Monday, February 05, 2007

When Memories Come in the Mail

I had an unusual experience today. Dr. Carter's daughter sent me a packet of letters I had sent him over the years including our wedding invitation and program, a postcard from our honeymoon, the application I filled out to become his office assistant, a letter for his 66th birthday and the letter I wrote for his retirement.

I hate that I even need to explain, but Dr. Carter is Vinny's namesake (Calvin Carter), he was the professor I worked for in college -and also the one I quit, causing no small mess in the academic and student development departments. I returned to work for him eventually, after I became a Christian. He paid much of my school bill, bought my dress when I was on the homecoming court, funded my engagement ring by letting Robb come shovel his snow at 5:00 a.m. all winter long, gave me a place to stay during summer school, spoke at our wedding, and gave us our first computer. The year I was a married student, he brought a sack lunch to school every day so that I could eat his lunch at the cafeteria...a deal he struck with the head of food service. He was a brilliant, principled, and sometimes-because of his brilliance and priniciples- difficult man, who cause even his very few enemies to respect him deeply. During his 33 years of teaching, he also guided countless churches through their ugliest days and set them right for permanent pastors to come and lead them to better times. During retirement, which he had unashamedly hoped to avoid by dropping dead on one of the four flights of stairs to his office in Jackson Hall, he spent hours of his day, beginning at 4:00 a.m., praying for and emailing words of encouragement to missionaries and students all over the world. He used to get out his old class rosters and pray down through them, even the names he could no longer remember. Over the years, he had probably 10 or 12 assistants and I was his last. I drove him crazy. But I think he liked me anyway. And I adored him. He called himself an "Old Troll" and called me "The Butterfly Queen." When I listened to Peggy Noonan's memoir of Ronald Reagan, I totally understood how she felt about the President because that is exactly how I felt about Dr. Carter.
He died of multiple brain tumors in July of 2004...on the anniversary of the day he came to Christ as a fourteen year old at a camp in southern California.

I have all of the letters he sent us...and now I have the pitiful stack of letters I sent him....much fewer in number by comparison. It brought back all the memories of the beginning of the story of how I got here and became me.

It's not everyday you open you mailbox and find that.


Heidi said...

Wow, what a flood of memories. I'd better dry off my keyboard.

klasieprof said...

I"m sitting here crying my eyes out.

Maybe NOW would be the time to approach the family on writing his memoirs? (wow what a weird word to spell).

I'm still crying. I remember how much his emails meant when you guys were here in the frozen north.

His legacy continues in you.

sara said...


ness said...

these are just the things off the top of my head...I would love to tell you so much more...

Heidi said...

please do

courtney said...

can anyone forget the things that Dr. Carter said to them personally? I think I can remember everything he ever said to me (and I always felt in total awe everytime he took time to speak with me). You have more writing to do, Sis.

Robb said...

Some of my highlights ...

"Robb, you're fast but you're not too swift."

"Do you believe that Vanessa has really repented? If she really repented, she would come back to work for me."

"Today is a milestone in redemptive history."

"Been there. Done that. Prayed a lot. Cried a lot."

ness said...

Before I worked for him, I went to the bulletin board outside his door to check my test score. His office always looked so dark because he insisted on having his transom boarded over to keep totally depraved students from peeking in to find out the secrets of the tests...(which, it might be okay for me to reveal now...) Anyway, I was scrutinizing the list intently when the door rumbled open and he emerged with his ancient briefcase and plaid woolen hat.

"Well, Hello, Vanessa. What will you be doing over your Christmas break?"

Startled, scattered, and completely off the top of my head, I chirped, "Selling Christmas trees with my Dad."

and then slapped my hand over my mouth in horror. (For those of you who don't know, Doc was convinced from certain obscure scriptures that Christmas trees are an idolotrous expression of pagan worship...which leads to some of my other favorite stories...but I digress)

He grinned at me...probably chalking up my headless transparency to cheekiness...and asked without missing a beat, "Door to door?"

ness said...

