In Reverence

i began this post on Tuesday, June 9, in our hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was going to be a short one about Dr. Bill Holland. But i got started and the tale expanded itself. We are now some ridiculous 40,000 feet up in the air, headed west south west, Chicago, San Diego, a twenty-one plus day of travel. i have other posts in my head about this trip, but it will have to wait a day or two. After all, i need to get my time bearings right and of course, i’m playing golf tomorrow. But i wanted to finish this post now.

While up in the air, i had planned on cutting it severely. Then, i wanted my grandson Sam to have it as part of my story of me for him. i will fill in the blanks and correct a number of errors i know are in there after i get home.

It is now Saturday. We have returned from our trip, a 23-hour travel day. So i played my usual FMG round this morning with a tee time of 7:03. At 12:45, after the round, a beer or two, a great lunch from Sarah and Maureen, i turned into a zombie. But i’m breathing. i think zombies breath. Anyway, i will finish this post momentarily and return to real life shortly. i’m guessing tomorrow.

This post is without photos. We walked back from supper tonight on our usual route when i felt him. Perhaps it was only me and my memories calling up the vision.

Our hotel borders the University of Edinburgh campus. We have walked through the campus almost every time we leave our hotel, a modern Marriott Residence Inn in the middle of buildings erected hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Last night, we walked back from The Devil’s Advocate restaurant in Old Town, dining on a loft in the cavernous setting up and down stone steps in a close (alley) near the city’s castle. On the way back, we crossed Lauriston Place from Forrest Road and were amidst the university and its students on a walking path to our hotel and on the way to the student’s fix at Starbucks (yep, right here in the middle of antiquity).

i don’t believe a lot of things. i’ve recognized believing can turn into imbalance and cloud reason. And i sure as hell don’t know anywhere near as much as most people i know claim they know. It seems like knowing can put on blinders on us just like believing…or perhaps they are the same.

But last night, even though i may have just conjured it up in my mind, i felt Bill Holland.

In June 1965, i reluctantly left my cub sports reporter job under Fred Russell at the Nashville Banner. i wished to stay there but the kid whose place i took through two school semesters was out for the summer and reclaimed his job. There were no other openings. i was not excited about what was happening next.

Navy and draft obligations were not a concern. The Nashville reserve center had put me in the “active status” pool, which supposedly would discharge me from my military requirement after a year — that is another story of how my crazy life took unexpected turns.

There was regret. Because of perceived pressure from NROTC and my mother and my rather misplaced idea of how smart i was, i was granted a late change in my major from a BA in English to a BS in Civil Engineering. It did not work out for many reasons. In the summer of  ’64, i took philosophy, drama, modern British and American fiction also known as “Novels,” and engineering statics. This was to get my grade point up to a “C” so i could immediately transfer to MTSU, but the statics wiped me out again, and i missed by a hair. So hence, i was at the Banner. But in “novels,” i was blown away. Dr. Sullivan was incredible and in six weeks, we read Robert Penn Warren’s The Cave, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, William Faulkner’s The Hamlet, James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and several more i cannot recall sitting in our hotel in Edinburgh.

i was in a new world. i had read a great deal from the time i could walk to the library on West Main in Lebanon growing up, and at Castle Heights, the depth of my fiction reading became pretty deep. But Sullivan took me to a new world.

So going to Middle Tennessee, i was determined to get a BA in English but concerned about the quality of my degree. After all, Dr. Sullivan was at Vanderbilt, and many of my literary heroes, Robert Penn Warren,  Allen Tate, and John Crowe Ransom had walked those halls. i mistakenly went to the Dean of English office. Dr. Peck, with his full head of white hair, was at the end of his closet sized office stuffed from floor to ceiling with books upon books, dressed in a white dress shirt, khaki work pants, and brogans, which were propped up on his desk. His table radio was broadcasting the play-by-play of a St. Louis Cardinal baseball game.

