I don’t think it’s just me, but these Days of Corona seem like kind of a blur. I know we finally left April a day or two ago, but I have not been been marking my calendar by the events I usually use to do so.
Saturday, which is now sometime in the past, should have been Graduation Day for Western Not State Not College. There should have been a ceremony, and on-campus events like receptions and departmental parties, and off-campus events like the raging keggars Lynn and I used to live next door to that would start on Wednesday and carry all the way through the weekend. This year, there should also have been a party or two for my friend Pete.
Pete, who gained his emeritus status as a professor of biology last year, should have just completed his transitional, half-time year of teaching, the mortar cap on a full career. Alas, this virus is cruel in every way: Pete had to learn to teach on-line for the second half of his final semester, and in mid-final, the university’s internet crapped out. I think the hope is that the final could be finished and grading done perhaps by today. When the final grades are finally done, then Pete’s teaching career will be officially final as well.
The school has already set an alternate date for an actual ceremony, although I can’t remember now if it’s in August or September, and I don’t know how many students will return for it. I don’t know if Pete ever gets an official send-off, or when he might even get an informal one like the nice party some friends threw for his wife when she left as the head of the campus library a couple years ago.
Pete’s office and lab, to be vacated by the end of the school’s fiscal year on June 30, are located in Hurst Hall, a building filled with science and math and thus a place you’re not likely to find me. Pete, however, spent a lot of time there, even though his teaching took him places like Atlanta and Boulder before he landed for good at Western, the Once and Future State.
In addition to teaching, he did research, and his area of expertise is phage. Despite Pete’s numerous attempts at explanation, I don’t really know what phage is. But if it was good enough to be featured on Star Trek — even if it was Voyager — that’s good enough for me.
Pete’s idea of a really fun biennial excursion was a phage conference in the state of Washington. He would drive by himself to the conference, enjoy his time there, and then take about a week to get home, stopping to fish all along the way.
Pete is quite the fly fisherman, but I don’t know much about this, either. Unless you’re his fly-fishing buddy Rick, you don’t know much about this. Even his wife is not allowed to know his secret fishing spots. If Pete doesn’t come back some day, Nancy’s instructions are to call Rick and have him go look for Pete.
Presumably, Pete will have more time for fishing, but one of the excitements of his retirement was looking forward to even more travel, and I suppose that’s off the table for awhile.
He and Nancy are big into their travel, but rather than standard tourist hotspots, they like to seek out the unique, from the UFO watch tower in the nearby San Luis Valley to the mineral springs of Zzyzx off I-15 in California. If you have a giant ball of twine you want to build a museum around, Pete and Nancy will be the first to stop and admire it. The culture hardly ends there, though, and they’ve been known to drive great distances to take in a Shakespeare play or two.
In that haze of familiarity when you’ve known someone for what feels like forever, it’s often hard to remember that initial encounter, but I believe I met Pete and Nancy (collectively known as “the Gauss”) when their house was in imminent danger of flooding from the over-irrigated meadow surrounding them.
Our mutual friend Matt volunteered me to come along and assist him as he assisted them. I don’t really remember any of the sandbagging, just that my dog of the time, Reprieve, had one of her best days ever splashing after birds in the very watery version of what should have been their backyard.
And somewhere along the way, not necessarily that day but some nearby instance, Matt and I learned two very important points: the Gauss were Star Trek fans, and Pete had a riding lawn mower. It takes someone very special — very special indeed — to find a connection in those two things, but Matt and I came up with the name for our space social group, The Holy Order of Qaplá, and we felt a worthy prize would be a ride on Pete’s lawn mower. We’re still waiting for that, by the way.
And then it turned out Pete’s birthday was very near mine. Not as very near as actuality — Pete is a complicated fellow, no matter what — but still pretty close. When Pete was born, in a part of the world that I can’t name for you, because his family spoke German yet lived in what once was Yugoslavia and now is someplace I don’t know, he arrived, for all practical calendar purposes, on Sept. 13, just one day (and several years, let us hastily add) removed from me. But his mother, a superstitious sort, wasn’t having that at all, so Pete’s official, birth certificate and everything, birthday is the 14th.
None of this stopped us from hosting our annual Bee Day Bash, eventually expanded to include all our September baby friends, a party that was held up Taylor Canyon and was always a hit of the social season.
Which, “social” ought to be Pete’s middle name. He loves his singing, signing up for whatever choirs and ensembles are available; and his politics, volunteering for precinct positions; and his sports, whether it’s Western football where we both worked the chains (he’s put in something like 26 years) or basketball, or his beloved professional teams from the Philadelphia area where he grew up.
Sadly, while retirement ought to give him more time for all his social activities and his travel, which often takes Nancy and him to family and friends, I suppose this all has to be on hold for now. Just like his party.
But while I didn’t pay any attention to the day it should have been on Saturday, I would nonetheless like to honor Pete for completion of his career, a life spent imparting knowledge to others while never stopping his own lifelong love of learning, and wish him the very happiest of retirements.