My Great Alarm Clock Debacle

I love people’s stories about poignant or funny moments in the lives of Clintonians. No town, not even Clinton, is Mayberry. But I have always thought the writers for Andy Griffith’s acclaimed sitcom would have benefited by reading these stories. They might’ve have found an especially golden treasure in Editor’s Notebook, Donny Wilder’s warm and hilarious treatise on Clinton and people who have lived in it. Over the next couple of months, I want to tell you a few stories about our own 27 years in Clinton. My story today occurred early on. Its primary scene of action was in the basement of PC’s Thomason Library. It was pure horror for me when it happened. Today I can give it a laugh, but occasionally it still has the power to become a nightmare invading my sleep. Although Judi and I didn’t grow up in Clinton, we were still on the young side of middle age when we moved to town. I arrived as an untenured professor, a status which untenured profs know means vulnerable. (Untenured professors everywhere must occasionally empathize with those baby loggerheads, hatched and in grave danger as they seek to reach the relative safety of the sea.) It was the first meeting of the faculty and at least three of us were first-timers in the room. Dr. Ken Orr, PC’s brand-new president, would be giving his maiden speech. Norman Scarborough, from Clemson, had just joined the faculty in business. I was the new face in political science. Judi and I had just come to town. I thought I would be going home after the meeting to help unpack boxes that had finally arrived on the van. Before the meeting began I had thrown an unneeded jacket onto a vacant corner chair. Norman happened to sit next to that chair. Now the president was speaking and, despite his assurance that his remarks would be brief, his speech was running long. But at last now there were hopeful signs that he had begun to wind down. That’s when it happened! The piercing, screeching sound of an alarm clock! Its noise was much too loud and invasive for those assembled to ignore it or the new chief to continue his speech. Everyone looked shocked, completely unnerved. All but me. The look on my face must have been sheer panic and terror. I knew in an instant what had happened. PC classrooms had no clocks on their walls, and as I had lost my wrist watch in the hubbub of moving I had resorted to bringing along a small mechanical clock to warn me when the time was coming to end a class. What I hadn’t realized was that somehow the alarm had inadvertently set when I put the clock in my jacket and tossed that jacket onto the vacant chair! The meeting quickly ended. The new president made an impromptu quip about having to keep on his toes with this faculty. That brought a bit of forced, unnatural laughter. People began to file out of the meeting room. I sat there, disconsolate, wondering what to do. I knew I should go up and offer my apologies to the rank stranger who had just become my new top boss. But I didn’t. Norman Scarborough and I quickly became friends, and we have remained so over all the 37 years since. Even after my confession to him, after some years, that for one super-guilty moment that day I had (sort of) hoped that there were people thinking that that jacket resting next to him with the offending alarm clock in it belonged to him and not me! I finally got up and made my way to my car. I stopped by Roberts to buy a hamburger, but then found I was too broken to eat. Arriving home, I unloaded the burden of the meeting on my long-suffering spouse. I told her that unpacking those boxes might not be needed. I probably would be out of work tomorrow and without a reason for us to take up our residence in Clinton! The ground didn’t quake, the plague of locusts didn’t happen. Not the next day, nor in any of the days that followed as fall semester 1979 rolled on. Judi almost had me convinced that the alarm clock incident was something we would laugh about and keep laughing for the rest of our lives. But then we attended the faculty Christmas party at the president’s home. When Dr. Orr introduced us to his wife, I thought I saw a bit of a frown on her face as she spoke those dreaded words: “Oh, you’re the alarm clock guy!” My story does have a happy ending. President Orr and Professor Scarborough went on to achieve great success in their respective PC roles. And I would come to learn first-hand of the president’s forgiving spirit. In due time I received my tenure. (Now retired and living in Charleston, David Gillespie and his wife Judi resided in Clinton from 1979 to 2006. At PC, David taught political science and Judi served as Financial Aid Director.)

My Clinton News

P.O. Box 180
513 North Broad St.
Clinton, SC 29325
Phone: (864) 833-1900
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