Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thanksgiving, Ah, Thanksgiving

Here’s a scene most of us can recognize.

Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, rolls around and someone, somewhere, at sometime decided that:  “It’s all about family.” So the tradition continues. Efforts abound to reel them in, family. From near and the far--empty the nursing homes, put pressure on nearly forgotten cousins, phone the in-laws and tweet the outlaws--get the whole clan on the road to Terre Haute, or wherever.

So it happens. Again. After the initial awkward hugs and assorted pleasantries the gathering gets down to business.

This business has to do with everyone else’s business.

Health histories and concerns are laid out in excruciating physiological detail–head lice to toe jam. Pharmacological reports are given on miracle drugs costing the price of the monthly cable TV bill  to miracle drugs someone found on late night TV for $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

Next comes the listing and deals on the purchase of new adult toys--SUVs with flat screen TVs in the front seat,  back seat and trunk;  Home Entertainment Centers with built-in microwaves and blenders. Then Uncle Joe shows off his new watch. It calls his new iPhone to remind him to take his new TV potion for his newly developed  toe jam. Everyone’s impressed.

This portion of the “catching up” program agenda is followed by the airing of marital prospects and advice for the young people.  (These remarks are always aimed at the young women, never the men.) The topic of pregnancies, past and present, are fully rehashed. Staying on the Dr. Phill wave length, the extra-marital affairs of any family member foolish enough to miss the holiday festivities are revealed with a sigh which, depending on the auditor, can be interpreted as judgmental, plaintive, or envious.

With the important stuff, the good stuff, exhausted, it’s time to grill the unfortunate college student on the premises.

This young scholar is in everyone’s sights.  (Let’s call him by the name his eldest aunt hung around his neck, possibly forever,  “Little Frankie.”.

Anyway, the Little Frankie’s of our  Thanksgiving World sometimes manage to escape the family’s probing questions on the state of higher education in America. Little Frankie will exit from the gathering (missing the chance to hear about Uncle Joseph’s new table saw or cousin Caddy’s goiter) with the mumbled excuse that he must work on a very important research paper.

 It’s a lame excuse, but nothing compared to what he will tell his prof when he makes his appeal on why his paper is going to be late.

When the primary college scholar suspect is not available for cross-examination, the proud parents will feel required to deliver an education report. This takes the form of a survey of the cost of tuition, the cost of dormitory housing, the cost of books, and the cost of those costs in adult toys and trips to Vegas that are now well out of the reach of what's left on their debit card balances. Always, however, the parent’s report ends with the required mantra: “It’s worth it.  They can’t take an education away from you.”

But on those occasions when the student is available to issue a report, the questioning, and certainly the answers, have little to do with the financing of the fine education “They can’t take away from you.”

Here’s a brief survey of some of the questions a “Little Frankie” who chooses to face his inquisitors might hear this coming Thanksgiving.

The first is always from an over eager cousin Roy:

* So, plenty of hot  “cheer leaders” (nudge, nudge) up at that college, right Frankie? (Cousin
Roy  has been asking this question since Little Frankie was in Junior High School. And always asked with a kind of hopeful leer in his voice.)

Moving on from the salacious to the ordinary, there’s:

* How’s the team look this season? (The perfect education report question for all seasons because it has nothing to do with education.)

* I heard the parking is really a problem at that school. Where do you park?

* I heard the food is really bad at that school. You look like it agrees with you. What they feeding you?

* Did you ever see any of those guys up there making porn movies in your dorm? (This from cousin Roy, of course.)

Like that. Until someone asks the dreaded Big Payoff question.

*What are you studying at that school? Can you get a good job studying that stuff, make a lot of money?

This Big Payoff question is the stopper for liberal arts, non-preference, young and old poets, and any student who has not carefully read his or her department’s promotional literature.  It’s definitely not a question about what “they can’t take away from you.” It’s about equating education with dollars. And to quote that great American,  poet Donald Trump: “Sad!”

But here’s a valid education report type question I hope college students are faced with over  Thanksgiving this year:

*Tell me Frank, what would you say was the book you’ve read this semester that was most interesting or important to you?

If little Frankie stumbles on this softball question, suggest to the young scholar that he consider taking that job Cousin Roy offered him last summer.


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