I know I have that packet that Toby (uh...not Mac...Burchie went out with him...tall...redhead...can't remember....) and Jesse Wilhite put together entitled "Carterisms."

Maybe Steve Wood helped with that too...Steve Wood...Jack Black...twins separated at birth? He cracked Doc up.

Where are my in-laws...come on Mars and had him too....tell some stories.

klasieprof said...

OMG!! A brilliant man with a sense of Humor!!
What a combo!!

imkoy: I am Coy....NOT....LOL

ness said...

He was hilarious...he was a total prankster in college.

He had a full ride scholarship to Stanford in engineering and his grandmother prayed him out of that and into the ministry after one semester there. He and Mary's dad were at seminary's a small world.

He swears he had no part in leading a cow to the top floor of the dormitory over Christmas break and then leaving it there.

But he did have something to do with filling someone's bathtub full of dirt and planting it full of geraniums.

And that big ol' door of his got him in trouble more than once...when a knock came to the door one day when he was expecting a student, he yelled "Spit on the floor and slip under." The door opened to reveal then President of the school (and an enormous man) Dr. Ketchum, who wasn't as amused as I was when Doc told me about it.

He frequently answered his phone "Joe's Pool Hall."

One day a former student came to the door and gushed and chatted and said how great it was to see him and how much she had learned from him and giggled and enthused like some kind of bubbling fountain. When she left, he turned to me and admitted helplessly, "I have no idea who that person was."

The rumor continues to swirl about his being asked to be the National Historian. He and Mrs. Carter refused to set that story right.

And then there was the mystery of the rock star who attended BBC and turned his back on God but still sent Doc cards...I found one in the drawer once...A snoopy card (WHO would send DOP a Snoopy card????) signed "John Paul."

These are the things we're dying to know, but we'll never get to the bottom of because he so loved "legend status."

It makes me a little sad, though, that if you google Dr. Carter, you get harsh fundamentalist papers by people trying to be as principled as he, without the brilliance and compassion he always showed. That is not right.

courtney said...

He once talked me out of law school. I think I kind of got around that by marrying a law school student ! :) He once told me that I had a million bucks in my back and I'd have to work it out...if anyone else had ever said that I would have thought it was dirty but you just couldn't take him as anything but a gentleman...with that hysterical sparkle in his eye.
I thought they took a horse up to the top floor of the dorms over Christmas and shot it?
viokjy: yiddish for missing Dr. Carter

ness said...

which one is that won't go down stairs?

courtney said...

the horse. they covered his eyes going up, as I recall.

Heidi said...

Toby Locke

I remember everything he ever said to me too. I wish I would have been more interested in an education my first 2 years of BBC rather than finding a husband. I should have learned a lot more from him than I did. It wasn't a total wash though. Among other things, he enhanced my love of the arts and introduced me to Schaeffer (one of my favorites). And who can forget . . . PRIMARY SOURCES!

In class he would seem tough as nails, but then I would talk to him in person and he had those beautiful eyes so full of compassion (and mischief).

I remember hearing that when BBS bought the campus he went around with a sledge hammer and smashed all the statues. Not sure if that one is true.

I totally forgot the rock star and national historian things. Is there a collection of Carter Urban Legands around anywhere? = )

ness said...

Toby Locke...yes, thank you. Okay, I can stop fixating...

Yeah, I would think Jesse Wilhite would be president of the Carter Urban Legend Society.

I think I heard about that statue thing, though...good one.

We should also mention his speed: nobody could keep up with him while walking...and the speed-reading class (which I still use). And the fact that he would leave you if you weren't on time.

He paid for me to go to Washington DC for the Kennedy Center trip. I set two alarm clocks and slept through both of them, sat bolt upright at 3:57 a.m. and proceeded to run full tilt to the van, knowing that when the clock struck 4, he would go. He took one look at me, hair everywhere, sweating from the run, and raised one eyebrow. "Are you decent?" he asked dryly.

I wasn't really, but what could I have done?

Heidi said...


I loved his trips. Especially the little microphone and speaker. I went on them even when I didn't have his classes anymore.

