Many years ago when I was a student at Catawba College, I decided that I didn’t want to graduate and start teaching right away. My friends were all planning weddings for the summer of 1963, but that was not in the cards for me. I worked for the chairman of the English department, Dr. Raymond Jenkins, so I approached him about the idea of going to graduate school. He encouraged me to try for it and was my number one reference. After going through the rather rigorous application process and having a couple of interviews by telephone, I had to wait until the spring before hearing that I had been awarded a graduate assistantship in the English department at the University of Tennessee, my first choice.

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Although I could have lived in a dorm for free, I would have had to be a resident counselor, so I convinced my parents to let me live off campus. That summer we went to Knoxville, found the housing office, and were given a list of people who rented rooms to grad students. After looking at several, we settled on a house on the corner of Clinch Avenue just 2 blocks from the “Hill,” where most of my classes would meet. Two maiden sisters and their ancient aunt lived in the house and rented the 3 upstairs bedrooms to graduate students. It was a fairly nice house with the 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small kitchen and dining area upstairs. They had so many different locks on the doors that it was almost impossible to get in once we had been out. (I think that’s one reason my parents chose it.)

I will never forget moving to Knoxville that fall. We were quiet on the way up even though the drive up there was beautiful before the interstate interrupted nature. When my parents left the next morning after getting me moved in, I was in a strange house with 5 strangers. I had never felt lonelier in my entire life. I wondered what in the world had possessed me to think this was going to be such a great idea!!

Gradually I got into the routine of things at a large university. My life consisted of going to classes, teaching freshman composition, working in the writing lab, studying in the Hodges library, and making friends. I had led a very sheltered life here in Mocksville and even at Catawba, a small college where we all knew each other. I was amazed at all the different races and ethnicities at the university because I had not experienced such diversity before. A group of guys from the Middle East lived in the house next to ours and would help us out in various ways and teased us all the time about marrying them so they could stay in the US!!!

Although it was difficult to be that far away from home without a car, thus limiting the time I could visit family, I have always been grateful that I went to school there because the experience enriched my life in such a way that it would not have been otherwise. I learned to get along with all kinds of people and to realize that we were all much the same, and I also am proud of the degree I earned and the opportunity it gave me to teach in many different settings. Even now, over 50 years later, I remain a huge fan of the Volunteers, most especially of women’s basketball.

CLICK HERE to read other poems and stories by Linda Barnette.

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