REMINISCENCES : The whole experience reawakened my
appreciation of a quote from someone, maybe Mark Twain,
who noted, "The
past is like a foreign country. People do things differently
Recently, Dr. Mary-Jeanette Smythe,
Enfield alumni, class of 1962, sat down and did the following
interview. M.J. is Associate Professor and Director of
Undergraduate Studies, Department of Communication, at
University of Missouri, Columbia. She received her PhD
from Florida State University, and resides in Columbia.
The following are her own words...
EDITOR: Tell us about your career, and life today.
JEANETTE: I'm a professor,
which according to one of my youngest friends (Nathan, an insightful
six year old) means, “she
talks ALL of the time.” As
one of my more cynical colleagues is fond of saying, ‘It beats
a real job all to hell and back.” And he is right, to the extent
that it offers the most freedom to do what you want to do and
not be self-employed along with a generally pleasant physical
and social environment as a workplace (college campuses are
usually scenic spots, and the people there are, as Garrison
Keillor might note, often above average ;-). On the other hand,
this is not the profession you should pursue if you want to
EDITOR: I believe that everyone has a passion
in life, literature, the arts, music, etc. What is yours?
JEANETTE: Knowledge. Yeesh!
What a cliche. But there it is. Like most academics, I am of
the knowledge-for-its-own-sake clan.
EDITOR: You still have family in Enfield
. Do you visit often?
JEANETTE: Whenever I can. Less so since my beloved sister, Dannie
Willis, died. I like to tease my family there that they must
think they have to get passports and inoculations to visit another
state since they so rarely come to my place.
EDITOR: Do you think you will return to this area when you retire?
JEANETTE: Probably not. I'm
not sure about retirement at all, given the adage that “if
you rest, you rust.” Like most,
I think of retirement as something that people do when they
are much older than me. Duh.
EDITOR: When you return, what do you feel
are the biggest changes? Cosmetically, of course, Enfield is
so different than when you grew up, but what feelings do you
get from the people who still live in the area?
JEANETTE: I hardly know anyone except members of my own
family, so I guess the main feeling I have is one of a stranger
or observer; someone looking back over their shoulder into
the past, trying to see what has become of those people and
things she remembers.
EDITOR: From an educator's point of view,
when you look back on your education in the Enfield school
system, what was it like? Do you feel you got a quality education?
JEANETTE: Now that's
a hoot! I remember fairly little about studying or taking anything
very seriously. College came as a rude awakening to me because
I had not had to study or establish very efficient work habits
in high school. Since I did get admitted to college, I must
have gotten something other than fingernail polish on my ACT
(sorry, incredibly lame attempt at humor), and that would have
been the result of my education. I remember all of the teachers,
and given what they had to endure, each of them should have
received hazardous duty pay.
EDITOR: Who was your favorite teacher?
In what area did you excel?
JEANETTE: Clyde Anderson was
the best geometry teacher ever. I was horrible at anything
mathematical and still ended up in Algebra II under his direction.
WD Norris was full of irony, much of which went right past
my head, until I was older. JoAnn Corcoran seemed shatteringly
sophisticated to me, and of course, Wreathe Nicholson, who
taught each of my siblings before I came along, was a model
of patience and guarded enthusiasm for her students. I credit
her for introducing me to the plays of Shakespeare and for
not kicking me out of class for good when Nina Kay and I started
calling Julius Caesar, the play we read that year, “Big Julie.”
IF I excelled at anything then, it was probably
writing. I used to write short stories featuring my classmates
in war stories, tangled romances, and assorted other adventures.
How nerdy was that? They actually liked ‘em.
EDITOR: Mule Days was so important to all of us
when we were growing up, we looked forward to it all year. What
is your favorite recollection of Mule Days?
JEANETTE: There are so many,
many memories of Mule Day because it was practically as important
as any holiday on the calendar. Much anticipated, and utterly
exciting while it lasted. One of the memories I have that strikes
me as particularly odd today is that each year before Mule
Day the streets were covered with an oily tar-like substance
and then topped off with sawdust from Kern Taylor's lumber
yard. This stuff smelled and stained like nothing I've seen
before or since. I suppose it was useful for keeping the dust
off the dirt roads, but you needed to ride your bike or
walk very carefully to avoid getting that concoction all over
The parades were always fun. I remember nearly bursting with
pride when I was in grade school and a group of us came out of
Ruemmler's Drug Store as the high school band was practicing
marching a few weeks before Mule Day. My big brother Bud was
the drum major, and as he strutted past with the baton aloft,
blasting the count for the band with the whistle, he seemed larger-than-life
to me. Talk about reflected glory. For a few minutes my schoolmates
were properly impressed.
Less thrilling and extremely less dignified are some of my memories
of my own participation in the parades. One in particular used
to get me teased by older folk in Enfleld. The Enfield News had
a float in the parade when I was about six or seven. My brother
Tom and I were costumed as Indians (appropriate for the little
savages that we were, no doubt) and placed on the float with
the responsibility of throwing the small newspapers into the
eager throngs as the parade proceeded up Main St . Well, that
was the plan anyway. My mother was standing at the corner of
the intersection of Main and highway 45, waiting to see us go
by. As she told it, ripples of laughter preceded the arrival
of our float. Tom and I had had some dispute and like truly well-behaved
children, started fighting one another instead of tossing the
sample papers. The driver pulling the float apparently had no
success in stopping the brawl and was guffawing at the display
along with everyone else. Except our mother. I think we had to
spend Mule Day afternoon in the house. Ouch.
