When my youngest brother, nearly 14 years my junior, started first grade in the late ’60’s, against my father’s wishes, Mama went back to school. She wasn’t sure the purpose yet — she was only sure that it was way too late to consider med school — but she wanted to further her studies in biology. She loved the science, loved academics, loved the intercourse with teachers and fellow students she’d excelled at at UVM.
For the next two years, she managed her wifely chores, drove children where they needed to be, battened all hatches, and then traveled — in wind, rain, snow, sleet or dripping humidity — the fifty miles from her home to the State University of NY at Plattsburgh, where she would attend her classes only to drive home to do her homework, conduct research, do whatever was necessary in order to finish the degree while she cooked and cleaned and tutored her children through their homework. She was almost intolerably proud of herself when she finished. I didn’t appreciate the feat then, but I do now, and more with each passing year.
Armed with her new degree, she decided to go back to work. Doing what? She had come to realize she was a gifted teacher, and she loved teenagers; she decided she would be a science teacher, and in no time she secured a job at Lake Placid High School.
But Alfred was unhappy about that. Miserable in fact. By applying pressure, by being petulant, by punishing her in myriad little ways, he got her to quit. In the middle of a semester. Any aspirations of pedagogy in the Northeast were dashed.