My junior year in college was memorable … for a lot of reasons. After graduating from high school, my wife and I went to the same teacher training college in Minnesota for our freshman year. Problem was, my wife didn’t really like school and didn’t think it was fair that she would study 30 hours for a Western Civilization exam and get a D. I would read Sports Illustrated while she studied and get an A-. In her defense, she did get all the multiple choice questions correct but struggled with essay questions about Thucydides and such things. What can I say? I love history. She quit after her freshman year and moved back to Wisconsin and enrolled in a tech school where she studied to become a medical transcriptionist. Problem was, she didn’t really like hospitals or the prospect of spending her career working in one. She quit after her sophomore year, moved home and got a job as a secretary for a publishing company. I finished my sophomore year in Minnesota and transferred to the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, six miles down the road from the farm where she grew up.
I moved in with her brother, Dave, who lived in a house across the field from the main farm. To help pay my expenses, her dad hired me to milk cows in the morning. He paid me $11 per milking, $77 for the week. Every morning Dave and I would get up at 5:00 a.m., put on our barn clothes, drive across the field and milk 110 cows. Usually, he would open the door to the upstairs loft where I slept and yell, “Dan, time for chore!” One morning I didn’t get up quickly enough. He walked upstairs, pulled the covers up from the foot of the bed and whacked me across the soles of my feet. From that day forward, as soon as I heard the hinges creaking at the bottom of the steps, I jumped out of bed as fast as I could.
One morning I heard the door opening. Before he could even yell, “Time for chore!” I was up and at ‘em. I hustled downstairs, put on my barn clothes and hopped in the truck. It was still dark as it always was that early in the morning. We got to the main farm, turned on the milking equipment and I went to open the barn door to let the cows in. They seemed strangely reluctant to enter when typically they were anxious to be milked. I locked them in stanchions and got ready to start milking, but something felt wrong. Even the cows looked confused. Then I glanced up at the big clock that hung above the milk house door and the time said 1:15 a.m. I looked at Dave and we both started laughing. We let the cows out of the barn, drove home and went back to bed for a couple hours. After our usual breakfast of a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon and half a loaf of toasted bread, I showered, got dressed and hopped in my ’72 Ford Pinto, a.k.a. the Deathtrap, and headed to class.
I had finished all my general education classes in Minnesota and had three semesters of methods courses followed by 12 weeks of student teaching remaining. Two classes in particular stand out in my memory. The first was Teaching Elementary Music. Our instructor was named Miss Jarjissian. She wasn’t much older than most of her students and seemed inordinately happy, especially considering there were a bunch of sullen football players and a part-time farmer in her class. On our first day she explained how she would take roll call. “I will sing each of your names,” she said, “and you will answer by singing ‘I am here’ in return.” I turned to look at the guy sitting next to me whose name was Jared. He was a 6’5”, 275 lb. defensive tackle. We both shook our heads in disgust and lowered our eyes as she began roll call.
🎼 “Pau • la Ash • worth,” sang Miss Jarjissian from behind her piano.
🎼 “I • am • here,” Paula responded, off key.
🎼 “Mi • chael Bue • low,” she sang. No response. Michael was sound asleep. Miss Jarjissian called his name louder and he finally jerked his head up and said, “ I’m here!”
She continued. Most of the students responded in monotone voices. Finally, she got to the middle of the alphabet and sang, 🎼 “Dan • iel Mad • son.”
I had a pretty good singing voice and responded in perfect pitch, 🎼 “I • am • here.” Regrettably, I seemed to be her favorite from that day forward, not that I wanted the attention.
The second class I recall was Techniques of Teaching Dance, required as part of my minor in physical education. I don’t remember the instructor’s name, but she was an outstanding teacher. The only downside was that a lot of the same football players were also in that class. In fact, the ratio of males to females was something like 17:5. You can guess what that meant. Once the five gals were spoken for, the remaining 12 guys had to pair up with each other to practice the dance of the day. Never did I think my college education would include dancing the waltz with a 275 lb. lineman named Jared.
Classes ended at noon and I had a two-hour break before baseball practice started. I would grab a quick lunch and then head to the library to study, and by study I mean I would lie down on one of the futons and sleep for an hour. Baseball practice lasted from 2:00 until 4:00, after which I drove back to my wife’s home town where I had a second part-time job cleaning the meat department at Copp’s Grocery Store. Oh, the joy. After the meat cutters had finished their work for the day, it was my job to dismantle the machinery, scrub and sanitize everything with bleach, and then wash and squeegee the floor.
Finally, I would drive back to my place, take another shower and head over to the main farmhouse for the highlight of each day – a scrumptious dinner prepared by my wife’s mom followed by a couple hours of relaxing with my future bride. We would cuddle up on the orange sofa in the family room and watch TV before I nodded off, at which point I would drive the Deathtrap back to the other farmhouse and drag my tired body up the stairs to bed.
At 5:00 a.m. the next morning, it all started again. Looking back, I’m still amazed I made it through that year, but I learned some valuable lessons. I would never farm for a living; doing the foxtrot with a defensive tackle was not my idea of a good time, and it’s not easy scraping dried hamburger off a meat grinder. I also discovered that no matter how many times I showered that year, it was impossible to completely remove the lovely bouquet of manure and bleach that emanated from my body. Finally, I promised myself that I’d never make my future students sing roll call.