Four summers ago, daughter Jess finished high school. She won her last high school softball game way out in Bell Buckle, then she and I dragged our bat bags and ball buckets out of the lonesome dugout and into the family minivan.
"Free at last, free at last," I said. "Thank gawd almighty, I'm ball-free at last."
"Not exactly ball-free," Jess said. "I'll be playing for the college team in the fall."
And so she did, for three years. Wife Brenda and I drove the minivan many hundreds of miles to ballyards spread from Knoxville to Natchez and from Birmingham to Sewanee. It was at Sewanee that a member of the emo grounds crew played "Sweet Home Alabama" through the sound system, though he meant to play "The Star-Spangled Banner."
When it was time for year four of college softball, Jess called home and asked me, "Would you mind if I quit softball?" I wasn't surprised.
"I support you quitting softball," I said earnestly. "I've seen your softball coaching staff in action. Looks to me like they learned what they know from the little paper notes in a Cracker Jack box."
This year, 2011, was Jess' last year of college. Some days back, she packed her bags, her ball gear and her diploma and came back home. Now, all of us Jowerses are college-free at last. No more trips to the campus for me and Brenda. No more all-night writing assignments for Jess. But best of all, no more tuition payments and no student loans.
I get all swimmy-headed when I think about the mushrooming herds of 22-year-olds packing two rolls of quarters in their pockets and looking down the barrel of maybe $100,000 in debt.
Quite a few years back, I put in two years at the University of South Carolina Aiken (USCA). At the time, I was broke. On the third day of each month, I'd get a check for $114, which came from my first stepmother Arlene's Social Security benefits. Meanwhile, back at USCA, I'd pick up $1.60 for each hour I typed my English professor's novel. My whole two-year college education cost me about 700 bucks.
In the years since, I learned that a college student can easily spend 1,000 bucks just buying a semester's worth of textbooks.
So let me gently suggest that you collegians with whopping student-loan debts listen to me: Don't waste your money on textbooks. Just go to the library and read the books your teachers want you to read. That's what I did.
I went to the tiny USCA library every day, skimmed a stack of boring textbooks and made myself some crib notes — if you know what I mean, and I think you do. I say recite your most important information into the tiny storage device of your choice, grow a mullet on the back of your head, run your ear-bud wires up to one or both ears, and get that precious data into your brain and/or on paper by test day.
Maybe things are different now, but back in my college days there were always some frat boys who had a file cabinet or two full of answers to every question ever posed to a student at USCA. If you can find such benevolent helpers, use their resources.
Keep in mind that professors, teachers, teaching assistants and such must appear to be on the ball and always at the ready when it comes time to grade papers. They can't let their higher-ups see them as inattentive loafers and ne'er-do-wells. They have to keep your grades up, lest they appear to be knuckleheads themselves, unable to fill your head up with useless data. They don't want to face the indignity of begging for rolls of quarters in the student parking lot.
I offer this example: Some years back, I put in a semester at a nearby college. While I was there, I took a college-level folklore class. That's right, folklore. When it came time for the big test, the professor handed us students mix-and-match questions (stuff such as drawing a line from the word "cow" on the left to the word "moo" on the right). Then he walked out the door to do whatever professors do when they walk out the door.
Also on the test was a list of people I'd never heard of. Beside each name, I identified the person as "a purveyor of folklore."
I aced that test.
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