Anonymous said...

OK, it's time to check in. I had Dr. Carter the first year or manybe the second he was at BBC. I remember the screams in class when he introduced the one sheet/one side summary sheets of our reading and his lectures. He taught me to read for key ideas. Took awhile to learn though. He wouldn't talk to you about Calvinism until you had read Reformed Doctine of Predestination and then took a quiz to be sure you had really read it. Also the seminar with him on 16th Century Anabaptists. I remember the time he let me look at his Doctorial disseration from Scotland on the Puritan Thomas Goodwin. That should be published!!
I was always afraid I would say something STUPID in front of him, even years after I had graduated. I rememeber the time he took the folks from Calvary Baptist to New York on a field trip. The church people all but demanded it. Viewing New York from the top of the Twin Towers and the fast walk, really a run around Wall Steet with his running commentary. Then the visit to Met. Museum visiting the Egyptian display and the half a head statue when he asked Karen and Gretchen "So they had airheads in Egypt too." I don't think Karen ever forget that. He was my mentor. He honed my love of history. When I teach ancient history, I still use those notes taken years ago. I bless God for him!

A said...

I think you all just need to read your Bi-ble.

A said...

Did he really have a terrible stutter if he didn't read his lectures?

ness said...

"You need to go into Christianity full time."

Really, Poops? Afraid you would say something stupid? You were more qualified to speak than I! He thought the world of you...told me you were one of the smartest students he ever had...and the greatest lover of books. He was pretty sure Gretchen (his daughter, not "the Wretch") was the only one who ever read his dissertation.

I think he did get over stuttering at some point in his life, but his every lecture was typed out and copied on overhead films that were so brittle they practically fell to pieces in your hand. He did always pause before answering and had literally thousands of little sayings memorized to use at any moment it was needed.

You had to read a book before talking to him about Calvinism...hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I remember visiting BBC when you and Robb had broken up and I ran into Dr. Carter. He said to me..
"will you do something about your son so I can get my Secretary back. I can't get her to do anything." I just laughed and said "I can't do anything with him anyway." He said "Well I guess we just have to pray."

Robb said...

One of my favorite quotes from World Civ class -

"He's a Christian, but not by our definition."

(I don't remember who he was talking about.)

A said...

We still use that "he's a Christian, but not by our definition" line all the time, especially now!

Honestly, I never really felt that close to Remmy during college, at least the first couple of years. I struggled in history classes all through HS and that trend continued Freshman year at BBC. However, as time went on, that did change. I think the biggest thing was that I was "rightly related to the mediator" which could equally refer to either Robb or Vanessa. I always felt like he put up with me because I was friends with you guys. But as the years passed and we were Seniors and I was one of the "chosen" ones that got to preach in chapel, I was SHOCKED to receive a letter from him that I still have to this day. I have a file in my filing cabinet that is titled, "meaningful letters." There is only two pieces of paper in that folder. One is that letter from him and the other is my orals grade sheet. Anyway, his letter was genuinely glowing, and I knew full well that he wasn't the type to go to such lengths for no reason. That letter meant, and still means, a lot to me. I really couldn't understand why he bothered to write it. He must have seen something in me at the time that I didn't. Then, as I worked on staff for 3 years, I actually felt as though he and I had more of a "we're on the same team" kind of relationship since we were both cogs in the BBC wheel. Finally, when I was pastoring in MI and got word that he was giving away his library and he offered me his complete set of John Owen, I was a bit overcome. I really never thought I rated that highly with him, but he sent the set along with a small novel he wrote about why it was an important set of writings. Those books are my most prized section of my library, for many reasons, even though I've actually never opened one of them. I fear they might fall apart if I did. But every time I see them, I think of him fondly.

courtney said...

