Friday, April 12, 2013

The trials of a super-young college student

I was 17 1/2 when I went away to Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington, a fine school and my father's Alma Mater.  I was almost 18 when I left college, defeated.  I'd completed one semester, spent all my money, and was being driven nuts working for a budding psychologist going through medical menopause.

Many years had passed since my father attended Pacific Lutheran College.  He arrived with an inheritance that paid the bills, was a good student, and had a lot of fun.

Ready for college?

I arrived with a $200 scholarship for Youth Leadership that almost paid for my tuition and another $250 saved by babysitting kids over the summer to pay other expenses.  I also had the promise of a job working for room and board.  I had been working in someone else's home for money since I was 10 or 11.  I didn't think it would be hard.  It was.

My boss (Ginger),  seemed determined to be sure I failed.  If I tried to wash the dishes, I was told their two daughters had that job.  If I was asked to tidy and clean the living areas, I had to find a bit of time between the preschool she ran in two of the rooms, her friends visiting, and the family watching TV in the living room.

The harder I tried, the more I failed.  Not only that, but I was having trouble with school.  I was in a nursing program that led to a BS in nursing.  In the summer I was supposed to study at a hospital for practical training.  I didn't know how I was going to earn the money if I worked through the summers.  Everyone reassured me that I could do it.  No one was putting money in my pocket.  I didn't have the resourcefulness that my grandchildren have.  I didn't know how to work and go to school at the same time.  Give me a break.  I was only 17.

It all flew apart when Ginger's nephew Mark got married.  He was in the service and hadn't seen his fiance Jean in a year.  Mark would be home for two weeks, marry Jean, then be gone again.  Ginger was very fond of her nephew and seemed to be taking over the wedding plans.  (Not my problem.)  However, Jean asked me for a special favor.  She and I knew that if Ginger was there to meet the plane, Jean would hardly get a chance to kiss Mark hello before Ginger took him away.  Jean wanted me to tell Ginger that the plane was coming in 1/2 hour after the actual arrival so Mark and Jean would have a few minutes for themselves.

It was a simple favor and a no-brainer to a 17-year-old.  I told the lie.  Jean and Mark thanked me.  When she found out, Ginger blew her top.  I was ungrateful.  I was sabotaging her relationship with the new couple, etc., etc.  It was all heaped on my head.  Not on Jean and Mark's.

And then there was school.  I had never learned to study.  I easily passed my high school classes hardly reading the book.  I didn't think college would be different, but it was.  I was no longer the smartest kid in school.  I was one of the smart kids, but not the smartest.   I was taking Human Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, History and the accompanying labs for a total of 20 credits a semester.  I didn't have  the sense yet to know this was too much.  I was always broke while my few friends always had plenty of money to spend.

I was in over my head.  When Ginger screamed at me, I called my parents several times.  They urged me to stay in school, promising to send money they didn't have.  Frankly, I didn't expect the money anyway.  I had three brothers at home.  My parent's money had to go a long ways.  After waffling over several days, I packed my bags and went downstairs to call a taxi.  (No cell phones yet.)  Ginger had her own standards and her husband drove me to the train station.

I knew my parents would be very disappointed in me.  I was understandably reluctant to actually tell them I had quit school a few weeks into a new semester (yes, fees and such were paid and not refunded).  Worse yet, I had been at the mall wandering through the stores while I pondered what to do.  I had spent most of my remaining money on two cashmere sweaters (on sale).  I know,  it sounds just like a teenager.  I was one.

I didn't have enough money to get home.  My plan was to go to my grandparents home in Portland and stay there, get a job, and move out when I could.  I called them and told them I was coming.  They undoubtedly thought it was for a weekend.

My grandfather was a gentleman, a German who had migrated to the US at the turn of the century.  He wore three-piece suits, white shirts, and a Homburg on his head.  People looked up to him. Respected him. My father said he was a tyrant of the old school.
Grandpa Mau with my daughter Lisa.

The weekend came and went and I stayed.  Unknown to me, my grandparents were talking on the phone with my parents.  Then grandfather came to me.  He asked if I was missing school and I said that I was.  He asked if I was going back to school and I said that I wasn't.  He then explained that while he and my grandmother loved me very much, they were too old to have a teenager living in their home.  If I found work, what would it be?  How would I get there?  Where would I live?

He had me.  My poorly thought out plans had been exposed and found wanting.  My grandfather said I should go home.  I told him I had no money.  Well then, he said, we gave you a $25 savings bond when you were born.  Do you still have it?  I did.  Truthfully, I hadn't been allowed to touch it.  Grandfather said he'd loan me the money for a train ticket to California if I would pay him back by cashing in the savings bond.  He didn't leave me any other options.

So, I bought a ticket on what they called the "milk train" because it stopped and delivered milk and produce all along its route.  Usually the only people who rode it were on railroad passes.  I wanted to ride this train because I wasn't in a hurry to get home.  It also stopped in my home town so my parents wouldn't have to drive to another city to meet me.  I was a puppy coming home with her tail between her legs.

As you might guess, my parents greeted me with love and confusion.  They didn't understand what the problem was and I would only cry.  They let me cry and sleep for a month.  At the end of the month they told me I either had to return to school or get job - a real job.  My father had made inquiries and a job as a telephone operator looked like it would work.  It did.

Life often isn't as bad as you think it is when you're young.  I took the job, made lots of money, went back to school with money in my pocket and an old car to drive.  I hate to say it, but having the money made a huge difference.

Having family that loved me enough to help me work things out - that made a difference to.



  1. This was great to read! And I had no idea you were planning to study nursing at one point! Or had quit. :D Guess we have a lot in common, huh? ;)

  2. We do have a lot in common Brynne. I'd never put this story into a package before. I can see now that I needed a lot of good support and wasn't getting it. I was too proud to ask for it, but more than that I thought I could handle it.

    Quitting school was good and it was bad. I couldn't go on under the current conditions, but once home with some money in my pocket, I did return to school and got an AA in Liberal Arts. I love Liberal Arts degrees. You can take most anything you want to.

    Later, my company sent me to night school for about another year's credits. But by then, I was only taking courses that I was interested in or those that helped me do well on the job.

    I realized at 50 that I had found my place in the working world and didn't need a degree to keep it. That's not quitting. It just makes sense.

    Thanks for commenting.


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