Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding the Fulcrum

Not that I really needed another reason to love LibraryThing, but the Early Reviewers bit is pretty cool--request an advance reading copy of a soon-to-be-released book, write a review, keep the book! I'm happily plowing through Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan, set in the Mississippi Delta right at the end of World War II. Well, happy to have a shiny new book with a compelling story, even if the story itself is somewhat wrenching. The overarching theme is intrenched, institutional racism, but a corollary is tracing hopes and expectations as they inevitably fail to materialize as envisioned, but instead twist and send lives spiralling in completely different directions. It's only at the very end that the sequence of events makes sense as an unbroken chain of causality, allowing us to look back and recognize the one pivotal moment on which everything else hung.

It's odd that I should remember my pivotal moment, the fulcrum of my life, with such clarity, given the combination of how innocuous it seemed at the time and my tender age. It was an evening at my dad's parents' house, summer of 1973. I was six. Maybe I remember it because it was heralded by Grandpa's front doorbell, a low, grating rumble that always made me look up in surprise because no one ever came to the front door and its treacherous, moss-slicked brick sidewalk. The kitchen door, through the screened porch at the back of the house near the end of the long gravel driveway, was the real entryway, the door anybody who knew anything knew to come through. Knocking optional. So the doorbell rumbled, and Grandma opened the door, and in walked the new band/choir director Grandpa had hired for the high school. Grandpa and Grandma had run the music program at the school (the only high school for the entire eastern half of the county) since the late '40s, and at this point Grandpa had retired from teaching and moved on to an administrative position. My mom was already a music teacher and assistant choir director there.

The rest is, well, yeah. I never asked Grandpa if he felt weird later for bringing the new guy to town. That would have been poor form. Because mom and dad split up two years later, the new guy took a job at Saint Mary's and Notre Dame, and mom followed him to South Bend, with me in tow. And that's where the rest of my life took shape. Mom was sufficiently freaked out by the teeming metropolis we now found ourselves in (coming from a tiny farm-and-oil town surrounded by the cornfields of southern Illinois, South Bend was intimidatingly large) to put me in a private school, where good teaching and a challenging curriculum gave me a leg up in the subsequent Catholic high school, which in turn opened the door to a near-full scholarship to college in Chicago, where I met the guy I ended up marrying, but who, more relevant for this discussion, also suggested an archaeology class when I was casting about for electives, which was taught by the professor I ended up taking as academic advisor, who then took me Peru, where I learned archaeological fieldwork, and who recommended both the university and supervising professor for my graduate work and gave me enough probably undeserved A grades to sufficiently boost my GPA for a graduate fellowship, which taught me a specialization and introduced me to a classmate who came to Arizona for his doctorate and took a job in Tucson that he ultimately didn't have time to fulfill, and so suggested I give it a shot since I was having no luck finding a job in the midwestern town I really wanted to live in, and the guy who was hiring here couldn't find any better candidates and took me on a single-project trial basis in 1994... and here I am.

All because a guy with a music degree walked through my Grandpa's front door in 1973. I resented it when I was younger and filled with the self-righteousness of adolescence. Now, hell, whatever. Life unfolds no matter what. It's somewhat comforting to trace it back and recognize that balancing point. What is yours?

No comments: