Sunday, February 18, 2018

Baylor University Oral History: Rebecca Sharpless Interviews History Professor James W. Vardaman

In poking around on the Internet for more information on my old Baylor history professor James W. Vardaman, I came across Baylor's oral history series, and I found three long interviews there with Professor Vardaman:
"Oral Memoirs of James W. Vardaman: A Series of Interviews Conducted by Rebecca Sharpless, July 15 - October 20, 2003"
In the second interview, Vardaman talks about Marine boot camp, six weeks of hell in which profanity was a good part of every sentence and just one thing was sacred: your mother. The drill sergeants were sadistic and stupid, Vardaman recalled, but they respected that one rule, "Your mother is sacred." Vardaman himself couldn't even let slip that his own mother was a bad cook:
Vardaman: The food [in boot camp] was better than any I'd ever had, but I couldn't say so. My mother was a horrible cook. My grandmother was worse. But, you know, your mother is sacred. You don't play with that. Your mother -- that's a [pure figure] -- [as for] the food -- I always had to say,

"Yeah, my mother was a good cook."

Nobody [back home] would admit that she wasn't [a good cook], but I knew perfectly well that the food I was eating [in the military] was the best I’d ever been given. Wasn't prepared very well most of the time. They didn't know how. They'd stick a person into the cook's slops [to serve the food], and you got it sloshed on your tray, mixed with everything else [and it was still better than my mother's cooking, but I couldn't say so because] . . . . food and your mother, they're one together [or were supposed to be]. These guys would dream about the[ir mom's cooking] -- kid from somewhere in Tennessee, Cauley was his name. Cauley would talk about his mother's fried chicken until I could see it. I just wanted it -- that so bad. I mean, he was a master at describing his mother’s cooking.

But I'll say one thing about [a] mother again, one more thing about [a] mother. Your mother was God. I can see how a Catholic could think of the Virgin Mary as somebody just absolutely fabulous who could protect you; save you, if you please. You never said anything [bad] about the mother.

One day at mail call, one of the drill instructors, the stupid, most stupid of the three, Jadzuk -- what an oaf, a clod. Lord knows where he crawled out of. Somebody must have kicked over a rock. Anyway, he was sailing the mail out to the platoon. Standing in his presence, [you'd see that] he’d find some way to insult you.

"Here, cotton ball. A coal cracker, I see. This is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Are you a coal cracker?"

"Well, no."

"Yes, you are. I said you were. That's enough."

And then they'd go around this --

"So you're from Chicago. A gangster, huh."

Guy named Orpin, a Greek kid.

"A gangster. What outfit were you with? Pretty Boy Floyd or Al Capone?"

And that's it. You know, they could say anything they wanted to humiliate you. But one day at this mail call -- forgive me for diverging -- this stupid Jadzuk says,

"Oh, who here knows somebody named Daisy? Daisy."

I said, "That's my mother."

It's the only time I was able to get at these people and not be punished. Because, boy, that was your mother, and you had touched on the magic word."

Sharpless: So they didn't give you a hard time because you had a mother named Daisy?

Vardaman: He was going to [get me with the name "Daisy," or so he thought].

Sharpless: He was going to and then --

Vardaman: If it'd been a girlfriend, Lord only knows. But I had the right answer. [Mother.]
The entire three interviews are in this same vein - detailed, funny, simply great! Go and read!

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home