Sunlight in the quad or an Illinois yankee in Henry Clay’s court

William Zingrone Associate professor of psychology

Seven thirty a.m. works phenomenally well, especially in winter accompanied by the vapors warm and rising nearly visible from your cup, but then so does 6-9 p.m. with the Big Muddy well beyond the horizon an hour’s drive distant past your gaze instead of a faded remembrance at your back.

The bench behind Wells Hall is the place to be in the morning frost that lasts so briefly down here in the land of tobacco and Henry Clay. As the sun climbs to peek over Pogue Library and every ray carries another at once infinitesimal and nearly infinite deposit of photons to drive away the chill, or as the sun recedes behind Wells from the steps of that stately old library, it is surely the most magic of times and it is a proper time, a fitting moment to reflect on not just the details of the given day about to start or one just ended, but the purpose of higher education and the uniqueness of western Kentucky, its people and Murray State.

Free exchange of information, academic freedom, argument, debate and consensus is the order of the day, every day at The Church of Reason.

New knowledge, old knowledge, speculation and imagination is transmitted at the speed of sound as it has always been; teachers teach, expand, expound, amplify, criticize by the magic of the spoken word but now accompanied by information transfer at the speed of light in the palm of every student’s hand. They think smart phones are normal.

They have more computing power at their disposal than Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins had to take them to land mankind on the moon in ’69.

Tell me what futurist predicted that one and the net the information flies on?

Twenty years ago I’d travel the eight hours straight south to Benton, Ky., every few months to pick up a trailer load of primitive pine furniture for a small country store my wife and I ran, when the idea of teaching was a long gone given up dream, not even on the bucket list.

Then to wind up here at Murray State 20 minutes or so down the road in my mid 50s … doing what I always wanted to do since high school … who could have planned that one?

Given the typical job market in academia I’d applied in 2008 at the advice of my advisers to more than 30 positions, and after 32 applications, I got one bite, one phone interview, one site visit and the start of a new career and a love affair with an acre or so of ground left between some old buildings.

We may not be Harvard or Berkeley (we sure ain’t Berkeley) UK or U of L, but Murray State and its people have a flavor and charm of their own they can’t touch downtown, out West, up North, out East or anywhere for that matter.

Like the fact that y’all never just get up to go somewhere, you don’t just git up and go, rather there’s a mindful preparation to it, an unhurried pause and plan, one you’ll never hear “up North” around Yankeeville where I come from … “I’m fixin’ to go to the store, you need anything?” You mean you’re going to the store, “Yeah, I’m fixin’ to go right quick, you want anything?” (Damn Yankee can’t understand English … “Bless his heart”). And nobody “up North” hails from any county. I’m from Woodstock, Ill., not McHenry County.

You’ve got to get used to where Marshall, McCracken, Graves and Christian counties are and quick. Nobody ever offers what town they are from unless pressed.

That wouldn’t work so pretty good up north. Saying you’re from “Cook County” puts you in with five million people, more than all of Kentucky put together and you might be from Chicago or one of almost 120 other cities and towns.

The sunset over the Mississippi from the bluffs at Columbus-Belmont is also not to be missed.

A breathtaking drop to the water past the rail fence you ain’t supposed to cross and the sound of the tugs and barges parked and ponderous downriver. More magic.

And hearing “Miss Loetta” or “Miss Donna” or “Miss Vicki” et al., Those titles are most decidedly not “plantation,” nor quaint, nor a silly affectation from a time past but a sign of genuine and heartfelt respect for elders taught as well in Southern culture as anywhere; nothing to be corrected but enjoyed, and all of the above are filed under “things I won’t forget” when I leave here in another 8 months or so.

Mornings or late afternoons on the Quad are not to be missed among the unique people and irreplaceable Murray State experiences.

So will this Illinois Yankee miss his time spent south of the Ohio in the rolling friendly hills of the Purchase? I reckon so.


Column by William Zingrone, Associate professor of psychology