mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Leaving Home

I took Chinese* in high school because I was browbeaten into it, when I really loved Spanish and all my friends were taking Japanese. But, in my senior year, after I had declined to take the Saturday morning class for another year (does anything identify you as a nerd more than to spend Friday nights memorizing Chinese characters and 4 hours on Saturday mornings in a dusty windowless college classroom?**) -- in senior year I got a grant for summer school at Yale. $900. My ticket to ride.

It was 1967 and my favorite word was "cosmopolitan" which St. Louis wasn't. I was already destined for Mundelein College in Chicago, but that was basically a continuation of my Catholic girls' school education under the same order of nuns because I got a scholarship there and had been dissuaded by the same browbeating guidance counselor from applying to the University of Chicago.

Yale was something completely different. I had never been east of Illinois. I had never flown on a plane. Although I was so socially shy that I couldn't think of anything to say to a boy, I didn't hesitate a minute to launch myself into the unknown. Maybe that's what social misfits do...

Lugging two big suitcases, I took off. Luckily, my friend Mary S. was going to New York City with her worldly older brother, so he was my escort. Too bad my ears plugged up on the plane and I didn't hear a word anyone said to me.

Taxi from LaGuardia to the Penn station in Manhattan. I was on my own now. Thought I was going to die dragging my suitcases down the track. A black man came up to me and said, "I'll carry those for you." I must have looked aghast. "People will help you, you know," he said, or something like that as he put my bags in the car. My introduction to a New Yorkers.

New Haven. Taxi stand. "Take me to Yale," I instructed. The driver made a gesture.. "This whole place is 'Yale' -- where exactly are you going?"

I had no idea. Can you imagine a girl of 18 flying away from home for the first time without an address? Without a dorm room assignment? It was a Sunday afternoon in June. The taxi driver drove me to the registrar's building, which fortunately was open in the heat of processing summer school students. He waited while I went inside and presented my form to them. They gave me a form back with a room assignment and classroom location.

My room was in Morse College (they called dorms "colleges" -- how strange). The first room of my own -- a monk-like cell with a cot and built-in desk and slate floors.

I still had no idea where I was. The dorm was swarming with college-bound Southern kids, on scholarship to Yale summer school for enrichment experiences. I fell in with one girl who looked as confused as me. Then a graduate student named Hank noticed us and decided to adopt us. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting the grand walking tour of Yale, along with all the history we could absorb. And he pointed out the building across campus where my classes would be held.

Monday class was a little rough. I got reassigned from Intermediate to Advanced Beginner. I knew thousands of Chinese characters but the "Yale method" emphasized speaking. But everyone in my small class was in the same boat. And oh, what a class -- people from all over the world of every ethnic shape and color. My first co-ed experience since eighth grade. The young men actually spoke to me! We all had a grand lunch together. My cosmopolitan summer had begun.



* at Mark Twain Summer Institute

** Classes for the summer after sophomore year and in between summers were held at Washington University

*** Those were the heady days of National Defense Education Act (NDEA) grants for anyone interested in "strategic" languages.