Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Going back to Vassar College

Professor Gifford in 1982
Next month I am going to go to Vassar for a two-night stay at the Alumnae House to attend a memorial for one of my English professors, Bill Gifford, with the secondary goal of eating a Vassar DevilI was unsure about going, because I have mixed memories about my college days, but a former classmate nudged me, and also I would like to go and share memories with other writers and pay my respects to Professor Gifford's family. I'm sure they'll be happy to see how many professional writers he helped produce.

I stayed in touch with him for a while but then drifted away, and I was sorry after I saw all the students who remained close. But what are you going to do? Time passed. Stuff happened.

His Facebook page, In Memory of Professor Bill Gifford, Vassar College, is filled with tributes by professional writers who attribute their success to his encouragement. I wrote this on the page: Mr. Gifford was always very nice to me and supportive of my writing. I was not always that happy at Vassar but I usually felt better after his classes because he was so friendly and warm. After graduating in 1976, I went on to get a master's in journalism and to write for a daily newspaper, and that might not happened had I not had such an encouraging teacher. Although other students called him "The Gif," that was a little too informal for me!

This upcoming trip to Poughkeepsie precipitated a nightmare combining back-to-school anxiety with newspaper-reporter anxiety, like so:

The teacher in a college writing class told us to write a short story. I tried fictionalizing my memories of my high school boyfriend. It was awful. The teacher marked it up and told me so. I went back home to our New York apartment, where I tried to redo it on an old clunky manual typewriter. Frustrated, I decided to change my topic to an infamous tennis team trip to the Districts in Providence, R.I., where all sorts of crazy things happened. The teacher said I couldn't change topics because a photographer had already been assigned for the previous story.

I got so upset about being told to write fiction that I screamed, "I just cannot make things up!"

By the way, in case you're wondering what is in a Vassar Devil, it a mix of devil's food cake, fudge, ice cream and marshmallow sauce. Given my recent intestinal problems, maybe I should skip at least the marshmallow sauce, which might have seemed appealing to me in college but does not dies not sound so appetizing now. I could chase with Tums.


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