When I was teaching, I had almost no social life. I taught literally all the time. I taught writing which means hundreds of essays to read, correct and respond to. And, I taught seven classes. A full load for a tenured faculty member is four classes one semester, three the next. This means in a whole YEAR that person teaches as many classes as I taught in a semester. Usually they had grading assistants to help with their load. I had grading assistants two semesters in my entire 35+ year career. Seven classes means I normally taught three classes a day. My seventh class was usually on Saturday morning. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to get to know anyone.
When I moved away from California, I left virtually no friends behind except the one who, a year or two later, moved to Colorado Springs, and my wonderful neighbors who’d already moved to work and live on a ranch in Northern California.
Moving to Monte Vista changed my life in almost every way, but the desire to know people has been one of the best. I moved into a neighborhood and, in my neighborhood, I found friends.
Yesterday we got together for one of our infamous tea parties (but we had coffee). This was kind of special because it was on St. Lucia’s Day which, in my family, was always the first day of Christmas. It was the day we put up our tree. Sometimes my mother invited guests for dinner and she cooked Lutefisk of song and legend. She wasn’t Swedish, but my dad’s mom was. It was a huge event if that’s what happened.
Lutefisk is dried, salted whitefish that’s been preserved in lye. (Cue Viking music.) Lutefisk wasn’t easy to find, but my mom always managed to find it. It had to soak over night, transforming from a whiteish, silverish, grayish boardlike thing to a gelatinous mass. It was then boiled, served on boiled potatoes with a creamy white sauce that my grandmother made with real butter, my mom with margarine. Along with it we had lingonberries and potato sausage (yum). Sometimes Swedish rye bread.
My neighbor, K, is Swedish and last year we talked of a tea party on St. Lucia’s day, but I was very sick last year and it didn’t happen.
But it happened yesterday. My neighbor, E, made traditional Swedish saffron buns and I made Swedish fruit soup. Remembering that no Swede in my life EVER drank tea, I made coffee.
Our conversation went from cooking to memories to family to the future in the hands of upcoming generations (none-to-soon, IMO) to the sudden preponderance of complaints by women of sexual harassment. It’s a hot-button topic for me, not the most congenial subject, but there we were. Having been — most of the time — a single, working woman — I have had WAY too many experiences with it. When I complained to bosses, supervisors, I was NEVER believed. “He didn’t mean that,” was one response I got from a boss when a fellow teacher stood behind me while I was working on the shared computer in our office and said, “You know you want to stick your hand down my pants. Why don’t you?” He harassed another woman, too, and rather being reprimanded, he was told to get psychiatric help. Another case involved a fellow teacher who was on the tenure review committee when I was going for a tenured position. He made it very clear to me that if I didn’t “do him” I could forget tenure. I didn’t “do him” and I didn’t get tenure. When I complained, a supervising colleague believed me, but the Dean did not. These are just two stories of a long litany that left me thinking that some men (most men? all men?) will demonstrate dominance in whatever way they can whether it’s sexually or, as in the case of a boss at SDSU, by verbally abusing me in front of staff.
E seemed to think the “Me Too” movement would have an effect on changing the society. My take is that it’s human nature and that’s pretty hard to change, but maybe it would make people think twice. We didn’t reach a conclusion.
I don’t know. I am just grateful not to be on the road any more. Not to be walking into classrooms or called in by some boss who doesn’t understand what I do because he’s a system’s analyst and I’m a writing teacher. I love this valley with all my heart and soul. I like my neighbors very much and I’m grateful to have been dropped into this little nexus of kindness and old-fashioned values and manners. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems, but I suspect more Swedish saffron buns, more fruit soup, more congenial conversations, more good neighbors, more generosity of heart and soul could fix a lot of things.