They came for coffee and left, having had dark colored water. As they were pulling out of our drive, I asked John if the coffee had been weak. It had. John normally makes the coffee, but he was enjoying the conversation so much that I didn’t interrupt. I used coffee that was new to me, a medium roast from Aldi’s. Our guest said he had been in the Navy and liked his coffee black. His wife added her agreement. That should have been a red flag to double the amount I thought proper. I wanted to run after their car and shout that we’d make a better brew if they would come back.
My freshman roommate from college came to visit her daughter who had moved near Asheville. We lost touch ages ago, so I was thrilled she agreed to come to our house for coffee. We last saw her 53 years ago at graduation. Minna Gwyn and Jerry married a few months before we did, but I didn’t really know him. What a revelation it turned out to be!
As we walked in our house, Minna said to Jerry and me, “Arp meet Ripley. Ripley meet Arp.”
What? I grew up in Ripley, a small town that never made it to important maps. Minna implied Jerry grew up in Arp. As in so many agricultural areas, outlying communities had names but no town. Arp was the first settlement west of Ripley.
I exclaimed, “You went right by my house every time you went to town!”
Jerry was aware of it and knew which house was mine. I was oblivious to all kinds of things when I was young, but how could I have missed him? He was one class ahead of me. There were a number of small schools in our county feeding into two high schools, so I wouldn’t have known him until I was in 9th grade. Still! I should have remembered him! They quickly let me off the hook, explaining that he moved to Memphis after he finished 8th grade.
I put my foot in it when I asked how they met each other. “At Rhodes College,” they answered.
Yep, the four of us were graduates of the same college (university for non-Americans). Why had I missed Jerry there, too? The answer was that he went through in three and a half years, and he was a biology major. Biology and music didn’t cross paths. Minna met Jerry when they had a German class together. [She remembers you, Gerhard.] I was delighted to know this person who had been nearby but totally out of my sight.
The other surprising revelation was what Minna and I did after college. We both got degrees in music, but her instrument was organ, and mine was piano. All these years I imagined her being an organist in some big, impressive church. No, by choice she taught private piano lessons and subbed on big, impressive pipe organs. I would rather have held a spider than teach piano lessons, and I was the organist for our church (without an impressive organ) for 25 years. How I could have used her training!
We might have cut straight to the laughter if we hadn’t caught up with personal history first. It’s not a requirement, but if you come to visit me after 50 years, please send ahead a five-line biography and abbreviated family tree.
I don’t dare repeat the story that caused Minna Gwyn to laugh aloud. We had an inept teacher in the music department who had no grasp of the music history he was trying to teach. When John finished his story, I’d say her mirth was vindication for what she had endured.
Jerry attended the school at Arp where his mother was a teacher. I had to tell him how I wanted to go to that school. Our family drove past it on a hot summer day, and I told my parents that’s where I wanted to be when school started in August. Why? I was reading the name from the front of the building, Arp Consolidated. I don’t know whether to blame it on bad eyesight or poor reading skills, but I read it as Air Conditioned.
I laughed most at Jerry’s story of the outhouse when he was about five years old. He and his cousin Tommy ran and jumped over the hole that was left after the outhouse was moved. For those not old enough to know, you move the structure when the deep hole below is full. Jerry made it. Tommy didn’t. Not to worry – I do remember Tommy from high school. The stench was gone by then.