I was raised by my grandparents, both of them teachers, and I lived with them in Canada on the campus of a private, church-based college and at Pacific Union College in California, until I graduated, got married, and moved to British Columbia.
I have benefited from living on or near college campuses most of my life. The rhythms of the school year are as natural to me as the seasons, and the peculiar blend of exhilaration and weariness that accompanies faculty life are second nature to me.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of sneaking into the back of my grandfather’s European history classes and watching newsreels of the Second World War, or being tossed—giggling with glee—from one brawny college kid to another up on the college farm in Canada as they were bringing in the hay. Later, at Pacific Union College in California, I witnessed a succession of my grandparents’ former students coming through our home every summer. I listened as they talked and laughed with my grandparents, as they proudly introduced their children (with whom I then got to play), and as they sometimes wept, recalling classmates who had died or incidents in their own lives.
Without fail, before they stood to leave, these former students would turn to my grandparents and thank them for the years of learning and mentoring they had enjoyed. Both of my grandparents had been deans, both had been librarians, and both had been teachers—so the kinds of learning their students had experienced from my grandparents had been varied, both in content and in venue. But the bond between student and teacher was evident even after all the years. Inevitably, after these families had driven away from our home, built high up on the mountains overlooking the Napa Valley, my grandparents would turn from waving goodbye and head back into the house to reminisce about their students.
We are shaped, to a large extent, by our early experiences, and we take our cues for situations in life from the experiences of the past. My grandparents’ lives were certainly shaped by their years of teaching and it was fortuitous, although not inevitable, that my life would be shaped by those years with them. Now, all these years later, I can appreciate how privileged my upbringing was. All the resources of a college campus were at my disposal as a kid. Professors, janitors, college students, cafeteria and bakery staff —all were my friends. It was never in doubt whether I would—or could—go to college. I came of age just north of San Francisco in the sixties—and the currents of politics, popular culture, the struggle for civil rights, and the agonizing spectacle of the Vietnam War were what I lived and breathed. My son, for whom the Sixties are the Dark Ages, wonders how I survived without iPods, cell phones, computers, Star Wars, and U2. I managed—somehow.
Now, as I listen to the stories students tell of how they are the first of their families to go to college, or their casual talk of friends or relatives who are the victims of violence, or the many ways the American uber-culture clashes with their parents culture and languages, I marvel at their determination. I had it so easy by comparison. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed of the privileges I had growing up. But I do realize how deep and how pervasive the roots of racism are in our culture, and how many of the benefits of my middle-class upbringing are things almost out of reach for many young people these days.
This is one of the reasons why students and teachers need each other—to flourish within this community of privilege so that we can make a difference to those without community. The possibility of learning and the community that supports it ought not to be squandered or taken for granted. It is a gift that changes us in the receiving.
I so enjoyed reading this one and it touched a cord in me, as I have worked at schools now for 30 some years and see kids grow up and marry and have children. My son-in-law is going to be the Principal at PUC Prep next year, and my daughter, a gifted musician, will be teaching two Spanish classes there. She will also work to set up her private piano studio in the future. (2 darling girls being the priority right now.) Thanks for sharing.Allan Clarke:
I resonated with so much of what you shared, Barry.
I was in one of those cars, that drove up to your grandparents house, in the summer of 73. My parents had been students who'd been shaped by your grandparents... at Oshawa Missionary College.. or Kingsway as it's called now. So, like many others, they couldn't travel to Angwin without stopping in. We sat and listened to the adults talk about times and people they remembered... and about you... and how proud they were of you. From the way my folks and your grandparents talked, I knew you were destined for greatness. You couldn't help it with all those people pulling for you.
My folks were teachers too... in grade-schools and academies all over the US and Canada. It was an idyllic upbringing, but also one that prepared me to realize the value of a dream. I've been penniless living in a friends garage... and had years where I made more cash than I'd ever believed a guy could make... but both of those were fleeting states of being.
It was living toward a dream... and the stories that I heard from the adults when they got together... that taught me about life as a series of seasons. We're never stuck anyplace... it's a season... and it, too, will pass. I believe that it's the friendships we form, and what they teach us, that regulates and buffer the highs and lows of life.
No matter what season we're in now... good or bad... there is another one coming. All we know is that it will be different... and that it will pass too, in time.
But the people we love, who build value into our lives... that's where the heart of a true "life of privilege" is found beating.Terry Bork:
Barry, what a lovely note about your grandparents. I lived the next house down from them for several years in Angwin. I can still see and hear them in my minds eye, and you with them as well. Great, warm, friendly folks. It brings back warm memories. I assume they have passed away by now. My own parents were teachers at PUC during those years. What a great privilege growing up in a college town with its intellectual ferment, and Angwin was a great one. Still is. So happy to hear you speak of it warmly.