Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights - tangledpasta.net

Friday Night Lights – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

One of the few television programs I watched was Friday Night Lights.  Now I am able to relive the excitement of the show through Netflix.  In as much as I relish Friday Night Lights, it tugs at my heartstrings.  This has much to do with hearkening back to those Friday night football games of my small Catholic high school and the rush of adrenaline in cheering on a winning football team.

And win we did.  As the Vietnam War raged on, filling the newspapers and nightly news programs with gory scenes of war in a far off country, high school football permitted our minds to drift elsewhere, at least on Friday nights.  While race riots and urban terrorist networks burned our major cities, wreaking death and havoc nationwide, we screamed and yelled for our high school football team.  It made the chaos beyond our turf’s realm disappear, at least on Friday nights.

Years later, we reside near the local public high school that my daughter attended.  Daylight grows shorter, and dusk casts its shadows earlier than I like, yet the roar of the crowd in the high school stadium, the queues of cars up and down our residential streets, the jubilant shouts of spectators, the blasting echo of the sports announcers combine to remind me of the joy of watching a football team’s win on the field.  My high school alma mater’s team went downstate for championship games throughout my four years at the school.  To this day, photographs of those championship seasons line the walls of the school.

I played in the band for those football games of yore.  We had to have been the smallest of the area’s high school bands, but we had a young, dynamic bandleader, and our hearts were strong because we got to play our school’s fight song repeatedly throughout those four years.  Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights, has that same square-jawed look of determination that my high school’s Head Coach had.  The Assistant Coaches on Friday Night Lights remind me of the handsome ones at my alma mater during those four championship seasons.  The electric charge that runs through the Texas-based football show’s student body, boosters, team, and coaching staff, never fails to rekindle the passion of my adolescent self in the bleachers of those Friday Night Lights of yore.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part III

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment - tangledpasta.net

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

Next month heralds once more my return to my alma mater, Indiana University Bloomington, for an event that merits pride and happiness:  My daughter’s graduation. She  will be awarded her B.A. degrees in Journalism and Classical Studies, and her minor in Art History.  She will walk Commencement that morning, as will my darling nephew Daniel that afternoon on the same campus.  Our family joins them for receptions for at their respective schools the night before. The next day they will don their cap and gown, crimson stole, and fasten the tassels of their schools to their mortar boards.

No doubt I shall shed tears of joy at their academic achievements.

When I graduated in 1976 from the aforementioned university, I didn’t walk Commencement.  Having officially graduated in August, I would have had to wait until either December or the following May for Commencement.  The wait, coupled with  graduating with 4,0000 other soon-to-be-former students, held little charm for me.  My parents were not college graduates, yet three of my mother’s brothers obtained their M.D. degrees from the IU School of Medicine, another brother had a degree in Business from IU, and still another was a Purdue Engineering graduate.  It wasn’t that Mama refused to go to college; it was simply that her family with nine children was cash poor.

In short, my parents didn’t push me to attend my Commencement.  My brother, however, had other ideas.  Five years younger than I, when the time came for his IU graduation, we witnessed his Commencement and celebrated with him.  In those years, it was I who colored outside the lines, and my brother who very much colored within those lines.  I was the risk-taker; he followed a more conservative path.  Perhaps it reflected my writing, literary, and musical pursuits that contrasted with his economics and business ones.  Whatever it was in the ‘70’s, the fact remains that I elected not to walk Commencement, he did.

Having grown up in the 1960’s and having come of age in the 1970’s, our culture was different:  The racial riots burned metropolises nationwide, urban terrorism terrorized city-dwellers, the women’s movement left gender roles confused, the Sexual Revolution condoned random sex, and the Vietnam War broke everyone’s heart.  My daughter has come of age in a 21st century cultural landscape of economic chaos, crippling college debt, a declining job market for college graduates, and gratuitous violence.  She stands as my hope for a better future.  You bet I will be there to cheer her on as she graduates in May.  I applaud her pending law school endeavors, passion, fervor, intellect, and compassion.  Not only is she is the light of my life, her luminous vision wants to make this a better world.  I remember the feel of that inner fire, that smoldering passion of those undergraduate and graduate years at my alma mater.  I know that my daughter will shine her light too, with her IU degrees in hand.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater

 

 

The Old Well House, IU Bloomington - tangledpasta.net

The Old Well House, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

This weekend I’m back at my old stomping ground, IU Bloomington, where I spent my undergrad and grad school years.  This is Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s sorority house.  Blowing in to town around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, I met my daughter at her house, handed her the cooler filled with Italian Easter bread, Italian lamb cake, Belgian bunny cookies, and homemade tortellini.  After checking into our hotel, we sped off for a late dinner at The Uptown Cafe.

This particular Mom’s Weekend is a milestone of sorts:  After her May graduation,  no more Mom’s Weekends, no more Little 500 weekends.  Nostalgia washes over me.  While she’s working at the School of Journalism, I’m imbibing a Venti Zen tea at  Starbucks in the IU Memorial Union, a sprawling Indiana limestone structure with gothic windows reminiscent of medieval England.   The cacophony of students and faculty seated at the morass of tables in this large Starbucks is upbeat.  It’s Friday; today’s sunshine promises a sun-drenched weekend.  Classes end later this month, so soon, so sadly, but not for the students, I’m certain.  The rapid passage of these four years takes my breath away.

