“I’ll Be There”
In the spring of 1977 as I climbed into our yellow V.W. Beetle for the two-and-one-half-hour drive to Abilene, Texas, and the HSU “forty acres” (it’s much more than that now) to be interviewed for a tenure-track teaching position, my red-haired wife, standing in our graduate-school apartment driveway, holding our two-year-old twin sons, said, louder than was necessary, “This time, if they offer you a job, take it.”
I did, in spite of the fact that an administrator told me the Hardin-Simmons faculty was “the best kept secret in Texas.” I thought he might say I could change that. He didn’t, but I understood he was proud of this secret. I came to understand what he meant was that the faculty went about its work–teaching, mentoring, writing, creating, performing, building professional reputations . . . quietly, without fanfare.
The prophet Isaiah declares that the Lord God looks upon one “who is humble and contrite in spirit / and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66: 2). Maybe this is the biblical passage the administrator had in mind. Humble and contrite before God, yes, but that does mean we shouldn’t defend the academic, creative, and spiritual heritage of one of the oldest universities (founded in 1891) in Texas.
Prospective students and their parents have always asked (as they should) what makes Hardin-Simmons University unique? What is the value added? The answer is the faculty. Call them Isaiahs, Tom Joads. The secret is out.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prisons
to those who are bound; . . .
to comfort all who mourn; . . .
to give them a beautiful headdress
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
Isaiah 61: 1-3
Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul
of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one–an’then– . . .
Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark.
I’ll be ever’where–wherever you look.
Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.
Wherever they’s a cop beatin’up a guy, I’ll be there.
I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’–
I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry
an’ they know supper’s ready.
An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise
an’ live in the houses they build–
why, I’ll be there.
The Grapes of Wrath (p. 572)
I’m no Isaiah or Tom Joad, but I have been aroun’ Hardin-Simmons for forty years. Today is July 19, 2017. I’m scheduled to begin my forty-first year at HSU this fall teaching composition and literature and directing the creative writing program. How can that be? I’m thirty-one, just starting out at Hardin-Simmons after four years an undergraduate at Baylor, 1964-1968; three years a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, 1968-1971; and six years earning my M.A. and Ph.D. at Texas Tech University (1971-1977).
Two weeks ago, I found a note from one of my graduate school friends whom I have not seen since 1977, taped to my office door. It said, “Hey, Fink, why aren’t you retired?” Lately, I’m asked this a lot: “You’re still teaching?” “Tell me you’re not still at Hardin-Simmons!” “I was in your first class at HSU, and I’m retired. How old are you?
What really makes me old is my believing that anyone would care to read this gathering of hubristic notebook writings from my years at Hardin-Simmons. The subtitle “A Found Notebook” probably suggests what most will believe—that the notebook was found clutched beneath me when the night maintenance personnel lifted my upper body from the top of my desk. “Well, that’s the way he would have preferred to go.” Not true. “Died with his boots on.” Except I don’t wear boots. “Went out like Kafka’s ‘Hunger Artist.’” Probably accurate. This from the English faculty.
What I had in mind with “A Found Notebook” is like unto a found poem—a serendipitous gift waiting to be discovered by the right one. Here, I offer the oil of gladness.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Viking, 1939.