I had planned to write about Karl Peterson visiting us in Columbia, South Carolina, for five days in June 1991. But I have changed my mind. Instead, I want to end this series with one last post about Karl and our friendship.
I was in Virginia with my husband, visiting his parents, when Karl Peterson’s daughters called, informing me that their father had died and asking me to speak at his funeral. There was no way that I could make it back to Ohio in time for his funeral. So, I wrote what I would have said and contacted a faculty member, Charles Chatfield, who read it for me at Karl’s funeral.
This is what I wrote:
A handful of students kept him talking after class: but he was willing to keep up the discussion as long as time allowed. The topics were varied — religion, anthropology, criminology, art, movies, and sociology. You need not agree with him, but he responded to students as if their questions were exceedingly serious. In time, I noticed that my questions were becoming more substantial. He expected it.
Fifteen years ago, when Karl Peterson was my teacher, the books in his office were in three-foot stacks everywhere. He had bibliographic suggestions for nearly every discussion. Once during a conversation with me, he loaned me a book that dealt with the history and influence of the phrase “We Stand On the Shoulders of Giants.” I am grateful for the privilege of standing on the shoulders of a giant — an exemplary teacher, avid reader, lover of art, and good friend.
Sometimes the memories of people we care for trip us up when we least expect it. I found this in my journal written in April of 1994:
On the Death of My Teacher, Karl S. Peterson.
Four months have passed since you died. There is still an oddness about it — a piece not fitting.
You have been my friend, teacher, and advisor for fifteen years. You visited me and my family in two of our homes. We sat on a park bench in Connecticut and smelled the salty sea air at Light House Point Park. In South Carolina, we sat on the curb outside the art museum and ate lunch — street vendor hot dogs. How often have we gone out to dinner in Springfield or Yellow Springs, and now you are dead.
It is just weird. It wasn’t that we talked so often — but I wasn’t finished with the conversation, were you?
From your obituary, I learned things that I never knew about you. But you said I was a rare friend to whom you could say anything.
Although the longevity of friendship makes up for lots of conversation, I keep thinking, oh, I must tell Karl. Are you listening?
PS. Karl, here it is 29 years later, and I still miss our talks.