EDITOR: You lived downtown as a child. What was
it like? What were your favorite activities? Favorite stores??
JEANETTE: Now this is a funny question. You
call it downtown, and Jan, you know that up and down in the
Enfield of our youth was always determined by the big hill
on the west end of town and the high school on the east end.
Relative to both of those, our house was uptown. If the walls
of that house could only speak... some fairly riotous times
were had there. The house was built by my great-grandfather
Kuykendall, who erected the first brick building (known to
our generation as Marlin's grocery store) in Enfield and as
a child, the thing I loved most about the house was all of
the “gingerbread” trim
that it had, especially the stained glass window frames. I
would press my face against the glass and see what the world
looked like through wavy shades of red, green, and blue panes.
The downside of life in that house included the proximity of
a busy highway. We lost many pets on that strip of highway
What I remember most is playing all of the
time as a kid. We played chase on bicycles, had ball games
in the park and everyone's back yard, and games of hide and
go seek after it got dark. When I was older, there was Teen
Town , which was great place to hang out. It was open on Tuesday,
Friday, and Saturday nights. I loved to dance, so this was
a favorite scene. Of course, I had to go to college before
I met any guys who danced to anything but slow numbers. Enfield
rules were apparently that real guys don't fast dance. And
that's just what we called it – fast-dancing. Not
jitterbug, bop, or lindy-hop. Just fast-dancing.
Of course, Hazelip's store has a special place in my heart,
and I would really love to have Ray Ruemmler make me one of his
lemon-lime phosphates. This tart soda fountain concoction was
served over ice in one of those white dixie-cups stuck into a
black plastic holder. Lip puckeringly sour and very refreshing.
EDITOR: What do you miss most about living
in a small town?
JEANETTE: The sense of community, I suppose,
and the security that comes from knowing everyone you see (or
the illusion that you do, which of course is totally wrong,
but it's the feeling you have) day in and day out.
EDITOR: What makes you glad that you left?
JEANETTE: The adventures to be had. I
have always had wanderlust, and have been lucky enough to
travel quite a lot . There is a part of me that craves the
anonymity of a crowd and the chance to observe and speculate
about the lives of strangers.
EDITOR: Let's conclude the interview
with a few quick questions, it's amazing the insight you can
get about a person with just these simple questions...
JEANETTE: NOW THIS IS SCARY!!
What do you love most, sunrise,
Hmmm...that would be sunrise, I think.
Remember Grizzabella, the glamour cat's lyric from Memory
new day has begun.” It's all about hope and fresh starts.
One that involves travel, being pampered, and being challenged.
Schizoid, right? Being in new places, facing something novel
and/or intriguing, and having none of the typical day-to-day
responsibilities sounds great to me.
Bagel, cream cheese in the morning, or yogurt
Definitely an onion or salt bagel with a generous schmear. Some
fresh nova from the Carnegie Deli would be good, too.
Movie-freak alert here. You have to be specific about genre.
Can't choose a drama over a comedy, action/adventure over chick/flick,
musical over documentary. I have favorites in all categories.
Jazz, classical, rock?
Love them all, but face it, I'm from the
rock ‘n roll era. I
haven't outgrown my crush on Paul McCartney and still go to
Rolling Stones concerts.
I've always adored sports cars. My parents
gave me their classic 1948 Dodge Wayfarer roadster – a model
that was only produced for two years, I think -- when I was
19. It was a fantastic car, but did not do well in the humid
salt air of Ft. Lauderdale , FL. . A collector rescued it and
restored it with original leather and all the accoutrements
and took it to a kinder climate. When I was in graduate school
at FSU, I had an adorable British sports car, a solid black
Austin Healy Sprite with a red leather interior. My boyfriend
Alex had a green Alpine Tiger with a red racing stripe, so
we thought we were well matched. Unfortunately, my Sprite liked
to spend about as much time at the Purple Turtle Garage (the
only place in Tallahassee with the tools for foreign engines)
as it did speeding around the spanish-moss draped roads of
northern Florida . Never found a repair shop for Alex....:-)
My most recent love was my Mazda RX-7, which I drove with great
glee until another driver attempted a left turn at a local intersection,
right across the hood of my car. After that, my fantasy car morphed
into a Hummer with a large gun mount on the hood. Like many,
other people's driving makes me a little whacky.
Dog or cat?
Both!! Life without the fur-faces would be dismal indeed. Currently,
I have two golden retrievers, Cowboy and Carmella, and one solid
black diva of a cat, Maggie. The goldens are rescued dogs who
have that classic golden, life-of-the-party, disposition despite
some shaky times in their earlier lives.
Ocean or mountains?
Again, both. Like John Denver, I fell
in love with the Rockies when I moved back to the midwest and
began making treks to Colorado to hike or ski, and of course,
my life long love affair with my adopted home of Florida includes
way too many sunburns on the beach. Best places to combine
the two that I've seen include Big Sur, Puerto Vallarta, Mex
(back in the 60's when it was just a village), Cannon Beach,
OR, and Greece .
Denim or silk?
Well, both are natural fabrics, so that's
an attraction. Remember double-knit and polyester fabrics?
yikes. This one is close, but denim ---it's that ‘60's thing
Too hard. So many great places to eat, so little time to try
This, I hope, is still ahead of me. OMG, that sounds so lame.
EDITOR: Thanks so much, Jeanette
for your humor, your insight, and all of your wonderful memories.
I have so many fond memories of you, and hope to visit with
you the next time you visit Enfield...