Still-Continuing Ed

By Randy Fitzgerald | June 16th, 2014

Columnist Randy Fitzgerald remembers leaving the family business.


When I was growing up, most of my family — including my parents, three uncles, two aunts and various cousins — were in the restaurant business. Back in the day it wasn’t unusual for entire families to go into the same line of work. Barb’s male ancestors were mostly railroad men, and I had friends from families of policemen and firemen.

The difference in the restaurant business is that you come into the trade one way or another at a far younger age. I remember washing dishes at one of my parents’ restaurants when I was 11. My brother was cooking the lunch shift when he was 15. My sister took cash and waited tables, ignoring child labor laws. We thought it was fun.

THE INTERESTING ONES WORKED ‘IN THE BACK’

One benefit of growing up in restaurants is that you meet some really interesting people, most of whom work “in the back.” My dad’s chef for many years was a fellow who must have been 60 when I first met him and 80 or so before he retired. He blacked his white hair with shoe polish and dragged a damaged leg behind him, but the man could cook — and attract the ladies. He had stories.

There was a waitress whose husband drank so much at the company Christmas parties that three years in a row he fell into the Christmas tree and knocked it down. It became a holiday tradition after the second time.

TROUBLE ALWAYS FOUND THE SNOPES BOYS

Then there were the Snopes brothers (names changed, but they weren’t innocent). Those boys were from back in the mountains in Greene County, not dangerous or even mean, but constantly in trouble. If you happened to leave the keys in your car, for instance, Virgil might happen to take it for a joy ride at a good rate of speed. If you forgot and left your tip on the table too long, Vernon might be tempted to identify it as abandoned property. Both boys had left school as soon as it was legally possible and thereafter spent years in and out of restaurants and jails. My dad liked them, so they were often found peeling potatoes or washing dishes at one or more of his establishments.

When I put the restaurant business behind me, I spent the rest of my life in education, haunting classrooms and campuses for the next 50 years. One day in the early 1970s, my mom ran into Virgil Snopes on the street and he asked, “What’s old Randy up to?”

At that point I was finishing up my Ph.D. after many years as an undergraduate and grad student, and Mom said, “Oh, he’s still in school.”

And a look of great understanding

came into Virgil’s eyes and he said, “Oh, my lord, I am sooo sorry!”

TRAVELING THE WORLD’S CLASSES ONLINE

I thought of that story the other day when I signed up for my third online course since I retired. Yes, it’s true — things don’t feel right to me unless I’m in a classroom, even if it’s a virtual classroom, even in the summer. So far this year I’ve taken an online class at the Berklee School of Music in songwriting, signing on at the end of that one for “Developing Your Musicianship.” Right now I’m enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in music theory — all for free.

It was a whole new world for me to discover how many colleges and universities offer free online classes in almost any subject. History buff? Take a free class from the University of Chicago. Love movies? Want to try painting? Classes in cinema and art are available all over the place.

Some online classes do cost you — certainly if you want to receive college credit — but the free classes have assignments and final grades just like the “real” ones. It’s all great fun and one more thing that confirms for me that retirement is a splendid state to be in. Heck, I even enjoy the tests and homework.

Virgil and Vernon would be aghast.

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