Shoehorn No Longer Required

I married my high school sweetheart after my freshman year at a small Iowa liberal arts college. He was several years older, and his work required frequent relocations. I earned a bachelor’s degree in four years by attending three undistinguished colleges. Most of that time I had a long commute and never really became a part of campus life.

“You have crammed your assignments in with a shoehorn,” I remember one journalism professor scolding in red ink on one of my hastily written papers. By the time I graduated from college, the marriage was on its last leg.


I began working at Vanderbilt in 1986, by then remarried and living on a secluded acreage with a vegetable patch and wildlife and huge, old hickory and oak trees. I think I have stayed here so many years because it gives me back what I missed with my shoehorned education. I get paid to learn about stuff and convey it to readers—what could be better than that?

Now, many years later, I find myself more immersed in college life than I ever was as a student. Last year, after 32 years of marriage, my second husband died of heart failure in Vanderbilt Hospital. Suddenly, the rambling house and acres of woods and the 40-minute drive—and, above all, the solitude—were more than I could handle. A few months after Dan’s death, I moved to a little bungalow in Hillsboro Village.

I can walk to Vanderbilt now. Half the residents in my close-knit new neighborhood are Vanderbilt professors and physicians and librarians. “You’ve come to a very nurturing place,” one neighbor, a Vanderbilt faculty member who also lost his longtime spouse to illness, told me.

Instead of the call of wild turkeys and the sweet song of bluebirds while I putter in my garden, I am serenaded by Vanderbilt’s marching band or LifeFlight helicopters—so many that I wonder how they manage to share the same air space.

At neighborhood brunches and barbecues, I hear Vanderbilt scuttlebutt I never would have been privy to before. Yesterday I spotted two pumpkins flanking the front sidewalk of a house down the street. One was labeled “Caesar,” the other “Brutus.”

If I want to attend a Blair Sunday concert or an evening lecture at Wilson Hall, I don’t have to cram it in with a shoehorn.

As Cervantes said, when one door closes, another opens. Or maybe that was Alexander Graham Bell, or possibly Helen Keller. I’m still working on my college education.


Share this post