In 1964, this Minnesota Yankee was invited by Dr. Cora Stafford to join the then Department of Art. I was interviewed by Dr. Richard Laing at an art convention in Minneapolis. Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Stafford. She died over the summer and was subsequently replaced by Dr. Ron Williams. Thus began a 30-year unforgettable journey.
The first day I drove into Denton, the temperature was 105 degrees of scalding heat. With my new air conditioner on the fritz and the need for something wet and cold, I asked a fellow where I might buy the coldest beer in town. I was instructed to get back on the highway and I would see Dallas about 30 miles down the road. I forgot about the air conditioner and followed his directions.
The art department was in an old building where birds nested in the cracks of the walls and water often stood inches deep in the ceramics lab. The janitor would mop it up and haul it to a room down the hall where he poured it down a drain. It took him a while to realize that which he poured down the drain came up again and again in Dr. Leach's ceramics lab.
The first class I taught was advertising design. Many days after the students had left, Dr. Williams (a very nice man and a perfectionist) met with me to critique the results of my teaching. At first, since I brought with me more than a decade of experience teaching art and my last employment was as a chair of a university art department, I was somewhat put off by the experience, but I told myself I would wait until Thanksgiving to make a decision if I should or should not retreat back to Minnesota.
By Thanksgiving, I recollect, I had proved myself to Dr. Williams.
Watermelons and wobbling fans
More than that, however, I had fallen absolutely in love with Texas and Texans. Yankees have to do that when they are assigned a summer non-air-conditioned classroom. Out of consideration for this teacher, one student brought ice cold watermelons to the 7:30 gathering, which he cut up and we ate during our breaks. There were no classes in the afternoons so a friend from the Department of Foreign Languages and I retreated to the movies where the temperature went from hot to so cold one could hang meat in the aisles. That was where I learned the lesson that Texans like, or at least can stand, extremes.
The fans in the lecture auditorium wobbled. I was fearful a set of blades would fly off and decapitate everyone underneath. I sat near the door. One or two air conditioners were expected to cool the entire space. The PA system picked up the local radio station.
Then there came that day that the rods that held the building together finally gave way. Each blew out about three feet from the building with a resounding bang. And that appeared to be the final straw. We were notified that the art department was going to have a new building! Huzza! Hurrah! Hurray!
The architect invited the faculty to express their thoughts and ideas for the new space and the ideas poured in. We thought we had "died and gone to heaven." I think I learned that expression in Texas.
Texan spoken here
Moving on to the students, faculty and community. At first, the students and I were equally bewildered by each other. I confess, I didn't understand Texan any more than they understood Yankee. I was, for example, very concerned about the young man in one of my classes who had a "pine" in his leg. "Pine," I found out later, is pronounced "pane" in Yankee talk, as in windows. Now, when I hear Texan spoken in Minnesota it catches my attention so fast that I make any excuse for a conversation. I've honked and waved to the folks in cars with Texas license plates.
Dr. Imogene Bentley Dickey Mohat, dean of women, encouraged the students to dress well and they did. The girls could not wear slacks or jeans on campus. The students were courteous. It was the first time I had ever been called "Ma'am." They understood my humor (well, almost), the direction I was leading them (well, almost) and to a person (well, almost) they were very serious in their undertakings, a strong motivator for me to award a better grade.
I made some of the best friends among the students and faculty that I have had in my lifetime. It brings tears to my eyes to recall how gracious, how helpful, how simply "good" everyone (well, almost) was to me.
Chicken fried steak and 'mile high' pie
I also met members of the community who shared, with me, that same gift. Pete Jackson of the Ponder Ranchman's Café introduced me to chicken fried steak that spilled over the platter, thick T-bone steaks, pecan pie, chocolate pie, lemon pie "mile high." Iced tea was served in quart-sized glasses I could hardly lift.
When Pete added a new room to the café, she asked me to do a painting to hang on the back wall. When I asked the size, she said, "Oh, about 4x6." My reply was, "Pete, that's not very big for that large room." To which she replied, "You don't think I'm talking inches, do you?"
At 82, I continue to paint, exhibit and generally stay active in the events of my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. So many memories but still enough space left to express my gratitude for sending me The North Texan. Thank you!
Professor Emeritus Lorraine E. Berger