A degree of reminiscing
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 at 10:44PM

I put him on the spot

The next leg of our trip to Chicago involved not the Second City, but the city where, more than forty-three years ago, TG and I met.

I refer to Hammond, Indiana -- the 46320 -- a classic rust-belt town situated a stone's throw from the Illinois state line and so close to Chicago that it is part of the Chicago metropolitan area.

A garden spot it is not, and has never been.

I'm sure it was a bustling place mid-century but these days, with the exception of Sundays, downtown Hammond is all but deserted.

The reason it's busy on Sundays is because of First Baptist Church of Hammond -- the "old church on the corner" of Sibley and Oakley Streets, founded in 1887. Controversial since 1959 (when Jack Hyles became its pastor) and blighted by scandal in recent years, First Baptist is still the largest church in Indiana.

It was on church property that I first laid eyes on TG, in February of 1976. He did not immediately see me but it didn't matter. The damage was done.

Looking northwest on Sibley Street, from the old church building to the new

At the time, I was a few weeks shy of nineteen and a sophomore at Hyles-Anderson College, a ministry of the church. TG, a 1974 graduate of The Citadel, taught biology and coached basketball at Hammond Baptist High School -- also a ministry of the church.

In the picture at the top of this post, TG is standing on the spot where, on Sunday, August 20, 1978, after evening services, our romance officially began. As in, I was purposely lingering on that corner -- yes; I was lying in wait for him -- when my peripheral vision informed me that my love interest was approaching from just behind where he is standing in the photo.

At the opportune moment, I whirled around and got TG's attention, and subsequently let him know that for the first time in the two and a half years we'd known one another, I was not a dorm student.

Three days later, he called to ask me out on a date. That date took place the next evening -- Thursday, August 24, 1978 -- at old (now non-existent) Comiskey Park, where the Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0.

We were engaged the following March and married on June 16, 1979, at Forrest Hills Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia (my home church). I shared pictures of that life landmark last year, after we took Dagny to the Georgia Aquarium for her fourth birthday.

Since I last visited First Baptist Church -- that was in 2002, for a wedding -- a new, even larger, church auditorium has been built. So this time, I was looking forward to seeing it.

The sign, for as long as I can remember

So on that Sunday evening a few weeks ago, when TG dropped me off at the curb of the new church building and went to park, although the newer building was technically unfamiliar to me, the surroundings weren't.

We had a nice time seeing dozens of friends from the old days, and getting reacquainted.

The next morning, we went back to the church property to walk around and take a few pictures. It was a cool and misty day with gray skies, but that's pretty standard for Hammond. So it seemed right.

Former Federal building, now FBC offices

The church owns two entire blocks of downtown Hammond; buildings and storefronts that once housed thriving businesses are now Sunday School departments.

The church also owns the old Federal Courthouse and Post Office, which it spent $1.2 million renovating several years ago, into office space for the pastor and church employees. Adult Sunday School classes convene in old courtrooms there as well. But no judging, haaahaa.

This aged but still beautiful building was where, as a college student working early mornings on a north Chicago bus route, I spent many Sunday afternoons waiting until time for Sunday evening church to start:

Seifer Furniture Company building, c. 1925

The campus of Hyles-Anderson College is seventeen miles away in Crown Point, Indiana -- and as we weren't allowed to drive around on our own (and I didn't have a car anyway, or even a driver's license, haahaha, long story) -- it wasn't feasible to return to the dorms between the conclusion of bus route duties and Sunday night church.

It sounds draconian now -- and it was, especially in the winter, which was most of the school year -- but we thought nothing of it. Or almost nothing.

Times were different. 

Here's a building directly across the street from the old auditorium; it's an educational facility built sometime in the eighties. In my college days there was a ramshackle building there, and it housed the bus offices -- meaning, it was the nerve center for the hundreds of Sunday School bus routes that ran each week all over the greater Chicagoland area.

The Walker Building

We brought all four of our newborn babies to church for the first time at First Baptist, placing them in the care of nursery workers during services.

Because we moved to Knoxville in 1991, only our two older children have substantial memories of when we lived in Indiana and attended First Baptist. 

The old church on the corner

When we left Hammond that day, we drove south on Route 41 towards Schererville, where we lived for the first twelve years of our marriage, and where we had an appointment to meet an old friend for pie and coffee.

On the way, we drove through Munster, Indiana, the home of Community Hospital, where all four of our children were born, all delivered by the same doctor.

We stopped to take a picture.

This entrance looked different in the eightees

The hospital started in 1973 with 104 beds, and is now a 458-bed acute-care facility. I looked it up.

During the decade when I was a patient there once every three years to have yet another baby, the hospital consisted of one smallish building:

My babies were born here

It's a much larger complex now. My doctor's office was in a medical park across the street. Those were the days when lots of obstetricians were in solo practice. That meant that often when you showed up for your routine appointment, you'd learn that the doctor was over at the hospital delivering a baby.

You waited patiently (haaahaha) with the other mothers, knowing that eventually, someone else would be waiting while Dr. Chung delivered your baby.

Except, none of my children were born during office hours. They were cooperative that way.

Good times.

He was a groomsman at our wedding

So then we drove on to Schererville, where we met our good friend Jim at Baker's Square.

Jim is a busy lawyer whose late father, James Clement, was a criminal court judge. TG once served on one of his juries and counted him a friend.

Jim was a point guard on the first basketball team -- JV -- that TG coached at Hammond Baptist High School.

The passage of time, and age, being the strange things that they are, although Jim was a former student of TG's, he's one of our best friends and has been for all of these years. Even as a high schooler, he was a groomsman for TG at our wedding.

