It’s a small world.
Spring semester of my senior year at Southern State College in 1967, I was superintendent of a week-long Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Waldo, Arkansas. During each of the daily assemblies, a man of about 50 with twitching eyelids and a deep voice showed up along with the children. I thought he was probably a deacon checking up on my doctrine or something. Mrs. Benson, a pillar of the church, was also in attendance at every function of VBS. Towards the end of the final week, Mrs. Benson invited my wife and me to lunch at her house.
The mystery man responded to our knock at the door. It turned out he was Mrs. Benson’s son. He invited us to the table in a deep resonant voice. After the man seated us, Mrs. Benson came in with the wonderful Southern feast. She said grace and we dug in, but we noticed that the man was not seated. He continued to stand with a napkin over his arm.
Mrs. Benson said, “Vic will serve tea, coffee or whatever you require today. You two have met Vic, of course.”
“No, we haven’t,” I replied.
“It is very nice to meet you, sir,” my wife said.
“Likewise, Mrs. Ford. And Mr. Ford. Welcome to our home.”
During the meal, Vic asked my wife what her astrological sign was. She told him she was a Leo, though we did not put any stock in such as that. When he filled my glass, he asked my sign. I said, “Sagittarius,” and he replied, “You and Mrs. Ford must get along quite well, then.”
During dessert, Mrs. Benson asked what we planned to do upon graduation from college. I told her we had decided to go to graduate school at Auburn. “I have a son teaching down there,” she said, and we did not think any more about it until the following:
When the professor walked into the seminar on the first day of classes at Auburn, there was something vaguely familiar about him. He had twitching eyelids and a deeply resonant voice. I noticed Professor Benson pausing to look me over when he called the roll. He started calling on me often. His first question to me, the second day of class, was, “Mr. Ford, you are a Bible scholar; in what way does scripture inform the characterization of Jim in this novel?” I made a laconic stab at an answer while wondering how he got the idea I was a Bible scholar. Then, the next class, he asked me another heavy question: “Mr. Ford, you are a profound moralist, what is the basic ethos of Conrad’s approach to relationships in Lord Jim?”
Every class meeting, he singled me out. Finally, during the third week, we took our first break during the class and Dr. Benson came up to me and said, “Ford, my mother wrote me that she knows you and your wife.” I was surprised, still not putting it all together. Then he said, “Mrs. Benson of Waldo.” Instead of slapping my forehead, I just said, “It’s a small world.”
“Especially in the South,” he replied with a chuckle.