He motioned for me to sit down, removed his feet from the desk, turned off the radio, and took my folder. When i told him my reason for being there, he informed me i had come to the wrong place, that those seeking Bachelor of Art degrees went to see the dean of the liberal arts college.

“But as long as you are here, let’s take a look,” he said, then after glancing at my Vanderbilt record, he breathed a sigh and added, “Man, this is some record.” i knew he did not mean that statement to be positive.

We talked for a while and then Dr. Peck warned me, “You know, son, Middle Tennessee is different from Vanderbilt.”

“Yes, sir. i know”

He admonished, “I mean Middle Tennessee is parochial. Vanderbilt is not. It may take some effort to get used to the difference.”

i nodded and left. i really didn’t know exactly what he meant, but my guess was pretty close. i thought i would like to take a class of his.

That summer, i had a young professor teaching English 101 in a large class of about fifty, composed of students retaking the class they had flunked in the regular semesters, high school kids trying to get a jump on college courses, and me. i liked the cut of the Professor Reza Ordoubadian’s enthusiasm. We read a book or two, then he charged us with reading Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. When the assignment was supposed to be completed, Professor Ordoubadian began a Q&A session. Many students were quiet, others were jumping at the chance to show they had actually read the assignment. i remained quiet.

As the class wound down to conclusion, the professor asked who the characters John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos symbolically. The room was totally quiet. It hit me. i raised my hand, the professor nodded at me.

“Singer is Jesus Christ and Antoapoulos is God.”

Ordoubadian was astounded. It was going to be his parting shot, and he did not expect anyone to answer, much less answer correctly. i knew literature was for me.

Oh, there were some classes that weren’t first class. Professor S. Carroll Evins, a thin, older, bald man, taught Southern Literature. Instead of reading Faulkner or Warren, we read Stark Young’s So Red the Rose, an antebellum novel that was primarily worthy in the heated arguments among the agrarian movement and other literary figures of the late 1930’s. Evins loved it. i thought it a simple argument and the story overly romanticizing the South.

But there was one positive in the Southern Literature class. i sat behind and to the right of a beautiful coed. i was very attracted and contemplated introducing myself. i followed her to the student union and noticed in the line to get a coke she was wearing an engagement ring. That was the impetus for writing one of my favorite poems, “a furtive glance at what might have been.”

Then there was Dr. Emily Calcott, another old one, white-haired, and dour. She spent almost our entire time in the warm summer classroom reading Percy Bysshe Shelly’s Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem written in 1813. i was not yet enchanted with the romantic poets, and the Dr. Calcott’s droll sing song recitation of the nine cantos with seventeen notes didn’t lull me to sleep, but i did spend most of that hour for five days a week mostly yawning.

Professor Bill Kelton, who did a good job of looking cool, gave us a solid footing in American Literature. Before that class began, i had learned the professor often had a final consisting of a one-on-one in his apartment. i suspected he did so to chase good looking coeds. Our final was a written exam in the classroom, and i never confirmed my suspicions.

i had become a junior and was concentrating on courses in literature. In the fall semester of 1966, i took “Shakespeare” from Dr. Peck. My respect for Dr. Peck had increased even more when i discovered he had received his PhD. from Vanderbilt and was in the same classes with Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Alan Tate,  and the aforementioned Stark Young. Rather than follow their lead, he chose to come to Middle Tennessee and a more “parochial” setting and teach literature.

He infused me with Shakespeare and provided me an opportunity to try out my wings when he assigned me to write a critique of a Shakespeare contemporary. John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi,” is a play published in 1613. i wrote the critique comparing the play to a cowboy movie. When Dr. Peck handed the papers back after grading, mine had a red “A+” at the top with the note, “See me after class.”

When class was dismissed, i strolled or strutted to the professor’s desk, proud of my “A+” and wondering what compliment the esteemed Dr. Peck would bestow on me.

Seeing me standing there, he took the paper, studied the front for a moment, and then said, “That’s a very different take on this. You did an excellent job. But if you had turned this in for most of the English professors at this school, you would most likely be hung from the highest oak tree on the mall outside this window.”

i didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but my esteem for Dr. Peck took another giant leap.

