A single semester in the latter was a requirement, but after a couple of classes I was hooked. The beliefs, values, and social/family structure of different cultures facinated me, and the knowledge I gained would assist me in being a better coach or trainer.
My road to where I was hadn't been an easy one. The long hours working as campus security, coupled with running a household and classes were taking a toll on me physically. But I'd managed it all and maintained a 4.0 GPA, thanks to my sweet husband and wonderful mentors like Dr. Sutherland.
Kay always stepped beyond being my teacher, and always acted more like a mother: making sure I ate while I was on campus; worried constantly that I wasn't getting enough sleep; lecturing me when she believed I wasn't spending enough time with my young family. "Life is too short. Enjoy it," she'd say. And, she was always right...on everything.
"We have a problem." My professor's voice stabbed through my daydreams and yanked me back to reality.
Sweat beaded on my brow, and I felt sick at my stomach. Problem, what problem?
I narrowed my eyes and watched her grade my final paper for her class. I could overlook her forgetting me in the desert during a field trip, and forcing me to jump off a one-story rock ledge (there was no other way down the mountain), but insinuating this paper might be less than "A" material was alarming. It sounds vain, but for over three years I'd carried a 4.0 GPA, and anything less than that was unimaginable.
I took a breath, and forced my voice to sound calm."What do you mean, 'a problem'?"
Dr. Sutherland studied me over the rim of her glasses, then smirked and patted my knee. "Oh Deb, relax. Nothing is wrong with the paper. You'll get your 'A'. I'm just saying that anthropology isn't for you."
I settled back in the chair and crossed my arms. This one time Kay was WRONG. "Oh really. And just what do you see me doing?"
I scoffed. Forget the fact that the lady had penned several books herself, her father was friends with Hemingway, and her aunt was Liz Carpenter--Dr. Sutherland had no idea what she was talking about.
"No, really," she insisted. "In every paper you've written, there's so much detail, the reader feels as if they're with you. Take a few writing classes. Perfect your craft, because that is what you're born to do."
Time has a way of being cruel. In the months following our conversation, Dr. Sutherland's health declined rapidly. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a double mastectomy.
I was the victim of a near-fatal car accident, which crushed my hopes of being a coach, or anything else in the kinesiology field. Kay was my encourager. "You'll beat this. You're tough," she'd say. She also ended every conversation by trying to convince me to write.
A year passed, and my adventure in college ended. Kay and still kept in touch for a time, but the demands of raising a young family caused our phone conversations to dwindle, then stop. I took her advice, and in the late night hours, I sat at my computer, writing short stories and submitting them to various publications. Grudgingly, I admitted that immersing myself in the craft was satisfying. Won't Kay be proud, I'd chuckle to myself.
When my first story was published by Chicken Soup, the first call was to my beloved teacher and mentor. "I knew that you could do it! You love writing, don't you? Admit it. I was right."
"Okay, you were right."
I couldn't ignore how faint Kay's voice seemed. Once booming and full of mischief, it now resembled a ninety year-old's. During the conversation, she admitted that she had leukemia.
Tears poured down my face, and I struggled to breathe. Dr. Sutherland was a warrior, a force. I needed her. She COULDN'T be dying I repeated the same words she'd said to me not too long ago. "You'll beat this. You're tough."
"Of course I will. But I want you to know how proud I am of you, and that I love you.
That was the last conversation we had. Three days later, she slipped into a coma, and passed away.
I continued to write. Partly as an honor to her, but for myself as well. Over the years, I've authored Chicken Soup stories, magazine articles, newspaper pieces, and two children's books.
Writing is my passion--it's what drives me. It's my calling.
Kay was always right.