One of my favorite moments with Dr. C was the time he had us all on top of the Empire State Building and he walked me around the whole observation deck pointing out the five boroughs and what each was most noted for and where to find the best food--so funny and great. I also remember him calling me into his office (by way of an oddly familiar looking secretary) to tell me that I had gotten a higher grade in world civ than she had (!!!) I got to feel a little smug for 10 seconds until he brought me back to reality. :) Speed reading was one of the most useful things that I, personally, got out of BBC. I tried to teach Ron to help him with school but eventually had to have him call Ness so she could explain it better. (he still thinks we're crazy, Sis.)

courtney said...

it seems that I should have remembered Toby Locke's name since my RA had an enormous crush on him.
It's funny how you can still see people's faces and not remember anything pertanent about them...

ness said...

Court, that's so funny...I never knew you got the better grade, but it SO makes sense...I was clueless.

Of course, it didn't help when half the questions on the test, we never talked about (How many chapters are in the Koran???)

A, I typed that letter. I remember how impressed he was with you for your excellent handling of the gnostics, right? That's why you got the books.

Speaking of small novels, you arent' going to mention the print-out of every verse in the Bible concerning marriage and family that you had to hold during our wedding?
I found that yesterday...

Sis, your RA had a crush on Toby? Who DID he marry?

ness said...

Yeah, Poops, he really was convinced that me not working for him had something to do with my breakup with didn't that I remember....but it is curious that the day I got back together with Robb was the same day I agreed to go back to work for him. He had a bag of chocolate kisses he had been keeping in the desk to give to me when I finally came to my senses....I wonder how long they were in there???

courtney said...

I don't know who toby married...I can barely remember my RA's name, for that matter...Jen something. It's good that Dr. Firmin didn't have the same determination to "make" you come back!! My favorite test questions were the totally off the wall ones where he'd give you the answer anyways...they always made me laugh out loud, which got me some odd looks. I think half the time, Jeff Paden and I were the only ones who got it.

akr said...

so many good memories...I remember being able to go on the virginia trip with him and eating at these really nice places and feeling really nervous sitting next to him as i tried to figure out how to eat lobster tail properly. He was always so nice to me because he new my family and because I would stop in to say hi to ness. I never did great on his tests but i always got a decent grade in his class.

Toby was working for the seminary and going to there as well. Now he and his wife jill are doing their internship.

I also ran into steve wood at cedarville where he teaches drama and his wife is right along with him. He had a christian lounge singers group and he sang a song to his baby cute!

courtney said...

that's rather fitting about steve.

Heidi said...

Actually, Steve and his wife are in Texas now. Jesse Wilhite dropped by our house for a few days on his way out to California and Steve's house was the next on his list.

Doc Carter knew my Aunt and Uncle pretty well (they were lone 5 pointers in a sea of 4 pointers at the time) and would talk to me about them. I have no idea out of all the students who came through how he even knew that we were related.

courtney said...

what didn't he know? :)

A said...

Well, V, you got it half right. You couldn't have typed the letter, because it is hand written. But he did comment about my handling of the gnostics, and editorialized that "most preachers on the passage have never even heard of them."

ness said...

Wow...handwritten? He didn't do that very often. Yeah, you nailed that sermon.

I've somehow had a hard time going on to post something frivolous after this chat. I think, though, that I will email his daughter and ask her some things just so we know...

stephanie garcia said...

I so appreciated this post, Vanessa. I did not know Dr. Carter the way you did, but admired him very much.

Unfortunately, I was one of those who did miss a field trip. It was the weekend of a Steven Curtis Chapman concert and our floor was literally empty because so many of the girls had gone away overnight to see it. My alarm clock didn't have a snooze button - just an "off" button - and the floor was so quiet that I just slept as soundly as could be until I woke up with the realization that I had missed the trip and with the sickest feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing MY NAME would have been called out publicly over the little microphone and everyone would know I had missed!

In those days phone calls to my parents in Chile were few and far between because of how expensive they were, but my mom heard about this through Toby Locke's mom (we went to school together in Chile) and called me up to tell me she had actually cried for me when she heard the news!

Anyway, eventually I was able to get a half-priced field trip from someone else who couldn't make it and I loved both of the trips I took with him (Philly and NYC.)

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