Light by the Side of the Road

Last fall, I let my then-new, 10-month-old yellow lab/hound Buster run off leash on the fitness trail near home for the first time. He stayed close at first, then bounded in somewhat obedient, ever-widening circles of joy for what seemed to me a heartening period of time. Then he disappeared in the dark up over the interstate berm by the on-ramp at early morning rush hour. Uh-oh.

Five minutes that felt like five hours later, my phone rang. A man named Darin McIntosh told me he had Buster in his truck. Whew.

Standing in that truck’s headlight beams a few minutes later (with Buster safely back on a very short leash awaiting further training), I asked Darin McIntosh if he knew my friend and former fellow staff member Ruben McIntosh.

Ruben worked for the college’s physical plant for so long that his employment starting date is listed in the database as “pre-1970.” I once stood beside Ruben on top of Chambers and he told me stories about anything I could point to from up there, which is a lot.

“Ruben’s my daddy,” said Darin.

Our ensuing conversation revealed, among other things, that Darin has inherited Ruben’s well-deserved reputation for being able to fix pretty much anything.

“I held his flashlight for 30 years,” Darin explained.

I’m willing to bet he heard some good Davidson stories mixed in there, too, along with the mechanical lessons.

Darin and Buster and I parted ways. The sun continued its rise. I continued my dog walk, with some vague and happy glow of gratitude at being part of this community — this small town, this small college — whose deep roots I know and cherish across the generations.

Six Degrees of Separation

Gratitude across the generations was a central theme at this year’s Dinner at Davidson, too. There, my friend, Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics Clark Ross, offered the must-read keynote speech.

“[W]ith a true sense of humility, let us recognize that the contributions of many, since 1837, have led us to today, where we celebrate our success,” Clark said. “Our legendary U.S. history professor and long-time Dean of Faculty, Frontis Johnston ’31, would on occasion caution those whose egos might exceed their knowledge of the past, with these words from Deuteronomy, Chapter 6.

“…’when the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord….’”

In the next paragraph, Clark mentioned the Rev. Brenda Tapia. No one with any sense has ever accused Brenda of forgetting the Lord.

Clark also mentioned the late Professor of Religion Dan Rhodes, Presidents Emeriti Kuykendall and Vagt, student hosts Aditi Ghatlia ’18 and Jacob Cole ’16, Dean of Admission Chris Gruber, student researchers Savannah Haeger ’16 and Will Naso ’18, globe-trotting Bonner Scholar Rashaun Bennett ’16, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies Tracey Hucks, and President Carol Quillen.

It struck me that I know all this cast of characters, personally or by close reputation.

Clark’s keynote cast also made me think of my own “six degrees of separation” list of salient Davidson characters. It brought me to the same feeling of gratitude I had felt that October morning by the side of the road with Darin and Buster: grateful to be alongside all good Davidsonians on a path to what Clark called “a continually improved Davidson College, with a continuity of important values: appreciation, humility, challenge, honor, respect, and reverence; values that have contributed to the uniqueness that Davidson has cherished fervently since 1837.”

As E.L. Doctorow said, you can only see as far as your headlights shine, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Alenda lux.


About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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