East Lansing, Michigan. Winter quarter at Michigan State started just after the New Year in 1967, the middle of my sophomore year. I was rooming with my best friend, Roomie. She’d warned me when we first moved in together that she snored like a freight train and not to wake her up; she wasn’t in distress. As it happens, I could sleep through a fire engine in front of the house, so once I heard her snore, and satisfied myself that she was not in trouble, I went back to sleep.
I’d settled into a routine of dating on weekends only, by then. The first few weeks at school I’d discovered that, though I had dated little in high school, in college I could go out every night if I wanted. I didn’t want to. I wanted to study enough to stay in school.
I met guys everywhere – dances, the soft drink shop, classes, walking across campus, waiting for a bus. The school was rich with hootenannies, walks around grounds tended by Agricultural majors, with all the trees and flowers labeled, lectures, performances, the banks of the Red Cedar River. I never did make it into the co-ed canoeing class, as it was over-subscribed even before class registration. I worked at a nearby theater as a cashier, an upgrade in salary and working conditions from my freshman schedule of working in the cafeteria, bussing dishes. I saw “Coolhand Luke” dozens of times, pieced together on my 10-minute breaks, learning its famous line, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”
Near the end of January, I got a call from the friend of a fraternity brother I’d dated in the fall. I’d met the first fraternity brother, John, at the house that Roomie shared. She’d stayed in East Lansing for the summer between our freshman and sophomore years. We’d bonded when John started quoting Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, and I’d finished the quote. Within a month, we’d drifted apart. But, during that time, I’d met several of his fraternity brothers. Apparently, one of them, Jim, remembered me when my eventual husband, Dave, came back to school after having dropped out of the Peace Corps.
As I heard the story later, Jim talked to Dave, who, thinking he’d be gone two years, had broken all ties with girlfriends. Since he’d decided the Peace Corps wasn’t for him after all, he was in the process of renewing those friendships when Jim approached him.
“Tell me what you’d like to see in a woman. No, let me describe your ideal woman for you,” said Jim.
“She’s a little tall, thin. She’s smart. She has blonde hair, a good sense of humor, and a slight Southern accent.”
“That sounds about right,” says Dave, a Georgia-boy, born and bred.
“Her name is Carol Frederick. She lives in Rather Hall. Call her.”
But, he didn’t. He still had to look up his old girlfriends. Several weeks went by, with Jim bugging him every time he saw him.
“Have you called Carol yet?”
“No, I still have to get in touch with ….”
Eventually, he called me.
“Hi. I’m Dave Covin. Jim Ballard said I should call you.”
“We’re just about to throw a surprise birthday party on the dorm floor. Can I call you back in 30 minutes?”
“What’s your number?”
He told me and I hung up. He told me later that was the first thing that impressed him. He had expected that if I couldn’t talk, I’d ask him to call me back in 30 minutes. I would have thought that rude. It wasn’t his fault I couldn’t talk. Of course, I would return his call. We talked for three hours.
I still did have a slight Southern accent. It got stronger when I realized Dave was from Georgia. I’d lived in Texas for six years and my parents still lived there. I’m enough of a mimic that my accent comes back when I’m around Southerners. My boyfriend, when I’d first come to Michigan State, had driven to East Lansing to bring me home for Christmas vacation my freshman year. He said he knew when we were getting close to home because my accent started coming back.
But, at heart, I was a Midwesterner, born in Chicago, raised in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa until I was 11. Midwesterners are polite.
Dave asked me to go tobogganing. It was Tuesday, January 23rd.
“I know it’s the end of January, but we don’t have any snow on the ground,” I said.
“Can you go tobogganing with no snow?”
As I was to find out later, the dormitory at Rather Hall had rules of engagement about playing co-ed football. If there was snow on the ground, girls could tackle, because the snow was soft enough to fall in. The boys could only play touch. The women had started asking Dave, nicknamed Georgia for his Southern roots and accent, to turn off the Georgia sun, so it would snow, and, remarkably, it had worked every time.
“They tell me I control the sun,” he told me.
“I will turn it off.”
It started snowing on Thursday. By Friday, the record 27-inch snowfall closed the school for the first time in its history, due to snow. The roads were closed. We could not get to the toboggan run. We dragged the toboggan to the fraternity house, filled it with beer and took it to his apartment for a party.
He asked me to a classical guitar concert the next weekend, but I already had a date, so declined, thinking it rude to break a date just because someone better came along. We found each other at intermission and his date broke up with him afterwards, uninviting him to her spring prom.
We both stopped dating anyone else.
He flew to Washington to interview with IBM. I ironed his three Perma-press shirts, scorching two of them. He got the job. I went with him to buy his first suit and his first car, a beige Volkswagen Beetle.
I convinced him to go to graduation, so his parents could come up and watch their first child and only son graduate. I’d always called him Dave, because that was how he introduced himself to new people at Michigan State. I’d decided early I was not going to call him Georgia, as I would certainly not call him that in front of his mother.
I applied to study French for the summer in Switzerland, the same program he’d used two years before to study Spanish in Spain. He picked me up in New York City when I returned at the end of the summer and I started making plans to transfer schools to Washington, DC. I brought his sisters chocolate from Switzerland.
That fall, every other weekend, either he drove the 12 hours from Washington, DC to East Lansing, Michigan, after work, and home again on Sunday, or I took a bus to DC. I interviewed schools to see which had the best Chinese studies programs. GW, American University, the University of Maryland and Georgetown University all said the same thing. I could study there and major in Chinese studies, but I would have to take my Chinese classes at GW. I applied for and was accepted at GW.
Dave was now in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. On one of my visits, I dropped him off for his Army physical. He called, having missed the bus, and I returned to pick him up. But, though I knew what street he was on, I didn’t know that DC has four quadrants, with the same streets in each. Thus, 16th street is in the Northwest quadrant, relative to the Capitol building. It is also in Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. I also didn’t know that streets might stop and start around a circle. Two hours after he’d called me, I pulled up. He was talking to a motorcycle cop to find out if there’d been any accidents. I told him that the only stick shift I’d driven before his VW was my brother’s TR3. To reverse in one, you pushed the stick down and back. The other pulled up and to the side. I’d had to push his VW out of its parking space and push it to turn it when I’d turned the wrong way down a one-way street because I couldn’t get it in reverse.
Macon Georgia. I finished fall quarter at Michigan State and went home to my parents’, who, by now, had moved to Macon, Georgia, from Texas, a little more than two hours from Dave’s parents’ house in Hogansville, Georgia.
I went to his mother’s large family Christmas party and met aunts, uncles, first and second cousins and cousins once or twice removed. I resolved to figure out what that meant. Now, at family parties, young cousins regale me with their having figured out these relationships to each other. His mother surprised me with a pressed-powder compact in the family Christmas present exchange. She was making room for me in the family.
GW’s second semester would not start until near the end of January, so I had almost a month to stay with my parents in Georgia before moving to a dorm on campus in DC. For the first few weeks I slept late every day, making up for long nights of studying for finals at the end of fall quarter at Michigan State.
Arlington, Virginia. Dave received his draft notice on January 2, 1968.