Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ode to Thanksgivings Past: Part Two

This is the second in my continuing reflections on the possible meanings of Thanksgivings past.

It was the fall of my junior year of college, 1963. After a near disastrous start two years before, I had become a very, very good student. But I was still terrified of math and science. So I learned from my really helpful academic advisor, that there was a course I could take that would qualify as a “laboratory science” but that would be less challenging than a traditional lab science. Oh, how wrong he was. The course? Principles of Food Preparation.

I was the only male in the class; with 29 women. You can imagine what kind of thoughts they had about me. One of our lab requirements was to bake a loaf of bread from scratch. So I made my attempt in my Wednesday lab class, one week before Thanksgiving. The yeast did not rise in its bowl. And it was declared DOA. My very demanding professor told me that if I wanted to pass the lab portion of the course I had to repeat the exercise and that the only option I had was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the very day before. So I had to reschedule my flight home, at additional expense to my parents. I went back to the lab, succeeded this time in baking a loaf; then went to the airport for a late night flight back to New York City on Thanksgiving Eve, carrying my little loaf of bread with me.

We ate that bread in celebratory communion that next day. And I reflected that that professor had taught me an important lesson about negative stereotyping about other disciplines (in this case Home Economics) and about high standards for exactitude. That loaf of life giving bread, was a symbol for me that I had come a long way from Thanksgiving of two years before, with my mid term grades of 3F’s, 2D’s and one A.

I went back to college the next week; came to finals; made the highest grade in the class on the final exam (that’s right, higher than all the women), but my poor lab performance yielded me a B for the course, my only B for that whole year. I was still very thankful.

-John N. Gardner

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