She chose IU Bloomington over Loyola-Chicago.  Not that I don IU spirit wear on game weekends, although Hoosier Fever was endemic during the legendary Bobby Knight years.  With Bobby at the epicenter of IU basketball, we students circled in his orb.  We spilled out on to Kirkwood Avenue, celebrating wildly after the NCAA Championship wins.  Good times.  Anjelica has had classes in Ballantine, where I savored almost every English class during my undergrad years.  She has walked much the same routes that I did on her daily campus treks.  She is fortunate that the School of Journalism stands on the original, the prettiest part of the campus.  IU is a limestone wonder, but the older buildings remind one of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  During her first two years, Anjelica was ensconced in Collins Living and Learning Center, located a block from the “J-School”.  Collins played up its kinship to the Harry Potter books and movies.  After she pledged the sorority, she initially missed Collins’ Disco Calzone Nights.

I remember the raging intellectual curiosity of the 1970’s on the campus:  The anti-Vietnam War protests; the combative Feminist Movement; civil disobedience; the fall-out from 1964’s Civil Rights Act; and Watergate.  While protests still occur on the campus, they lack the mammoth national proportions of protests of yore.  Yet as I gaze around me, a surge of hope washes over me.  This generation may lack the passion we had of the ‘70’s, but students are poised to explore the depths of commitments, no less intellectually challenged in this 21st century. I remain hopeful for the future through the leadership of students like my daughter.

My alma mater, flawed though she may be, nonetheless stands tall.  Big Red Rules!

Ciao for now.

Veteran’s Day, With a Dash of Panache

When my father was drafted into the U.S Army in during World War II, he posted a sign in his shoe shop window announcing that the business would be closed until he returned from the war.  Papa had been in the United States for ten years, having arrived on Ellis Island in 1933 from Southern Italy.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you come here during the Depression?” I used to ask him.

“It was-a still-a okay to work in-a the United-a-States-a.  Italy no gotta nothin’ in-a 19-a-33.  It was-a hell-a,” he told me.

Papa was first sent to Texas for basic training.

“It was-a hell-a in-a that heat,” he observed.

Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Te...

Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Texas. Santa Fe R.R. trip (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

He was then transferred to Louisiana.

“Oh, my achin’-a back,” he lamented.  “It was a swamp-a and-a humidity to kill-a horse-a,” he remarked.

Louisiana Swamp

Louisiana Swamp (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

“Why did you have to go in the Army?  You served in the Italian Army,” I argued.

“Listen-a to me-a, Honey.  It’s a honor to serve-a you country.  America is-a my-a country.  My-a country-a need-a me.  I go-a to-a the Army, ” Papa solemnly said.

Patriotism was a duty as he saw it.

During the Vietnam War, I attended a Big 10 college where anti-war demonstrations were common.  When I locked horns with Papa over the Vietnam draft dodgers, he was unmoved.

“I no-a say this-a war is-a right.  Soldiers-a die, and that’s-a bad.  But we-a in it and that’s-a that.”

I loved my father dearly, even when we differed in our attitudes about U.S. foreign policy.  He had an unshakable faith in the country that allowed him to realize his dreams of work, family, and college-educated children.  He proudly voted, he loyally served his city, his adopted country, his church, and his family.

U.S. Flag

U.S. Flag (Photo credit: vmf-214)

Papa was a true patriot.  He was a hero who never let me or anyone else down.  On this Veteran’s Day, Papa, I can still hear your voice ringing in my ears:

“God-a Bless America!

And all of Her Veterans.

Ciao for now.

A Professor Most Honorable

Jane Austen

Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was but a sprig of an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, I had the incredible good fortune to take a literature course with a professor named Susan Gubar.  As one from a small town in northern Indiana, and one who had attended Catholic parochial elementary and high school to boot, I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of IU Bloomington.  These were the Vietnam War years, and the campus was bursting at the seams with students, protests, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution.  I dyed my long hair black, ceased wearing a bra, wore big wire-rimmed glasses [very John Lennon], donned tie-dyed clothing, and shlepped around the campus in bell-bottom jeans.  My Italian father thought I had gone to hell; my mother prayed that I would return to more flattering attire and my natural hair color.

Susan Gubar and her co-author Susan Gilbert had just finished what was to be a landmark book:  Madwomen in the Attic.  The minute I stepped into Professor Gubar’s classroom, my world tilted.  She encouraged us to voice our ideas about the literature – George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette,

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jane Austin’s Emma and Persuasion to name a few.  Coming from straight lecture courses on literature where I found myself falling asleep while another professor waxed poetic on Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn for a week, I had little hope of Susan’s course being any different.  How wrong I was.

Often as the years pass, the memories of which professor one had for what course dim.  Not so my memories Susan Gubar and of intellectual engagement in the three literature courses I took with her.  Her insatiable pursuit of the exploration of literature, particularly Victorian literature at that time, made an indelible impression upon me.  If ever I were to teach, I told myself, I want to create a dynamic environment that fosters literary discussion.  Susan Gubar remains for me, even after my thirty-two years of teaching in higher education, the yardstick against which I measure myself.  Prizes and accolades Susan has received in spades.  However, I think one of her greatest achievements is inspiring those of us fortunate enough to have studied literature with her.

Now, in Susan Gubar’s Well Blog in The New York Times, she teaches us about coping with cancer, in Susan’s case, ovarian cancer.  Through her powerful voice, I find myself inspired all over again.

Ciao for now.