Editor’s Note: This week, Celeste Behe and her family are busy preparing for the Saturday wedding of her daughter Grace. Celeste’s daughter Clare has stepped in to share her writing talent with us. Enjoy! LMH
It’s an unsettling fact: When a student attends a small Catholic college, like I do, she is fated to meet teachers outside the classroom roughly ten times more often than a college student at a Large Metropolitan Campus. Take it from me, these meetings are always awkward. Whenever I unexpectedly meet one of my teachers off-campus, I feel like a specimen under a microscope. ‘Is Dr. Smith wondering why I’m not at the History Club meeting?’ I wonder. ‘Has Fr. Brown noticed the M&Ms in my shopping cart, and does he remember that I missed his last talk on Lenten discipline?’ ‘Does Professor Marcella know that I rocked the residence hall with my imitation of her?’
Just recently my dorm mate Agnes and I experienced a Close Encounter of the Awkward Kind. We were hitting up the dollar store for cheap sweets to get us through finals. We glided rapturously through the aisles, flinging candy into our cart with reckless abandon. Our dollar limit was reached in short order, and we then laboriously propelled our laden cart into a checkout line. Suddenly, a familiar figure materialized in my peripheral vision.
“Well, hello there, girls.” A serene voice floated in our direction. Agnes and I simultaneously turned. Standing beside a display of wild-eyed Spongebob Squarepants PEZ dispensers was Dr. Smith, our placid, bespectacled history professor.
“Why, Dr. Smith!” I bubbled, “Imagine seeing you here!”
“Yes,” quavered Agnes. “Imagine!”
Agnes and I glanced anxiously at the cashier, who had inexplicably switched into snail-tortoise hybrid mode. At this rate, it would take her forty minutes to check out the three customers in front of us.
“I’m here to pick up some candy,” Dr. Smith remarked.
I smiled, amused that we were there for the same reason. Dr. Smith smiled back. The three of us smiled. I coughed.
“It’s my daughter’s birthday today,” continued Dr. Smith.
“Oh?” I murmured, suddenly reminded of my younger sister back home. “How old is your daughter?” I asked, my awkwardness dissipating.
“She’s nine years old,” he said, beaming. One would have thought he had just determined the date of an antediluvian relic.
Dr. Smith reached for his wallet and pulled out a family photo. “Here she is!” he exclaimed proudly, pointing to a sweet-faced little girl. “My Gracie!”
In the fifteen minutes that ensued, Dr. Smith and I compared notes and swapped cute stories about our favorite nine-year-olds: his daughter Gracie and my sister Helen. Meanwhile, Agnes, a sister-less girl with six brothers, busied herself at the checkout by making Latin translations of tabloid gossip. “Bradlius deserit! Angelina lacrimat!”
Soon after, Agnes and I waved goodbye to Dr. Smith, and walked out of the store.
“Well, that was surprising,” I said thoughtfully.
“Yeah!” Agnes exclaimed, ogling our toteful of treats. “I didn’t think the dollar store would have such a great selection of candy!”
“No, I didn’t mean the store, you foodie! I meant our run-in with Dr. Dust Heap…er, Dr. Smith. I’ve never seen him so animated.”
“Me neither. But what really surprised me was that you didn’t seem stressed at all,” said Agnes. “Not like the time that you saw Professor Basmati at the grocery store and had to hide behind the doughnut rack because you weren’t wearing Dress Code,” she added, filching a Kit Kat.
“Ugh, don’t remind me! But, you know, you’re right. I wasn’t stressed. Listening to Dr. Smith talk about his daughter, I guess I forgot to feel awkward. I suppose that’s because, instead of worrying about the impression I was making, I was concentrating on someone else.”
We made our way silently to the car. I turned the key in the ignition, and heard the engine roar happily to life. ‘Hmm’, I mused, ‘Concentrating on others and not worrying about what people think of me. I’m going to do that more often.’
And at my small Catholic college, there are plenty of opportunities to put that into practice!
Copyright 2011 Clare Behe