Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Andes, Truck Driving and Dallas

There was a new candy in my coworker’s candy cache today: Andes™ mints. I’m not a big chocolate fan (except dark chocolate), but the smooth, creamy taste of chocolate, combined with the tingling mint flavor is a big hit with me. As I ate it, my mind traveled back in time to when I first encountered these delectable treats.
A Mint and Earl Grey. Oh my.
During my first year at Central Michigan University (my second year of college, the Fall of 1976 and Spring of 1977) I lived in Herrig Hall, on the third floor. At the time it was a foreign language floor, which didn’t really mean anything except that most of the students were taking a foreign language and we had a few foreign exchange students on the floor. I took German and was in a “German” room with four other guys. We crowded into two bedrooms and had a central study area and our own bathroom. We were a mess.
Saxe-Herrig Hall, CMU
One of my roommates was entirely forgettable, one faded into time and Nick remains a friend, though we don’t talk often. Then there was Dallas Wayne Stevenson.
Dallas wore wire-rim glasses and had a scraggly beard. To be fair, at that age all the guys had scraggly beards. Lean and fit, Dallas often wore his karate gi around the dorm room. His gi was pink, a casualty of a load of white laundry with one red sock. Dallas said his last karate match was against a guy who laughed at his pink gi. Karate is supposed to be no contact. That particular day it wasn’t. He taught me a little karate. His style was Kong Soo Do (I had to go look it up). We quit learning when he showed me a really nice kick – and knocked me into our dorm door.
Dallas explained it didn’t matter if someone was an expert, you could still learn from them. A green belt in Karate could teach someone up to the level of green belt. I never forgot that. A man can have no greater impact on someone else than to change the way they see the world.
On our Co-ed floor, the room next to us was a French foreign exchange student. We guys were expecting some tall, leggy model, Christine was five foot nothing and thin with short black hair and glasses. I mention her specifically because of one particular language problem. During one conversation in the hallway somebody mentioned that a person in her class was being a “prick.” Christine was baffled by the word and Dallas pondered how to explain it. I think he was embarrassed but we often let him take the lead in these situations. Dallas finally explained that a “prick” was a derogatory term referring to male genitals. As we went down the stairs we passed a janitor mopping the stairway. Excited, Christine pointed at him and almost jumped with joy. “Look,” she said, “a prick! A male janitor.” Dallas just shook his head.
NOT our French exchange student
I don’t recall Dallas doing laundry in the dorm, but he sometimes went with me when I did mine. We’d freeze bottles of Vernors™ in the freezer until they were exactly the right temperature to form ice when opened. Occasionally the bottles broke. I don’t know if Dallas drank Vernors™ or not. He sometimes had a beer.
Dallas worked as a concrete truck driver during the summers, made good money and saved all of it to go to school. He didn’t worry too much about money, but he didn’t spend much either. I don’t know why he chose CMU, but I was glad he was there.
With almost perpetual good nature Dallas seemed to be a roommate, but was more of a presence. During the week he’d drop in when he wasn’t studying or going to class or doing something with his friend Rick. He’d sleep, change clothes, laugh, smile at our jokes, occasionally eat pizza with us (when we had it) and sometimes sat in the hallway while Nick read Vonnegut out loud.
Dallas majored in psychology and loved the subject. I remember him sitting up late at night, reading his books. He didn’t like writing the papers, but that’s because English grammar was not his strength.
One thing during the week that Dallas did diligently was write a letter. Almost every night the small lamp in the study spread a pool of yellow light as Dallas wrote. The letter got mailed the next day, to Temperance, Michigan.
On the weekend, Dallas disappeared. I don’t recall a single weekend when he was on-campus in the dorm with us. The reason was Peggy, and she was the one great love of his life.
Peggy’s picture was over the desk Dallas used. One picture probably hung on the wall near his bed. Dallas carried at least one photo of Peggy everywhere he went. Dallas made sure that Peggy was never far from his sight, and I’m positive she was never out of his mind.
Dallas arranged his schedule so Friday was light and he could leave to see Peggy. Sometimes he skipped Friday entirely and was gone to Temperance, MI. There was nothing temperate about his love for Peggy. We’d see him getting antsy to leave on Wednesday. We’d see him again late Sunday if we were up studying. Peggy always gave Dallas a package of Andes™ mints, which he rationed so they lasted the entire week. Rarely, oh so rarely, he’d share one. I loved Peggy for those mints.
I recall only one weekend that was an exception. Peggy came to Mount Pleasant. Dallas was kind enough to introduce us to her, and they disappeared. A beautiful girl, Peggy’s pictures didn’t do her justice.
Not long ago I reconnected with a mutual friend from that year in college and she told me that Dallas died in a car accident in 1986. She heard it on the radio at the time and cried so hard she had to stay home from work. Dallas was thirty years old. My eyes stung with tears when she told me.
An internet search shows that Multidisciplinary Approach to Obesity and Risk Factor Management by Dallas W. Stevenson and Michael Hemingway in “New Ideas in Therapy : Introduction to an Interdisciplinary Approach” was published in 1987.
Right up his alley, I think
The internet also shows his father, Dallas M. Stevenson, died in 2009. One of the surviving family members on the obituary page for the elder Dallas lists Peggy Stevenson, his daughter-in-law.
That year was my favorite year in college and one of the finest years of my life. Dallas Wayne Stevenson was certainly instrumental in making that year part of my treasured memories. Dallas was a good friend to all of us in Herrig Hall that year.
The last time I saw Dallas was over thirty years ago yet I can close my eyes and still see him in my mind, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses and a little crooked smile on his face. He must be thinking about Peggy.
And I think of Dallas, every time I eat an Andes™ mint.

5 comments:

  1. I think I've been marking your posts as "interesting" more than once. This one reads three. That said, I think there's a story here. You've revisited it often enough.

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  2. Thank you for your words - my aunt sent this to my mother (Peggy) and she sent it to me - I never got to meet my dad - and it means the world to hear about him.

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  3. Chloe, I wrote this partly because of you. When my friend Kathy H told me that Dallas died, I did a search on him. I found his Dad's obit and found a Facebook statement "The person I'd most like to meet" with his name after it. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn't hard to figure out you are his daughter. That got me thinking even more about him and I wrote you a letter, but I don't have (or trust) Facebook and didn't want to intrude. I just wrote this post in the hopes that you would somehow, in some way, get a chance to see it.
    And you have. How serendipity. Dallas would smile at that I think.
    Your Dad was a great guy. I'm a better person for knowing him, and that says something.
    My best to your Mom (who surely doesn't recall me) and God bless both of you.
    -vince

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  4. And how odd that I woke up and felt compelled to check my email in the middle of the night.

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  5. Just for my own information, in the concept of being as complete as possible.
    Dallas married Peggy on Aug 23, 1980. I can't imagine how happy he was to marry his true love, but I can imagine his priceless smile.
    Dallas died in a car crash on Sept 13, 1986. Kathy H told me she heard it on the radio and cried so hard she couldn't go to work. That's how I still feel when I think of it.

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