David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Progressive Dinners

January 27, 2016

For the final installment of my January Fleming Education Intersections, I turn to the Academic League of Nations that my parents exposed me to throughout my childhood.  I don't know if my experiences with academic get-togethers were atypical in Morgantown than in other college towns; certainly the 1960s and 1970s offered an easier time to coordinate such dinner parties.


Progressive Dinners

Sure, maybe the pot pies and the crock pot

Pot luck dinners became a family joke,

But I seriously doubt the young boy

Could have truly appreciated the exotic

Progressive dinners that featured

Orangish soups in tiny Thai bowls

That less worldly folk might have scoffed

Were too small to even serve as gravy boats,

And those tiny red crystal glasses:

How did anyone quench their thirst?

That boy would have called those dinners

Depressive not progressive.


Yet, they were progressive and they impacted me

In ways too subtle for a younger me to see.

How many kids can say their night was

Populated by at least the physicist, the chemist,

The anthropologist, the political scientist,

The economist, the engineer,

The musical or the feminist theorist.

(Or, so many more that came through the door.)

Even today if I crow that any combination

Of these academics came to a party,

Expectations would be of a joke, but no punchline

(unless you count the time the punch got double-spiked).



Amongst them all was the steady flow

Of the pharmacologists, my father's extended family,

Exceptional scientists, better teachers,

(Unprecedented excellence in teaching

Awards to an entire department),

Dedicated men and women to the mission

Of their department and their school.

Best of all the jokes came fast and furious,

Improv before I even knew what that was.

I, their willing audience, always

Accepted in their laboratories

And on their diamonds as if one of them.



I grew to know these people by these disciplines

Moreso than by actual names,

I hope never disrespectful, just heedful

Of their representation of one piece of thoughtful

Dialogue about the nature of the world.

Everyone so welcoming of the interruptive boy

Sprinting in to update a score,

Even though he was sure

Only his dad and the poli scientist particularly cared,

Perhaps his ruse to more easily eavesdrop

On conversations beyond the cup of his hand to ear

And certainly way over his head.


In a time dominated all the more

By anti-intellectual scorn

That destroys the country's promise,

I recognize the privilege of being born

Into a world so open to the value of ideas

And academic ideals.

Even as we saw these erode in the transition

Of dad's retirement and my rise,

I vowed to fall back on the same sense of community

And shared investiture,

even if rank or title or office

Threaten to take this all away from me.