Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Meeting the Major Prof

Tales of the PhD defense over at Unbalanced Reaction reminded me of a bit of ancient history, one that we had been talking about just the other day here at the Pion household: When My Mom First Met My Major Prof.

It happened in the few months between when I first met Mrs. Pion and when we started dating, on a football weekend when my parents visited campus and we went to the Land Grant Tavern ... the same one my niece used to celebrate her graduation. My mom got carded (which really made her day), but that is another story.

This one is even better.

My parents show up in mid morning for an early tailgate brunch at the house we were renting in the heart of gentrified faculty homes. Awesome house (owner was a physics prof on sabbatical) and awesome location. Walking distance to campus, but well past the range that undergrads will walk so no student slum dwellings or cars cluttering up the streets trying for free parking.

During the usual greetings, my Mom mentions this "poor man" she saw walking down the street as they drove to the house. It was a chilly day and he couldn't even afford any socks.

Lights go off in my head.

Was he wearing Top Siders, deck shoes that look like moccasins, and a tan London Fog raincoat? Older, gray hair, walking sort of slowly and aimlessly, etc etc?

Why, yes.

Ah, that was probably my major professor, Dr. Scatter. He lives a few blocks over that way and often walks around the neighborhood when he doesn't have time to go hiking.

She thought I was joking. For good reason, since I am my father's son, and often make fully factual observations in a joking manner and make outrageous statements with a straight face. But I wasn't joking.

So a couple years later they are in town because I was going to be given an award, and they meet Dr. Scatter at the reception. Mom could not believe her eyes.

Yep. That guy she thought was a homeless man without enough money for socks was him. A world famous physicist. And he was wearing those same Top Siders with his suit, and no socks.


plam said...

I don't know what it is about socks. Some people don't seem to wear socks often enough, while I get dissed for wearing socks too often (they greatly improve the comfortableness of sandals).

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Awesome! I hope others will comment and/or post THEIR family's first introduction to their major profs. I think family members are often shocked to put a face to the name (of the person that often makes us miserable)!

Doctor Pion said...

I was never miserable, not even for a day, working with Dr. Scatter.

But what can you say about a guy who was himself memorable enough as a grad student to get mentioned in *his* major prof's autobiography!

Others lived the PhDcomics life, but not me.

The Thomas said...

Yes, Mom did talk about being carded at the Land Grant Tavern during the dinner for my graduating daughter, but it wasn't the case you mentioned.

No, it was the case where our parents and our mother's brother and his wife visited the tavern after a football game and the bouncer stopped checking ID when he came to them and started up again after the alumni were past.

There is another version of the same story where even the alumni were carded and I suspect that is the one she likes to reference.

Too bad I couldn't reach you during commencement so you could listen to it via my cell phone.

Doctor Pion said...

Thanks for the reminder. [The Thomas is a veritable family history book. We suspect he remembers being born.]

Yes, the bouncer went "ID, ID, ID, you four can go in, ID, ID" as we went in the door. After we were seated, they told the story about an earlier visit (decades earlier, when they were probably around 30) when they were happy to get carded as if they were still 20. I was mixing the two together in my memory, which is also fuzzy about whether Old Girl Friend was there and who else was in the group.

I'm not sorry I missed the phone call from commencement. Remember, I have to sit through one every year! The call during dinner was a blast.

Doctor Pion said...

That last comment did not come out as intended: It would have been great to hear her name called.

The rest of commencement is right up there with mowing the lawn except for the part where one of my students walks across the stage. I'll blog about that later today, since it was a real toss-up this year.

The Thomas said...

I didn't even try to call you until they lined up the English majors. I do have some sense of what is interesting.

We even got lucky and were spared the "long" speech by whoever was supposed to get an honorary degree (they couldn't make it).

You would have liked the "student" speech by an English major who was a 3rd generation Land Grant student. There were three rows of his family present for the speech. It was along the lines of "I am standing here in the boots I wore to AOP. I have had these boots since 10th grade. My Mom thinks these boots are worn out, but I think they are worn in. ..." He then revisited all of the features of being No Pref, living in North Wonders, decorating dorm rooms, (and on and on). It was actually quite cute. I wish I had recorded it.

No wait. They have it on-line. I will send you a link.

Doctor Pion said...

Can't wait to see that speech, but check out the last few paragraphs of what I just posted about our graduation.

When you are third generation you wear whatever you like. When you are the first person in your entire extended family to even attend college, you don't wear your Orientation Boots unless they are the only shoes you own ... and not even then.

Although in one case you wear your finest designer shades to set off your gold grilles. Wish I could get a copy of that guy shaking the President's hand!

plam said...

My parents did not meet my advisor, but they did stay at his house when we came for Commencement.

We seem to be talking about graduation footwear. My girlfriend gave me specific instructions to not wear sandals (again) for my PhD commencement; it seems that once was already too many times. (I had no socks. I knew to not do that.)