings you did in pre-school that show more emotion, more sense of color than that… that….”
“But Momma, surely you see…”
“Oh, indeed, Jess, I see. Looks to me Mr. Pollack got tired of trying, dropped his brushes, and went home. Whoever was supposed to clean-up after, didn’t.”
It was a quiet jet ride home. Momma was chewing big city exposure. For a good while after, the relationship between Jess and her Momma was a tiny bit strained.
© S P Wilcenski 2020