Rowan – a short story

In 2000, the fraternities at Belmont College voted Rowan their pledge of the year. At the time, everyone was pleased by the election, although many were surprised when Rowan failed to turn up to accept the award. This failure aroused the fraternity boys’ interest. Talk flowed freely as they looked about and tried to identify who this person was. They soon realized that, for most of them; Rowan was just a name. Many freely admitted that they had voted for “Rowan” because of the importance implied by this singular name. Some of them felt sure that they had heard the name at a frat gathering and even suspected that they may have met Rowan. Further investigation revealed that one group, the ill-defined bible-study fraternity, had placed the name on the ballot. Thereafter, the other fraternity boys determined that this group knew Rowan and that Rowan was a genuine person. Over time the surprising revelation quickly spread that Rowan was not a male fraternity pledge; in fact, Rowan was not even a student at Belmont College.

The pledged students could only have been more surprised if Rowan had attended the awards ceremony. Their masculine sensitivities would have been sorely taxed by her diminutive figure, in the form of an elderly woman with a full head of flowing red hair and clad in swirling clothing. The floral pattern of her skirt, matching blouse and flamboyant jewelry would have contrasted with their grubby casual tees and worn blue jeans as much as her age and sex contrasted with their youthful masculinity. It was best that they came to acknowledge the mystery of her election through a slow process of word of mouth and rumor so that the event painlessly passed into the mystique of their fraternity history.

Her election can be explained by the fact that three of the bible-study fraternity boys lived in her basement. She was lax in her rules and opened up her home to the group so that they held meetings in her living room while she, generously, served pizza and cookies. She explained her approach to her tenants with the words, “I love to surround myself with young men!” On their side, the boys put her name on the ballot because, for them, she represented the mainstay which held them together.

If the fraternity boys had got to know Rowan through narration of some of the events from her life, they would have realized that her election was a fortuitous endorsement of everything to which they espoused. Rowan’s entire life was full of drama, as she exuded joy and laced all she did with a touch of unconventionality. She was an artistic, fun-loving, free spirit; an adult who never lost the innocence of youth and the ability to make stupid mistakes and to recover from them with vigor. Unquestionably she was the perfect choice for the pledge of the year.

Thirty-five years before her nomination and election as Belmont College’s 2000 fraternity pledge of the year Rowan, herself, attended a small college. She was enrolled in a General Arts degree with the ostensibly normal goal of becoming a school teacher. As soon as she arrived on campus away from the confines of her family, she opened her eyes the world and embraced a hippie-like life of unconventionality. She became vegetarian, smoked pot and opted for a lifestyle which demonstrated to her fellow students, and herself, that she saw all men as equal.

When she met Eugene Blanc, a handsome young black scholar from Houston, Texas, it was inevitable that she fell in love. Eugene responded to her impulsive free spirit and returned her love with passion. Gradually, they settled into a routine in which they did everything together, even enjoying the stir that their presence made when they visited their families. Neither side’s kinfolk approved of their liaison. Both families, while protesting support for civil rights equality and racial integration, couldn’t accept that their family might be linked to a family of another ethnicity. After the 1967, Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in their ruling on Loving vs. Virginia, Rowan and Eugene saw an opportunity to advance their relationship. In 1969, they got married at a wedding chapel on the side of the Galveston freeway. Neither of their families was invited to, nor attended the event.

It would be good if this narrative could report that Rowan and Eugene lived happily ever after, but then, perhaps Rowan might not have made it to fraternity pledge of the year in 2000.  After graduation, they enjoyed a brief period of happiness working in positions in large oil-related corporations in Houston. They lived in a small rented apartment in Forster’s Pond just inside the Loop at the Galleria and attempted to dissolve into the cultural melee of the rapidly growing city. Unfortunately the prejudices of corporate American unsettled Eugene and he became increasingly irrational and disturbed. He took to the bottle, and one early Saturday morning drove headlong into a tree close to their apartment. He was killed instantly.

Rowan bounced back from the sadness of losing Eugene and moved to Austin. She accepted a position at IBM, bought a house and settled into a new life. She met the Ghanaian, Bastos, in the IBM cafeteria. He wooed her by showering her with attention in the form of conventional courtship paraphernalia such as flowers, chocolates and expensive dates. Although Rowan shunned traditional mores, she enjoyed Bastos’ attention. Within a few months, she invited him to move in with her. He was a perfect companion and continued his pursuit with his apparently undivided devotion.

