Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog
EL PASO – As students observe their professors’ personalities, myths (or truths) build up around their looks, mannerisms, and voices. I was known for my earrings and laughter, among other things known and unbeknownst. One graduate student suggested that they record my laughter and rig it to play in the building at random times or places after I retired. I asked about the students who never knew me. What would they think? Alma just said that the story would be passed on to new students in an oral tradition, the chisme about la Howard, as she called me … or more rumors of ghosts in Old Main.
What about the earrings? Well, almost every student who ever sat in my class noticed that I had a lot of earrings, all dangly and colorful. I had to admit I was an earring fanatic. I had plenty to begin with, but students brought me even more when they journeyed. One colleague even gave me the earrings she was wearing because I admired them. I had so many earrings I didn’t even know how many. One student asked.
Two years ago, when I quit smoking, I needed something to do with my hands, so naturally (!) it occurred to me to make earrings. I supposed I haven’t spent as much money on beads and wire as I would have on cigarettes, but now I have hundreds more pairs of earrings. I give them away, sell them at La Parada, and even had a booth at the July Jamboree in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. I make some earrings out of boxes of springs I buy at the hardware store and call them my “spring collection.” Some of my earrings are pretty and elegant, some are large and flamboyant, and some are just silly. I made this pair of earrings that were orange and blue swirly cuffed socks out of clay. A young woman bought them this summer at the Jamboree, much to her mother’s annoyance.
The story of how I became an earring fanatic is even more interesting. I did not have pierced ears for the first 22 years of my life. In 1970, the National Guard was called out to protect the student union building at the University of New Mexico from students who were unhappy about the Vietnam War in general, and the students who had died at the hands of the National Guard at Kent State in particular. I was among a group of students milling around campus to see what was happening. Nothing was very organized. I remember the troops with fixed bayonets looked like they were still in high school, and a student named Dressler who was photographing the event was wounded by a Guardsman.
After some time, four of us decided to go to a bar near campus for barbeque sandwiches and a beer. We were all similarly dressed in jeans and tennis and t-shirts. Paul Zamora and I slipped into one side of the booth and two additional friends in the opposite bench. We ordered. Only a few minutes passed before I heard muttering and snickering from the booth behind us. It became progressively louder and somehow more ominous. Finally, we understood that their comments referred to Paul and me. They thought we were a gay couple and thought it was their prerogative to say whatever they wished about what they thought, at a volume that included us in their airspace. I turned around in the booth and spoke to them, whereupon they realized I was not a man.
Only a few minutes later the “frat boy” types had disappeared, and we were grateful. Then the waitress brought us a pitcher that had been paid for by the booth behind us. Small price to pay for their rudeness I thought. But the boys in the booth and the guardsmen were already receding in my thoughts, and foremost was the notion that I might look like a man. I went to the bathroom to look at and evaluate my looks in the mirror. I did have short curly hair and glasses, just like Paul, and we both had on jeans and t-shirts, and I had small breasts and … I didn’t wear earrings.
When we are young and people say hurtful things, it is much harder than when we are older. That’s the message of several initiatives, including Teaching Tolerance, It Gets Better, and this blog. That is one of the “other things” in the blog title. We need to be able to remember this lesson.
I got my ears pierced and made a habit of wearing earrings. Eventually Paul and I both got Ph.Ds. I am betting that the boys in the booth didn’t. And I am betting there are ghosts in Old Main or there will be one day. Students will either be afraid or think of it as a happy building.