|1970 - Summer - Tacking
At the window of Laura Jensen's ancient history classroom twining ivy mingled with the heat and light of summer. The brick and windowsill and window panes were of the true academic life, found at the top of a narrow turning stairwell. How was it that Laura Jensen happened to be there? What brought her to continue in college in the summer of 1970?
Laura and her older sister both went to college, they approached this gradually. From a start like Randolph, the Bear Who Said No, and other Wonder Books, there came a foreshadowing that they would go to college. They had Little Golden Books, and Wonder Books, they read antique Louisa Mae Alcott books that belonged to their mother, who read aloud from Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Elizabeth's library books looked good to Laura. Elizabeth checked out C.S. Lewis, and Lewis appeared on Laura's horizon. Arthur Ransome appeared in that way, too.
Laura's father saw that Laura read them more than once, she tried to buy one at the Rhodes Department store books section. Her father wrote to Canada for Ransome Books for Christmas. He picked up the copy of Swallows and Amazons, opened it to run his finger along the opening paragraph. He said, "This is well-written. That is why the book is really good."
In their father's stories at the breakfast nook table at supper he was really good at chemistry in high school. His stories were about how he worked his way through college, or about the army, or about the home on the lake where he was born.
Ted put down his teacup on his saucer. Past him, out the breakfast nook window, was the board wall of the house next door, its back steps and yard. It was a mirror of their breakfast nook, but only one side had a window. Marianne and Jeanne had Wheaties and Laura and Elizabeth had Cheerios.
Once when Jeanne and Elizabeth and Laura walked to Proctor Theater they saw Hound Dog Man. Of course Fabian was a monolithic face with a huge stalk of hay in his mouth because Jeanne always liked the front row.
Their mother always sat half-way back. In 1960 Fabian was in High Time with Bing Crosby. Laura and Elizabeth and their mother saw this downtown. Students studied, wrote papers, took finals. The sound track was impressionist business Henry Mancini blended with blue tones of night at fraternity windows. Out to eat at his restaurant chain, Bing pulled out cigars in cellophane printed Harvey Howard Smokeshops - It's Time for a Smoke. In the sixties and seventies, Suzallo Library had heavy designer buckets like huge stones for cigarete butts on each floor.
The semaphor of the Beatles arms across the cover of the Help Album spoke about Arthur Ransome to Laura, although she never spoke about the semaphor when she and her friends talked about books they had read. When they got in line at the Proctor Theater to see Help, Laura had not really wanted to go.
In high school Laura saw Dr. Zhivago. Images of university imprinted onto her again - microscopes, books, the geometry diagrams. And the serious dark overcoats of students.
In high school Laura read Jude the Oscure, by Thomas Hardy. Laura's mother's niece had been phi beta kappa. Her mother's cousin's son had driven from California with two co-eds. When they loaded the VW van in the morning, to go to Alaska, Laura took snapshots.
In Laura's earliest snapshot album there is a hula hoop in the front window with Christmas Lights strung around it, in nice suits Uncle Fred and Aunt Lil visit for New Year's Dinner. Uncle Fred holds the black pages of the photo album, Laura's grade school friends happen to show.
Laura did not know Uncle Fred got his father's photos when his father died in 1936, and Aunt Lil would never have carried an old photo album along on a morning's drive from Seattle. Only years later was there a time for Laura to see the photographs her father got from Uncle Fred. At first Laura did not guess it was her Aunt Christina in these photos someone has slightly colorized, she met her Aunt Christina once before Laura started school. In one photograph with baseball equipment and another in front of their little school house at the lake shore, with Ted and his brothers and his sister and other children, Christina wears overalls. Ted is too little to really be at school, but their mother has died. Christina tried to keep house for them then, but her father would whip her with a switch. One day she left on the mail boat to work in town.
Metal wind chimes swung from a thumb tack on the bracket of the roof overhang beside the window. Laura did oil painting on the linoleum floor. One album she listened to, You Were On My Mind, by We Five, had the words to "Cast Your Fate to the Wind":
I shift my course along the breeze
Won't sail upwind on memories
The empty sky is my best friend
And you just cast your fate to the wind.
Laura had read in Arthur Ransome you had to tack to sail upwind, you tacked from one side of the lake to the other to sail against the wind. At Laura Jensen's ancient history classroom windows the afternoon light deepened as the lecturer kept on. Then the students went down the narrow staircase that turned and turned again. Outside were lawn sprinklers, hot-toned flowers, gracious trees.
At the old brick dorm, casement windows opened into the garden. In her room on the first floor on a hall, she put down her books on the desk beside her stereo. Then she walked out again to an address she had phoned. The number was from a sign on a telephone pole: ROOM. The dorm was for the summer only. She had to find a place to live.