Winter 1998
Medicine Men
Q & A
It's a small classroom after all
Grizzly Bear
Alma Matters
Memīries Sweet
Riff Ram
Purple Heart
Class Notes
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TCU Magazine "Class Notes"

A toast to the long since

By Joan Hewatt Swaim

THE THREE major holidays at year's end always put me in thoughtful contemplation of present, past, and future. Thanksgiving bids me pause amidst the noise and the haste to give thanks for whatever blessings and grace are mine. Christmas prompts me to gather in children and grandchild more closely, and warms me with sincere good will toward my fellow man.

The beginning of a New Year, however, beckons me to look both forward and backward, like the double-faced Janus, Roman god of the sun and the year, for whom the month of January was named. Auld Lang Syne resounds as radio, television, the print media, and we all look back at the "year that was," and if the year ending also closes a lump of time -- a decade or, as soon to be, a century -- a longer remembrance follows. Then, as a fresh year is heralded in, the "old long since" is bid goodbye, the used slate is wiped clean, and new ways are solemnly resolved.

As I look back over the past year, I realize that, once again, pieces of me are missing. Great chunks, in fact -- father, mother, husband, friends. Sometimes I have to shake my head hard to dislodge the disbelief that they no longer come and go in my daily life, aren't there when I want them, aren't there when I need them to be.

My campus family, which I have always considered to be an extension of my biological one, was particularly hard-hit in 1998. Among those who left too soon were three giants of my youth, college days, and these later years. Mary Charlotte Faris, Karl Snyder, and Jim Corder all joined William Cullen Bryant's "caravan that moves to that mysterious realm where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death." I think I have spoken of them before in some of my remembrances of TCU, but I would like to claim this essay as a special salute to them, albeit brief.

I think I must have always known Mary Charlotte, for I can't remember not remembering her in my life. You may recall that she worked in her student days for Mrs. Mothershead, in the university library, and later as a librarian there, herself. My mother and father knew her before me and admired her pleasant, efficient ways, those same ways I came to admire first as a student, then as colleague and friend. Mary Charlotte could find anything in the vast resources of the library, and my father was sure she had the entire library holdings stored in her mind -- a sort of early day computerized catalog. She could also dredge up facts and figures about TCU that were seemingly obscured by the past, and sometimes pulled them together in presentations that were full of passion as well as great good humor. She was the most purple of TCUans, and when she retired, she found no service so satisfying as that which involved TCU.

Karl Snyder, professor emeritus of the English department at his death, and his wife, Marion, were my parents' friends and colleagues when I was in junior high school. Dr. Snyder (it seems blasphemy to call this former professor by his given name, Karl) became one of my mentors when I was in college as an English major. He was devoted to English language literature and to that of the Bard, in particular. He was equally devoted to the proper use of English grammar and once chided me, in no uncertain terms, about an egregious (to him!) error in one of my published essays and was appalled that one of his students could commit such a sin. It goes without saying that I double-check my grammar since then! Both his wit and criticism were rapier-sharp, but I came to know that beneath that sometimes forbidding facade, he had a heart big enough to encompass you and break for you, if need be.

Jim Corder was, for long, TCU's master rhetorician and seemingly effortless wordsmith, whose mind's eye searched into every nook and cranny in and beyond the world that most of us see. He believed that the unexamined life was not worth living, so he looked at things from every angle -- on the surface, from beneath, and around all sides -- and inspired his students to do the same. It was he who gently urged me to write, he who approved of my writing when I did, he who helped me find my voice. He, as did Mary Charlotte and Karl Snyder, came early to TCU and stayed late; collectively, they gave TCU 108 years of their professional lives.

All formal note of all passings are inadequate -- obituaries fall far short; eulogies make good effort, but fail; attempts at retrospective characterization, such as the present ones, are usually woeful.

But perhaps it is enough to hush and remember and be buoyed by the sure knowing that, even though they take some part of us with them to wherever they have gone, they leave a good part of themselves, too. They live in me and in, perhaps, some of you, and will, I am certain, be recalled to future generations for what they did here. As my own lang syne counts more years than in my future, I look back down the years, long since and recent, and rejoice in those into whose lives I happened to wander and recall how my life was magically touched by them for a time.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? Certainly not. In the words of the poet Burns, I'll "tak a right guid-willie waught, For auld lang syne!"

Joan Hewatt Swaim is author of Walking TCU: A Historical Perspective. She retired in 1995 as coordinator of bibliographic control for the Mary Couts Burnett Library after 18 years of service. She now lives in Granbury, and works part-time as an office manager for an oil company in order to satisfy the Christmas demands of her 7-year-old grandson, Asher.