The disappearance of plastic pails and shovels, rubber sandals and sunscreen from store shelves, and their replacement with pencils, notebooks, rulers and calculators signals the end of summer and the return to school for students and their teachers.
This year there may be different kinds of school supplies that have to be purchased elsewhere – ammunition. Around the world it’s been an exceptionally violent summer, by any measure. It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish between active war zones and ordinary city streets.
When I meet my new graduate students, I will wonder if any of them will be carrying guns. It is perfectly legal for them to do this, starting with the first day of August. I hope that the people who wrote this legislation were ignorant of the meaning of the date – no one could be that cruel or that insensitive to have picked that day, above all others, for this law to take effect.
On August first of 1966 my mother was editing a book in her elegantly paneled office in Sutton Hall, on the University of Texas Campus in Austin. The building is one of the masterpieces of Cass Gilbert, a nationally famous architect who designed the original main library next door, both buildings being at the heart of the campus along its south mall. The mall is terminated by the main building and its tower, where she had a second office. About noon that day puffs of smoke appeared on the tower’s observation deck, just below its four symmetrical clock faces. Those were gunshots. From the rifle of Charles Whitman.
My brother and I were having a latch-key summer, waiting to go back to elementary school. We were only nominally supervised by our father who came home to have lunch with us, and watch the television news at noon. We saw pictures of the puffs of smoke and heard the agitated voice of the local news anchor who could scarcely comprehend what he was seeing. The next sight we had of our father was him dashing out the door, flooring the gas and taking off for downtown, leaving the front door wide open.
Downtown was all roadblocks by the time he got there – he couldn’t get anywhere near the campus. My mother had the radio in her office tuned to the noon news too, not realizing at first that she was part of the story. She tried to throw her car keys to a wounded policeman but was dragged back into Sutton Hall by a professor who had been in the OSS during World War II. He saved her life.
The siege lasted for hours. Dad brought mom home as the sun was setting. We were all very quiet.
Thirty two years later I was teaching at the University myself. On August first I was shown my new office, a beautifully paneled room in Sutton Hall.
- Michael Guarino