After six months, Bastos told Rowan that he needed to return to Ghana and proposed she accompany him as his wife. Rowan suggested a trip to another Wedding Chapel, but Bastos was lovingly emphatic that they should be married by an Imam in true muslin tradition. Although he had not previously discussed his beliefs with Rowan, he now told her that his sincerest hope was that, over time, perhaps in Ghana, she would convert to Islam so that they could spend eternity together. Rowan found his suggestion flatteringly loving and told him that she also wished to be with him through eternity. In preparation for their life-changing move, Bastos persuaded Rowan to liquidate her assets and to sell off her possessions and to give him the proceeds; for, he told her, this would enable her to make a proper transition to Ghana as his wife. Rowan willingly complied.

Ghana proved to be an uncanny revelation for Rowan. When they arrived in Accra, Bastos changed; gone was the attentive suitor, now he was the autocratic businessman and head of a household. This was when Rowan discovered that she arrived in the role as one of four wives. She quickly tired of this life and expressed a desire to return home to the United States. Bastos had her money, and tiring of her emotional outbursts, was ready for her to leave. One fine day he escorted her to the American Embassy and left her to contact her family for money and to undertake the long process of returning to the USA.

After her return to the United States and the annulment of her marriage with Bastos, Rowan needed a clean start. She returned to her roots, bought a home near Belmont College, and accepted a position as a librarian in a local library. She wholeheartedly reunited with her relatives who were delighted to welcome her back into their midst. She settled into the place of her youth, and soon took up with an ex-boyfriend from her teens, a six-foot-six white guy named Phil. Now story has it that Phil was a part – time pimp; which may explain why Rowan had difficulty keeping him in line. One evening he drove off in her second car for a night out on the town. Rowan was fun-loving enough to resent his leaving her at home but, after two failed marriages, acknowledged that sometimes a man needs to go out with the boys.

When Phil failed to return by eleven Rowan was irate. She was so angry that she revved up her second car and roared into town looking for him. She drove past his two favorite bars. At both, she failed to see her car in the parking lot. Just as she was leaving the second lot, she saw one of Phil’s friends. She stopped and questioned the slightly intoxicated man and managed to discover that Phil was probably at Sandy’s house on Elm Street.

Rowan drove to Elm Street and spotted her car parked at the curb. She drove slowly past peering up at the adjacent house. Behind the curtains of one of the illuminated windows, she distinctly saw two figures locked in an embrace. She drove around the block and returned. The two figures were still there; by now, she was so filled with wrath that she accelerated and rammed her own car parked at the curb. There was a loud crunch of broken metal, and her car’s engine quit. In the ensuing silence, she screamed into the darkness,

“That serves him right. That’ll teach him. By the time that he finds a way home, I’ll have his possessions on the doorstep!”

She got out of her car, crossed the street, and walked up to a house with a light on. She rang the doorbell.

“Good evening,” she said, her eyes flashing with anger, her voice steely calm, “May I use your telephone? I need to report a hit-and-run!”

No fraternity boy could have done better. Belmont College was right to award Rowan their Pledge of the Year.

 

8 thoughts on “Rowan – a short story

  1. Great story, just as it stands! A character that resonates – I think everyone has a Rowan somewhere in their life, and you make her substantial enough to reach out and touch. Love her, would like to have met her.

  2. What a lovely story and based on a real person, you say. And truly and obviously an unconventional life lived. Enjoyed the read, Jane.
    Thank you for bringing it forth,
    Eric

  3. This is a wonderful portrait of a character. It’s as if I had just met Rowan briefly at some crowded social affair held recently by a friend and then a few days afterward sat hashing over that event at afternoon tea with the friend and said: “Tell me about that funny little woman with the red hair and all the jewelry….” So would begin the tale of Rowan, her colorful life and misadventures with men. This even has the diction of a kind of harmless gossip…”now story has it that Phil was a part-time pimp….”
    Rowan reminds me of several acquaintances with whom I came of age in the late 1960’s who never quite got over that sense of being a “flower child” and likely never will. You rounded it out and framed the portrait nicely with the Belmont college pledge award.

    • I rather like your vision of an afternoon tea at which a recently met person is discussed, that could be a delightful way (excuse) to bring out a description of a person with a nice blend of showing and telling. In actuality, as you guessed, this story is based upon a real person. I was given these facts / events, some of which I somewhat elaborated, and many other lovely instances of her life when her brother described her funeral which was packed with people all of whom had loving tales to tell. The real Rowan (not her real name) was much loved and missed!

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