Virtue & Mischief: Five memories from Gainesville


A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation, as did my counterparts across the nation, to attend a meeting at the University of Florida. This brief conference is being convened next week to discuss a narrow and fairly arcane topic connected to the collection and reportage of law schools’ employment data. It ain’t sexy, I’ll grant you, but it is an important part of my job (and UF is paying!), and accordingly I have decided to trek down to Gainesville to observe and, when appropriate, offer my proverbial two cents.

As I blocked off my calendar for this coming Sunday/Monday/Tuesday, it struck me: I haven’t been to Gainesville since early June 1969. I lived there when I was in 2nd grade and attended Littlewood Elementary School while my father took the first of his three sabbaticals while he was a Professor at Purdue University. That particular year he taught a class or two at UF and, if memory serves me, began working on his second book—“Introduction to Interpersonal Relations.” I am sorry to report that his page-turner, ultimately published in 1973, has not yet been reviewed on and—worse still—it is not in stock (moreover, Amazon is not sure “…when or if this item will be back in stock.”).

In any event, I have a few strong memories from those days almost a half century ago. First, tetherball was the playground game of choice at Littlewood. We played kickball once in a great while, and dodgeball, too. But if you were the king of the hill on the tetherball…um…court (?!?), well, you were THE MAN. Tetherball ruled!

Second, our neighborhood was teeming with children, and whenever school was out there was a pickup football game going on in someone’s yard. ALWAYS. Football was king down there then, as it is now, and I was a big fan of the game myself. Difficult as it is for my Buckeye brethren to believe, Purdue was very good in those days and even spent a couple of weeks that year ranked first in the country (a perch they relinquished after Ohio State beat them 13-0 at the Horshoe in mid-October). I remember being severely disappointed that fall when Purdue’s Leroy Keyes finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to some dude named Orenthal James Simpson.

Third, we lived in a little pink house that would have made John Mellencamp proud. In that little pink house, my younger sister and I shared a room. In that room, we had a trundle bed—which I loved—and a map of the earth plastered on one wall. I recall studying that map for hours and hours and developing an odd and inexplicable fascination with the Indian Ocean.

Fourth, in the spring (I think) my class went on a field trip to a local nature preserve. At the supper table that day, I remarked to my family that I had a scab or something “hard” on the top of my head. My father inspected it and discovered a tick had made his home there. No doubt he had been enjoying a few tasty meals comprised of my blood for the past several hours. Dad, still an occasional smoker in those days, grabbed a cigarette, lit it, and singed the blood-sucker while I yelped in pain. Mom supplied him with a pair of tweezers and, after a couple of strenuous pulls, he extracted the grotesque arachnid and flushed it down the toilet. As I recall, immediately after this little distraction concluded we resumed our spots at the dinner table and finished our spam (I kid you not) and green peas.

Fifth, our neighborhood was bordered to the north and east by woods. The woods couldn’t have been all that large in reality, but to an 8 year old they seemed immense. There was a system of sinuous, tiny creeks with sandy bottoms that flowed throughout those woods. Within a week of arriving, I had made several buddies, and they told me one Saturday morning to get a pie tin from my mother and follow them to the woods. A pie tin? In the woods? Was this some sort of southern hazing thing? I wondered. I did as I was told, however, and ultimately was well-rewarded. My friends walked me to the edge of one of the creek tributaries, took off their shoes, rolled up their pant legs, and dipped their pie pans into the sandy bottom. I did likewise.

“Okay,” one of them instructed me, “now carefully shake the sand out of your pan back into the water and see what’s left!”

I followed his instruction and discovered contents far more interesting and valuable to me (in those days) than gold: sharks’ teeth, two or three of them, each different in size and color and shape. Amazed, I dipped my pan in the watery sand again—and received the same result. Within an hour, I had acquired upwards of 50 sharks’ teeth. I sprinted home to show my parents my stash and they were as amazed as I. (Ultimately, I collected thousands of sharks’ teeth during my stay there. I took them to show-and-tell when I returned to Indiana, and my little plastic box of serrated curiosities was stolen by an unknown, nefarious third grader).

There were many other wonders and experiences from that year, of course. Spanish moss, chameleons, rattlesnakes. Perhaps a few more will rise to consciousness and memory this weekend as I drive across campus or stroll down NW 22nd Place.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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