My final two years in high school, we lived in a little armpit town called Beatrice (“Bee-ATT-riss”) Nebraska.Â My dad had been teaching at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, and its president Millard “Doc Bob” Roberts was hoping to expand the Parsons “we take anyone as long as they can pay the bill” system of college education to a wider potential audience.
So two new Parsons-affiliated campuses had opened up starting in the summer of 1966, one in Beatrice and one in Albert Lea, Minnesota, with at least three more in the planning stages.
Unfortunately, Doc Bob & Co. hadn’t done too much in the way of research in Beatrice.Â They might have been able to get the land cheap, and get the buildings built, and all the other things physically necessary to put in a college, but they didn’t take into consideration how the people in Beatrice might feel about the presence of a campus filled mostly with students from Elsewhere.Â You know, those slimy people from New Jersey who didn’t appreciate the finer points of life in armpit towns in Nebraska.
My dad hired on as Dean of John J. Pershing College without knowing much about Beatrice other than that the poet Weldon Kees came from there.Â My mom tried hard to fit into the mold of Dean’s Wife, among a faculty that was pretty heavy on East Coast pretensions itself.Â My brothers and I settled in to school among peers whose parents were mostly vocal opponents of the college and did the best we could.
One of the worst hoity-toity faculty families ended up as our back-door neighbors.Â I forget what Mr. Leland taught–probably something like business administration.Â Mrs. Leland was short, fat, and had obviously dyed auburn hair, and tried her best to lord it over the other people in the neighborhood.Â Of course, my parents had inadvertently bought property in the snootiest neighborhood in town–the city had torn down an old elementary school on that block and had put the land up for sale very cheap–so Mrs. Leland was trying to out-snobbify people who’d already been lording it over Beatrice for generations.Â With predictable results.
Which left her and her three obnoxious little brats to try to lord it over my parents, neither of whom could possibly have cared less about that kind of crap.Â My dad was the Dean, and he also had his own kind of internal stratigraphy where the pure academics (who had Ph.Ds and taught English literature, like he did) had little use for the people with lesser degrees who taught lesser subjects like business administration.Â My mom came from New York City society and knew what real rich folks were actually like, and Mrs. Leland’s pretensions amused her mightily, when Mrs. Leland wasn’t pissing her off by telling her kids to tell my brothers and me to “Git off our poppity!” if we came close to the fence that separated our yard from theirs. (It wasn’t even their “poppity” to begin with–Mrs. Leland would happily put people to sleep telling them how smart her LeRoi had been by taking the “lease, with option to buy” approach.)
Most kinds of fireworks were legal in Beatrice in those days, so in the days before the Fourth my brothers and I stocked up on firecrackers and bottle rockets (the days when our dad refused to let us have anything more lethal than sparklers were long past).Â After dark, the four of us and a couple of my brothers’ friends settled into the back yard with a bottle and our supply of rockets.
It took us a few tries to get the range, but eventually I had the bottle situated perfectly so I could launch a rocket in a shallow trajectory over the fence to explode right outside the Lelands’ back door.Â I’m not sure how many I managed to launch before all of a sudden the lights went on at the back of their house.
We all hotfooted it in through the sliding glass doors to our darkened dining room and huddled in the back of the room laughing our heads off.Â Pretty soon the phone rang and my mom answered it.Â Now, my mother got her first job as a professional actress when she was four years old, so she was prepared.
“Hello?Â Yes, Audrey?”
“They what?Â No, my kids aren’t here tonight, they’re out with their friends.”Â (we’re all rolling on the floor trying not to make a sound in the next room)
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“How dare you accuse my children!Â They’re not here.Â You’re imagining things.Â Are you sure all your kids are in the house?”
“Audrey, I’m not interested in listening to any more of this nonsense.Â Good night.”Â *click*
One of my mom’s finest hours.Â But she did advise us we’d better aim the bottle rockets somewhere else for the rest of the night.
After all these years that still makes me smile.Â Let’s hear it for the Fourth of July.Hope you'll recommend my posts via your favorite social media. Just don't copy the material as your own.