The first college I attended was a small private two-year music school on the southern fork of Long Island. It was here that I learned piano and how to read and write music. Of all the required courses I disliked solfeggio the most as my voice consistently refused to perform publicly thus causing myself, my instructor and my classmates, repeated disconcertion. In sum, my study of music proved only privately rewarding. Accomplished musicianship was not, it now appears, my primary motivation. I did however gain the possession of a certain pleasurable memory as regards my English Literature instructor. She proposed I train my efforts to the written word.
Lydia was plain in that widely imitated Connecticut sense of plain. Comfortable moccasin loafers, blue candy stripes, Van Doren’s country wife with straight blond hair to just above her collar in the neat appearance of a town girl. She drove to school in a white imported station wagon. The operative word, here, is white, as no matter the make of the vehicle, so long as it is white. Lydia led me to search for allegories in O’Connor and in Hawthorne. I wrote an exposition on “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” making a whole lot of mistrustful stuff out of Red Sammy’s monkey and that chinaberry tree. I went so far as to mention Nostradamus. I wrote on Goodman Brown, comparing him alongside Faust. I made a great to-do over avoiding the Freudianesque and this, I suppose, was the edge to her interpreting my sensibilities as home grown.
Her schedule, it so turned out, was ordered so that our English Lit. session just happened to mark her final obligation of the school day. This coincidence facilitated our acquaintanceship, it brought us together in a somewhat extracurricular sense as we both eased into the habit of my accompanying her from the building. It was our routine that from the classroom she would next a quick stop into the department office, where she would signature the book, and from there we would continue for the parking lot. We would lean beside her car discussing, beyond the daily themes, my prospects for transfer to a traditional four-year institution. And sometimes, weather permitting, we would slip into the car and she would start the motor and turn on the windshield wipers.
Lydia must have sensed in my temperament some sort of emblematic or suggestive characteristic that had either gone unnoticed or had had a dissuasive influence upon my other instructors, both of this time and earlier. For she was being more than poetic when she told me, You must not allow yourself to become discouraged. Your true mettle lies in perseverance. I was not then prone nor indeed was I fit to interpret her remarks as anything like keen empathy or diagnosis, rather were they received as general if curiously stirring caution. Still, however, this was serious. However should I become discouraged?