It was the same semester i signed up for the Romantic Literature course taught by Dr. Bill Holland. i was not eager. Dr. Holland changed all that, and in the course of two regular semesters and one summer one, he became my friend.

When the two semester courses began, i had a vague idea i liked Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but only remembered that damn albatross. i became enchanted by the Romantics. Dr. Holland made them live for me. i read their poems and their history with relish. Dr. Holland went off the charts in stories and discussions of history and the present by relating them to these poets. William Wordsworth became one of my heroes, right along with Faulkner, Warren, and Roy Rogers.

i began to go to his office after classes. We talked about everything one could imagine. i found out he was from Mississippi, had been in the Army Corps of Engineers before he went back to school. i found out he got his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh. Yes, that university i walked through on my way back to my hotel. i learned his doctorate traced the themes and usage in the writings of Chaucer through Spenser to Shakespeare and their contemporaries. i was told by another professor Dr. Holland had received a “first class” degree in literature from Edinburgh, one of only ten in its history (i have yet to verify this, but knowing him, i can believe it even now).

We talked of Plato, of Atlantis, of teaching the English language with mathematics and vice versa. We talked of the symbolism in Bob Lind’s top hit “Butterfly of Love,” and it seemed like weeks we discussed Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.” Amazingly, i introduced Dr. Holland to Robert Penn Warren and we delved into similarities between him and Wordsworth.

This led to my paper in his “Literature and Philosophy” course. i compared the discussion of “time” in Warren’s “The Ballad of Billie Potts” and Wordsworth’s “The Brothers.” To this day, i believe it is the best complete literary piece i have ever composed.

By the summer of 1967 while writing that paper with graduation just weeks away, i was skipping other classes to spend time with Dr. Holland. We even shot pool at a local pool hall on the morning i received my degree. i got a “B” in the course as the final exam required me to state my philosophy of life and prove its viability by referring to works of the writers and philosophers we studied. The writers’ and philosopher’s works didn’t deter me. However, i didn’t have a clue as to what my philosophy of life might be — and sometimes today, i still am not sure.

Had i a lick of common sense in my head (my mother pointed out this flaw several times from my youth until i left for the Navy), i would have applied to pursue a doctorate in literature under the guidance of Dr. Holland. i didn’t even consider it then. Instead, i went to Navy OCS and began this rather remarkably varied roll through life, nothing heroic or famous, just interesting.

While on liberty in Athens in 1972, i found a book about Atlantis not being in the Atlantic but in the Aegean Sea, the very thesis Dr. Holland proposed in class in 1966 and is now the most accepted theory. Dr. Holland proposed Plato had misplaced a decimal to Pythagorus’ description of Atlantis’ size. i sent the book to Dr. Holland but never heard if he had received it or not.

About eight years ago, i decided to reconnect with Dr. Holland. The student manning the phones at the alumni center must have had a bad day. He was abrupt and told me there was no Dr. Holland at MTSU and there was no way in which i could gain contact with him through the university. i was downhearted, especially when my other searches came up with blanks.

Last year, i tried again. A nice lady answered the phone. She was enthusiastic with her praise of Dr. Holland, informed me he had retired and moved to Memphis. When i asked for his contact information, she became sad and told me Dr. Holland had passed two years before.

Tonight, our walk took me through the campus of the University of Edinburgh. i had looked at a campus map to see if i could find the English department offices. i didn’t pursue it further. Brother, sister, and spouses had been involved, along with me in lots of wonderful pursuits since then. Tomorrow we leave.

But tonight as we passed those old majestic buildings, i felt him. i imagined Bill Holland in the stacks of the library searching through dusty old tomes, playing detective in the words. i saw him studying by a desk light in a small flat in one of those ancient stone buildings with the rain spattering on the window. i could feel him.

Thank you, Dr. Holland, for opening up a whole new world for me.

Sleep well.

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