Friday, February 16, 2007
My grandfather, Orval Allen Childs (left, with my grandmother Floy, who died some years earlier), died nine years ago today, a few months shy of my graduating from law school. He was a farmer (meat cattle, mostly, some vegetables, and, before I was born, dairy) and a professor at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas, where he chaired the agriculture department.
I knew that my grandfather was a good teacher in part by the school naming an Agri building after him, but more from the steady stream of former students coming by to see him years or even decades after they finished school. We’d be sitting around watching college football and almost without fail, someone would come by who “went to school to” my grandfather. They’d talk about how farming was going, or their kids, or whatever.
His example (and the example of his students, who were and are working farmers, like most of our graduates are working lawyers) is a substantial part of why I teach. Seeing his former students come back and recognizing the difference he made in helping them achieve their vocation was a genuinely inspiring thing. He didn't like many of my frolics and detours (running a record store, working on a Senate campaign, taking leaves of absence from college for both), and he told me so. But he kept on being supportive. And until he stopped farming (that's part of his farm in that picture to the right), I kept on getting to help at the farm, even if my "help" may well have slowed him down in the long run. I can assure you that you don't really want me driving a tractor, even if I enjoyed it.
There's some sort of nice symmetry to the fact that I learned today that my colleagues have voted to promote me to associate professor, as of this fall. To the extent I'm good at this stuff, I owe a lot to him and a lot of other family.
I'll be back to your usually-scheduled snark soon enough, promise.