Things were moving along smoothly. My students’ evaluations of me as a teacher put a smile on Dr. Christiansen’s face. He had taken a risk in hiring me, lacking, as I did, the academic credentials for the position. The high student ratings pleased him; his gamble had paid off. He was also pleased when my documentary film credentials helped the department land a contract from the state for a documentary on how water lilies were threatening native plants and fish in the state’s water ways. (I was just happy to be scripting films again.)
Eileen was adjusting to Gainesville. Helping that adjustment was a little four-legged critter she named Brandy. That is a story in itself. After we moved to Winter Haven, Eileen began begging for a dog, specifically a toy poodle. We had had one a couple years before, but it had gotten out of the yard and been hit by a car. I wasn’t averse to her getting a dog, but couldn’t afford to buy one...so I made a deal with her: If she could find one free she could have it.
For months my daughter scoured the newspapers, determined to find her dog. One week-end while we were visiting my brother in St. Petersburg she found what she was looking for. “Apricot poodle, free to a good home,” the ad read. I had promised, so off we went to check the dog out.
The dog turned out to be a great disappointment. It was a miniature, not the toy Eileen had envisioned, and it was a mess: dirty, shaggy, and covered with sand spurs. The woman who put the ad in the paper had found it wandering around. I was relieved when Eileen decided it wasn’t what she was looking for.
As we were leaving a heavy set woman with a little girl was coming up the path, obviously headed for the apartment we had just left. In a voice that could be heard a block away, she was issuing a series of threats to the child: “And I don’t want to hear you complaining about walking and cleaning up after this dog. Do you hear me? You want it, you will take care of it. Is that understood? I have enough to do without worrying about a dog. And another thing...” On and on she went in a voice reminiscent of chalk screeching across a blackboard.
As the mother and child passed us, Eileen grabbed my arm, and turned to watch them. Still berating her child, the woman rang the bell. The door opened. Suddenly Eileen bolted back to the apartment, dragging me behind her. Before the woman could say a word, my daughter yelled out, “We’ll take him!” The dog may not have been what she wanted, but there was no way (Eileen told me) she was going to let that awful woman have the poor thing.
We named the dog brandy because of his apricot color. Well, what we thought was his apricot color. As it turned out, after the groomer got rid of the sand spurs and trimmed and bathed him, Brandy was a silver poodle.
Our household in Gainesville soon was increased by two more. My colleague and friend, Pat Holmes, had ill-advisedly fallen in love and married a charismatic professor in the broadcast department who had a problem with responsibility. They had a son, and the day after the boy was born, her husband walked out on her. A week later, Pat and Kevin Quinn came to live with Eileen, Brandy and me. It was a good arrangement for all of us. Pat and I were able to cut down on our expenses, and I got to relive the joy of having a baby in the house.
The only thing missing from my life during my Gainesville years was male companionship. It wasn’t that there weren’t men knocking on my door. There was a charming Shakespeare professor, and a quite handsome documentary producer from Ocala for whom I did some work. Both men showed an interest in getting to know me better. And there was my former partner, Frank James, for whom I had some serious feelings. But there was also my 14-year-old daughter, a sweet, nearly perfect child; a mother’s delight—except when a man got within five feet of me. Quick as a flash, she would turn into an obnoxious little brat. Eileen was determined to keep her mother all to herself.
I could have, of course, overridden her efforts to sabotage my romantic life, but looking back I think I was a bit gun-shy then when it came to men. Based on my experience, I didn’t feel I could trust a man to take care of me, so I was focused on learning to take care of myself. My Gainesville years were all about figuring how to build a secure future for me and my daughter. (My sons were older, and out of the house,) Romantic entanglements were not a distraction I felt I could afford at the time. When Eileen scared a man away, I didn’t try to get him back.
During my second year at the university Dr. Christiansen began pushing for me to get my Master’s and Doctorate so I could go on teaching. No matter how well the students liked and responded to me, my lack of academic credentials meant that he couldn’t keep me on staff more than two years. I took and passed my GRE and began my work towards my masters. I was able to do that at the University of Florida, so I wasn’t incurring a lot of expenses. But to get my doctorate I would have to go to another university and pay tuition and living expenses, without the backup of a salary for teaching. I had no idea how I was going to afford to do that, and I was concerned about temporarily uprooting Eileen again. As much as I was enjoying my life at the university, it was time to look for an alternate plan.
Next time: The job that almost took me away and a dream of a film assignment that helped me stay.