TG and Jim, along with other guys from "back in the day," still play golf together in the spring, in Nashville.

After catching up with Jim, we drove out to Crown Point and Hyles-Anderson College.

I did not have a tassel to turn

And while there, I became a college graduate.

See, I can explain. 

When I walked across the platform at First Baptist Church on graduation night in 1978, I received an empty diploma case.

That's because, for reasons I cannot remember, I still required one class to graduate: American Literature.

Now, I was a pretty good student. If I'd taken American Lit, I would've gotten an A. I love American authors and poets; ask anybody. I'm all about Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe ... I could go on. You might say I'm self-taught in that subject.

But I didn't take the class.

And of course I intended to take it in summer school, and to trot by the Academic Dean's office when I'd passed it, to collect my missing diploma.

And I do not remember why I didn't do that either, except I was by that point pretty distracted by TG and fairly determined to get him into my life. I didn't even go home that summer; I stayed on campus, lived in the dorm, and worked.

I toyed with the idea (for five or six minutes) of starting a master's degree, once I'd gotten that American Lit class.

At any rate, life overtook me and then it was romance and then engagement and a wedding to plan, and then marriage, and pretty soon there was a baby on the way, and then another, and then another, and then another.

And then we moved away and I never took American Lit.

In recent months, however, I became aware of an opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of. And it required a four-year degree. No exceptions.

I called the gentleman you see in the picture above, standing with me as he gave me my diploma a few weeks ago. His name is David and he's now the Academic Dean.

David was actually in my graduating class. I'm sure he received his diploma on the night in May of 1978 when we marched to Pomp and Circumstance. He's worked for Hyles-Anderson College ever since.

When I talked to David on the phone in early May, he told me that I needed only one and a half credits to get my hands on that diploma.

A real-deal diploma is finally mine

(American Lit is a three-credit class but he'd give me one and a half credits for life experience.)

I pleaded suggested, surely I can write a paper or take a test for that one and a half credits?

No. I could not. I had to take a class.

So I took a class. From the University of Oxford in Oxford, England -- the oldest university in the English speaking world. My college was Trinity (there are thirty-nine of them at Oxford).

No; I did not go to Oxford, England. I wish. I took my course online.

It was a course on the writings of Jane Austen. I know; she's Brit lit and not American lit. But David kindly agreed to accept the transcript from Oxford indicating that I'd completed and passed the course.

And so I spent much of the summer reading Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park.

I did a fair amount of required reading aside from the six novels. I interacted with my classmates and our tutor in online discussion forums. I wrote two papers. 

I enjoyed it a great deal, and I learned a lot, and I passed with what can only be described as flying colors.

And in due time, I received a piece of Royal Mail from Oxford, indicating that I had earned transferable credits for taking the course. I forwarded that document to David so that he could apply the credits to the ones I already had.

And now, forty-one years later than originally planned, I am a college graduate.

David also gifted me with an annual from our graduation year, which I did not have.

And he even found my picture within its pages.

Senior picture ... age twenty-one

I should have taken more pictures while I was there; the campus, which long ago was a monastery (First Baptist Church of Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College bought it from the monks) has changed a lot but most of it remains as I remember it.

The old chapel with its stained glass windows is now a mixed-use facility, as a new chapel was built while I was still a student there.

Old-school stained glass

After saying farewell to my alma mater -- for real this time -- we drove back west on Route 30 towards Schererville to see Jess and Kathy, two of our dearest friends in the whole world.

But first we stopped at Memory Lane Cemetery, where many folks from our past are buried or installed in mausoleum walls. The cemetery and full-service funeral home are owned by First Baptist Church of Hammond.

TG and I actually own grave plots there. They are for sale, as we plan to be interred here in Columbia and thus have acquired two more grave plots. That's two more than we require. Call me if you're interested.

But I wanted to pay my respects to certain people beloved to me, such as Linda Clement Richards, one of my best friends ever in my lifetime.

Remembering my friend Linda

Linda died of cancer at the age of forty-six. She was the big sister of our friend Jim (the one we met for pie), and the eldest daughter of Judge Clement and his wife.

Linda and I had lots of adventures packed into a short time. She was special. We loved to go shopping and often did. With little encouragement we'd be on our way to Chicago, to enjoy its shops and restaurants.

Judi is still missed

I also paid my respects at the grave of my friend Judi, who died too young in an automobile accident. She was special too. One of her daughters still keeps in touch with us.

We paused a moment to remember the judge:

He was a good and fair man

Then it was time to hang out with Jess and Kathy for a few minutes before meeting some more friends for dinner at Teibel's, a restaurant that is no less than an institution in Northwest Indiana.

They're famous for their Canadian Yellow Lake Perch, boned and buttered. You should go there sometime.

I didn't get any pictures at Jess and Kathy's house. He was not feeling well and she had had an extremely busy day. We sat in the yard and chatted for a while, then kissed them goodbye. We stay in touch.

At Teibel's we met our old friend Gail and her daughter Abbey.

Me and Gail, my teacher and friend

Gail was a colleague of TG's and my student teacher advisor during my senior year, and a friend to both of us. She was so proud of me for finally getting my diploma.

I took it with me into the restaurant, so that she could admire it.

(Gail was probably incredulous that I didn't finish my degree in 1978 when I was supposed to. But she was too nice to say so.)

We had a delicious dinner and stood gabbing in the parking lot long after it was over. It was a beautiful night.

And then we returned to the home of one of TG's oldest and best friends -- Jerry, who is a widower -- where we were staying for a few nights before going to Chicago.

I think you'll like what we did in Chicago. It has more to do with my education, and with many degrees of reminiscing. And city sights and excellent food, and of course, baseball.

And that is all for now.


Happy Tuesday

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