Spring Semester, 1960
By itself it was unremarkable, a boxy desk made of cheap materials with a fake wood veneer, a standard issue object that populated countless offices in college campuses. What was odd was the way it stood in the professor’s office, turned sideways, so that one short side met the wall just inside the door. Any student entering that office to meet with the professor would push the door open to the right, while to the immediate left squatted that huge desk, with two plastic chairs positioned primly underneath its cavernous opening, a grudging invitation for the student to sit, perhaps with a friend. On the other side, the private side where the drawers and compartments were, slouched the professor.
He taught two of the classes I was taking for my final semester, Introductory Statistics and History of Social Sciences. He had an unusual name, Matthias Szczepanski. The other students gave up struggling with his name after the first class and called him “Professor S.” But I was curious. Where was he from? One day, after class, I surmounted my natural shyness, and, ignoring that forbidding desk, I seated myself on the prissy plastic seat to ask him how to pronounce his name.
“SHUH-CHAY-PAN-SKEE” He made me repeat it several times, until I was rewarded by a smile that wasn’t exactly a smile, a suggestion of a curve in those thin lips, while his light-brown eyes claimed me.
I went home that day, my mind wrapped around my professor, as if I were a snug piece of velvet hiding a jewel. I lived a few miles away with my parents. Father was the minister of the Lutheran church, Mother was a homemaker. My parents had reluctantly granted my request to go to University, provided that I continue to live with them. When I’d finally gathered the courage in my first year to ask Father why it was necessary to continue living at home, he put down the sermon he was working on and immobilized me with his disapproving look.
“Isn’t it obvious, Caroline?” he said, the tone of his voice making me curl up inside. “Unchaperoned young people get up to all sorts of—unsavory doings. I do not want you to be mixed up in all of that. Your mother and I have certain—expectations.” [To be continued.]