In the summer of 1980, my contractual job ended, my lease was expiring, and I felt as if I was in dire straits. I talked to my friend, Twiggy, a fellow writer and fellow transplant while we both lived in Atlanta. She was like that ram in the bush. She knew someone in Ohio who was the director of a summer program called Upward Bound.
This was pre-internet days, but she made the phone call. It was a connection, so I pulled out my trusty road maps, packed up my Buckhead apartment with the help of another angel friend and when all systems said go, I headed north to Columbus, Ohio.
Once there, I met my soon to be boss and she graciously accommodated me for one night as we made one another’s acquaintance. The next day we headed up to Delaware, Ohio which is the home of Ohio Wesleyan University, where we would be stationed for the summer. I was hired as the Education Coordinator who led and advised the other teachers.
The staff was made up of people from all walks of life who converged there to make some summer money and to work with the inner-city youth from Columbus. Many were fresh college graduates, but one stood out from us all. He was an actor from New York whose very presence demanded attention. Over time, he started calling me Evita Peron and the musical, Evita, was out at that time. Whenever, I entered a room, in this loud bellowing voice, he started singing, “Evita, Evita!” I would just laugh.
We silently doubted whether he was a real actor, but as fate would have it, a few years hence, I saw him in Spike Lee’s first movie, “She’s Gotta Have It.” I was speechless as I sat there and watched him on the big screen. And a few years after that, I saw him as a lead character in the movie Daughters of the Dust about the Gullah people, on television. (Research that.)
Our housing accommodations were great on the campus. About three of us had a huge fraternity house which was empty for the summer. We had about three rooms apiece and we shared the kitchen and the living room. One day, we all stood frozen in front of the television as we watched the story of Richard Pryor’s freebasing accident. Time stood still as we wondered if he would pull through. As we now know, he went on to recover and continued to make films though we feared that we had lost him at that time.
There were the daily challenges of dealing with young teens who were often frustrated, angry and filled with pent up emotions, but that is the purpose of the Upward Bound program. We were there to let them know that there are other ways to live, and to let them see the beauty and peace of Delaware. I love college towns because they are often quaint, safe and peopled with those who both read and think.
On weekends, if I felt as if the walls were closing in on me, I would drive to Columbus, rent a room and just breathe. Or I would meet friends who were locals that had swimming pools at their apartment complexes. But, whenever, I entered back into Delaware, it was like re-entering an enchanted forest. There was a calm there. I later met another supervisor, Larry G. who referred to Ohio Wesleyan as that bump on the hill. (He had been there.)
That summer, I purchased my first collection of poems by Maya Angelou called, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie. That was the beginning of a long love affair with Dr. Maya because after that, I read almost everything that she wrote during her lifetime. I also found my first The Writer magazine and I subscribed to it for many years as I prepared for things to come.
Once, we drove up to Bowling Green State University for some job-related event. We were always looking for ways to enjoy the Ohio area. On another, occasion, I walked the grounds of The Ohio State University. That was special because it was the alma mater of my former supervisor from Mississippi. It had been a brave trek for him, and he made certain that I added the The in front of Ohio State University when I was typing for him. He was so proud of his specialist degree from that esteemed university.
Some other highlights include seeing the movie All that Jazz with Roy Scheider. The open-heart surgery scene was both graphic and memorable for me. At another point, I went to observe the young photography teacher show his students how to develop film in the huge darkroom at Rutherford B. Hayes High School. It was a real treat as I watched them learning those detailed techniques.
Yes, I stepped out on faith that summer and I do not regret it! I will forever hold fond memories of Ohio Wesleyan University and my time spent in Delaware, Ohio. And no, I would not take anything for the journey as I navigated uncharted waters. I simply count it all joy!
March 12, 2022