Thanking My Lucky Stars (March Theme)

The dedication in my novel King of Ithaka reads:

For my parents, who said “Wonderful!” and not
“How do you expect to make a living at that?”
when I declared a major in classics

The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was being born in my particular family. It wasn’t picture-perfect, of course—what family is? My mother, now 88, has had MS since she was 33, and she and my father had their own set of issues and neuroses; my siblings and I had our rocky times—all the usual baggage.

My parents were supportive but realistic. Nobody ever told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, thank goodness. Talk about giving someone false hopes! But they did back me in my interests. They encouraged my writing; they enjoyed hearing about my studies in classics; they enthusiastically sent me to study in Italy for a year. Both of them read my doctoral dissertation on a medieval Italian poet they had never heard of (and you haven’t either! Don’t believe me? Cecco Angiolieri. See?) and gave me thoughtful comments on it.

Now that I’ve been a college professor for 28 years (59 days left!) and I see the pressures my students operate under to forget that silly major in philosophy and study something “practical” like accounting, I thank whatever lucky star put me in a family where education was considered preparation for life, not for a particular career.

And I’ve done okay. I’ve had a rewarding teaching career, and my education has provided training and inspiration for my writing. But even if it hadn’t, I’d still consider myself lucky for having Dick and Shirley Barrett as parents.


  1. Beautiful tribute and thankful post for your parents, Tracy! I majored in English, and while others said, "What are you going to do with that?" my parents knew it was the right fit for me and were excited about my choice because I was excited about it. They read all my research papers, no matter how boring the topic, and listened to me prattle on and on about my literature and writing classes. We sure are lucky to have such supportive parents like that!

  2. I hear you, Laura! It's amazing how few people wind up in the professions that their "useful" college degrees were supposedly training them for. Who should be held to a decision they made when they were 20??? Major in something that interests you and teaches you how to think, read, and communicate, and you can apply that to *any* profession!

  3. I couldn't agree more, Tracy. An education isn't about the specific facts you memorize for tests. An education is about learning to use your mind.

  4. I certainly wish my father had not suggested that I major in Latin! I was unemployed for nine years after teaching for four. Retrained as a librarian, and may be laid off after ten years due to budget cuts. My children are all pursuing medical careers. You are extremely fortunate that you have been able ti have a career in Classics, but very few other people have that luxury. Did love King of Ithaka, though!

  5. So sorry for your employment woes! An undergraduate degree in Latin doesn't need to lead to a career in Classics, though--my point is that it's excellent training for *any* career. Of the 30+ friends I spent a year with at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies--classics majors all--only four (that I know of) are teaching Latin, Greek, etc. The rest found it great training for law, medicine, business, etc.


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