Monday, October 27, 2008

What I Remember Most: Reflection from Magna cum Murder

Last night around 1:30 a.m. (Okay, so that’s really this morning, isn’t it?), my son Michael called to tell us, “I really love it here at college. Thanks again for making it possible.”

My sleepy husband and I could barely focus on the call. We told him we loved him, and we’d talk to him at a more civilized hour. (Of course, for a teenager, 1:30 a.m. is incredibly civilized, but for us old goats, it’s way out of our comfort zone.)

I reflected on his call this morning because yesterday, I drove back from my alma mater Ball State University where I’d been attending the most excellence Magna cum Murder, a houseparty for 300 of your best mystery-loving friends. While I was there in Muncie, Indiana, I was interviewed by a grad student, Megan, for a video piece she hopes will be used on the alumni website. One of the questions she asked was, “What do you remember most about your years here at Ball State?”

Sadly enough, my answer was “I remember how incredibly poor I was.” As I said this, I caught a glimpse of the black boots I was wearing. One year when I was at college, I returned all my Christmas gifts and bought a cheap pair of boots. They weren’t leather. They quickly cracked and peeled. Now I was here, in Muncie, wearing real leather—and these weren’t my only pair of boots.

You see, my father had not allowed me to work during my high school years, except to earn a little money here and there to buy clothes. He bragged, “I’m going to send my daughter to college.” But the end of my freshman year, he ran off with a girlfriend, Vicky La Fever (I’m not making that up! If I were, I’d call her “Vicky La Slut”). He cut off all my funding for school. I told a teacher—I believe I told Marilyn Weaver who is now the head of Ball State’s School of Journalism, but was a graduate assistant then—that I wouldn’t be coming back to college. She strongly urged me to apply for loans and grants. I did, but my father duplicitously continued to claim me on his income tax as a dependent, so for a long while, it looked as though I wouldn’t qualify for any help. Eventually I did…but I had to work all my years in college. In fact, by my senior year I was working forty-hours a week in a management job at a pet shop, and carrying a full load of classes.

I still managed to graduate cum laude.

I’m glad my son will get his college education and be able to enjoy some of his time at college. It’s a precious time. A very special time. And while it’s good for kids to work, no one should have to spend every hour of every day for four years worried about having enough to cover their housing or eating surplus cheese and drinking dried milk just to survive. That’s a photo of the house I lived in where a girl later fell through the floor while sitting on the toilet—the wood was that rotted out.

To see pictures from Magna cum Murder, go to There I have a great photo of me and Monica Ferris!

What do you remember most from your years at college?


Camille Minichino said...

Not much different from yours, Joanna, except that my family was in tact -- just poor.

I commuted to college -- it took 4 public trans vehicles to get me there, almost 2 hours each way, on the famous Boston MTA. I did my homework with my arms wrapped around a pole.

I never had the "college experience" and I sometimes wonder what I missed. Do we appreciate things, like education, more when we have to work for them?

Maybe that's another blog.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I think my son must be appreciating what he has. This is the second time he's called to thank us for making all this possible. We're nearly on the floor in a faint over this.

Yes, we appreciate what we have, and what we did, but I do think we missed some of what the college experience is supposed to be.

Miss Mary said...

Well, like you my dad continued to claim me on my parents tax forms. So I took what loans I could get and worked anywhere from 1 to 3 jobs while carrying full loads, for 5 years...that includes summer school.

As hard as it was I'm glad I did it. There were times when I didn't know where or when my next meal would come. You quickly learn who your friends are when you're so broke you're rolling pennies for ggas or food.

The friends that supported me then are still the ones I go to when times are tough. They're family. In fact, more so. My husband had to have a risky heart procedure this past summer, and my BFF dropped everything, bought a ticket at the last minute, and was by my side the whole time. We made each other laugh when we talked about how far we'd come from. I used to have to use a screw driver to get my beater car to start in college and here I am now with a fully decked out Suburban and a house with a huge yard. No more roaches! :)

Being that broke helps you truly appreciate the things you have in your life. I figure I'm doing great as long as I have a roof over my head, food on the table, a reliable car, and my friends.