First Assignment

It is very difficult for me to know where to begin talking about David.  We met in June of 1971 at the Planning Conference being held at Pack Forest.  The academic program that I was assigned to was “The Individual, the Citizen, and the State”.  Five faculty and a heady brew it was.  Dave was the Coordinator, sort of a department chairman but less than and more than that.  I was scared to death.  I’d never taught a novel before and we began with Catch 22. 

I was the person responsible for introducing David to John Raser and Murdoch University in Perth, West Australia–a university designed to be different.  There were echoes of Santa Cruz, St. John’s of Santa Fe, Sangamon State in Illinois, as well as a few others at Evergreen and at Murdoch.  I recall the Vice-Chairman of Murdoch Steven Grew telling Dave that they would take care of all the arrangements for him to come to Australia.  Dave did not realize that it was up to him to apply for a passport.  So, when this finally became clear to him he scrambled to obtain his birth certificate.  When it arrive, he discovered that it was an amended passport  and his lineage as part Native American had been removed.  I guess that said a lot about Oklahoma, where David was born, and how the Caucasian population viewed the Indians.  Dave went off to Australia and found, I believe, some interesting parallels between Frontier America and Australia, especially Western Australia. 

Every week I sent a large envelope with the Cooper Point Journal and other Evergreen material to Dave.  When he returned to us he said that he felt that he had never been gone, he was so up to date.  The high point of all these packages of printed matter seems to have been the newspaper photo of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller giving the finger to a group of students who attempted to stop him from speaking at some event. 

Dave had to deal with the fact that he was a Yank as well as teaching at a new and very different university in Australia.  When the size of your office, based on your academic rank, is controlled by regulations issued in the national capital (Canberra), then you know that you are in a far different place than America. 

David grew, and through reflection became a better teacher.  That did not occur all at once.  Perhaps it is best to say that the shoe dropped piece by piece. 

There is one small item that came into my life as a result of something that David purchased.  When Betty Estes and I helped Dave clean out his house in Tanglewild in June of 1972, into my VW van sent a small metal box that had held some child’s carpenter toys.  I believe that these had been a Christmas gift for his son.  The tools were gone but the metal box was intact.  I saved this box and placed shoe polish, shoe laces, shoe shining brushes, and rags in it.  It is one of those small and insignificant things but has a forty year memory associated with it.  1971-1972 carries many memories with it.  February 9, 1972 was a Monday and a day for our faculty seminar.  Bus, it began snowing and did not stop for twenty-four hours.  We received twenty-three inches of snow and essentially shut down for a week.

When Mervyn Cadwallader, one of our founding deans, asked each academic program to do something to celebrate Evergreen I placed copies of all of our nearly three dozen pieces of assigned reading in a hallway outside our offices and put up a sign indicating that this was assigned reading for our program.  A student walked by, stopped,  read the sign and then turned to me and said:”Assigned reading?  That is a denial of the spirit of evergreen.  THAT was never a denial of the spirit of David L. Hitchens.

Recurrent birthday memory

February, 1980. I woke in bed on the 6th floor of A Dorm to find it was snowing. It’s never snowed on my birthday. We were in in-house evals that week and my conference with Dave was scheduled for somewhere in the afternoon. Being totally new to the school and its ways, I was more curious than concerned about these unwritten evaluations.
The phone rang in my room. It was a seminar mate, saying she’d had to reschedule her conference to another time, but if I wished, I could take the slot she was vacating. The new time was coming up pretty quickly and if I wanted it, I was told I had to call Dave & tell him I’d be in. I decided I’d take it & made the call.
I informed him I’d be coming in earlier — but on one condition.
“You have to be nice to me,” I warned.
“No, I don’t,” came the reply.
“Yes, you do.”
“I don’t have to be nice to nobody!”
“Yes, you do. It’s my birthday.”
“Oh, well, in that case –” Followed by an a cappella, in tune (thank you!) “Happy Birthday” which concluded with “Not bad even with a cold, was it?”
This is one of my most cherished memories of my first year at Evergreen and I remember it every year.

Democracy in America

Dave, quoting Ghandi, “that’s a good idea.”

We talked endlessly about the shell game that passes for Democracy in America. I still have my copy of Tocquiville.

I remember too, Dave musing about starting a new field, “White Trash Studies.” He figured he’d be a shoo in for a medal of some sort.

More seriously, he was convinced, and he convinced me that we’d never understand the course of American politics, and its strong reactionary bent, if we didn’t take “white trash” seriously on its own terms.

Every time I turned the page while reading “Deer Hunting with Jesus” I thought of Dave Hitchens.

My First Professor

Walking into that classroom the first day in the Fall of 1995, I was instantly captivated by your ability to engage with history and bring all these past events and people to life. Your storytelling inspired me and your gentleness and care for our class of mostly 18 year olds created a space where I not only learned about how our country came to be, but also allowed me a path to discover who I was going to be. Now as a school librarian, when sharing stories with my students and leading them to their own personal and educational discoveries, I’m thankful that I was taught by one of the best!

History reignited

I have always been fascinated with history but somehow the curriculum of my childhood American history classes was painfully redundant. We never seemed to get past the Industrial Revolution. So when I started taking “Looking Backward: America in the Twentieth Century” I was a little wary. I knew nothing about U.S. history past the 1800s and quite frankly, I was no longer interested. But when I walked into that classroom and met my professors, men who not only knew their subject but had lived through what they were teaching, I was blown away. Dave, I can’t say it any plainer. You made history interesting again. I went to class every day looking forward to hearing your stories and living vicariously through your experiences. What a captivating and charming storyteller you are. I can’t thank you enough. No professor has ever made me WANT to go to class that much. My best memories of Evergreen will always come from your class. Thank you. For everything.
Alexa Steele Class of ’10