Soliloquy 35


Above the red and gold leaves hung a sapphire sky. I strolled through the terraced gardens behind the mansion and reminisced. When the Tylers still lived here, the lower terrace was a swimming pool, but it had already been filled in by the time I arrived, a freshman, in 1969. Standing at the stone balustrade overlooking the gardens,  on either side of me wide staircases leading down into the gardens, here there used to be a statue of a nude woman stretching toward the sun when the time of day was right. While I was a student here, I came late one night with a camera to see her by the full moon. Now the school has replaced her with a cloaked woman, only her breasts are bared, holding up a trumpeting cherub. These bronze sculptures that dot the property are the handiwork of Mrs. Stella Elkins Tyler, the last resident of the castellated  mansion, its sixty rooms and twenty plus fireplaces.

This is Bucks County Community College, located in the rolling hills west of Newtown, not far from where I live. Community colleges, or junior colleges, only provide the first two years of collegiate education. This is my alma mater. With a little finagling, I was able to eventually wangle a degree loose from this institution of higher learning. An Associate's Degree would be the highest credential I would ever earn, although I continued to attend the occasional class here and there.

Approaching the front of the house you cross a broad circle of cobblestones. The long building looks like a French château and is nestled in a forest. It was built in 1930 from the local rust-coloured stones. Above the main entrance a second-story balcony stretches between two turrets. The steep roofs are covered with three layers of tile. The tiles are green, like oxidized copper, on the top but are red underneath. This dark building in the shadow of trees has become the school's Tyler Hall, housing classrooms and administrative offices. The north wing rests precariously close to a steep drop you can't see from the front.

Behind the north wing I climbed down to a precipitous outcrop of granite known as Indian Rock. A view through the tall trees readily finds the meandering Neshaminy Creek far below. The creek is as wide as some European rivers. Legend has it that a Lenape maiden leaped to her death from this place to avoid unwanted matrimony.  Since the school was founded in 1964, students have engraved their names and the dates into the ledge. Older names and dates go back to the eighteenth century, if we're to believe the markings.

From the campus it is possible to look out across the wide valley of fields and forest that was once Tyler family property. That vastness is now the deer filled Tyler Park. The Tylers were generous people. When they moved into this, their summer home, permanently, they gave that estate in Elkins Park, a Philadelphia suburb, to Temple University. It has since become the Tyler School of Art. The Tylers were lovers of art. When in 1963 Mrs. Tyler died, she left this, the Indian Council Rock estate, again to Temple University. They couldn't use it and handed it over to the county, which needed a home for their community college. The mansion forms the original core of the school, but many new orange-red brick structures now sprawl across the campus.

Strolling the campus this cool autumn evening brought to mind some regrets. I was an awful student in grade school. If the subject didn't interest me, I couldn't learn it. If the subject did interest me, the class lumbered along too slowly. I was easily distracted, desperate for something to entertain my mind and keep me awake. It was the view through windows that was often my salvation. Or else I expended my need for mental exercise by doodling in the margins of my text books. Sometimes I clocked myself taking apart and putting back together my Parker ballpoint pen using just one hand and never letting the pieces touch the desk. At worst my desperation to stay awake would have me squeezing sharp objects into my palms or against my arms, testing my tolerance and being fascinated by the impression objects left in my skin - how long could I get those impression to stay? Bottle caps served especially well. Grade school, for me, was like a prison sentence - I was just serving my time.

It was from my father I learned my love of books and reading. It never occurred to me that I was educating myself from the books on my father's shelves. He had been annoyed with my grades, but his disappointment was constrained. He always had confidence in me and that someday I would make good regardless of my grades. He tried to inspire me by telling me about all the money I could make someday if I did better in school. His confidence in me only caused me to lose confidence in his judgement. As the end of high school approached, he demanded that I go to college.

My mother simply thought I wasn't very bright. Exactly opposite to my father, she was convinced I was doomed to be a failure in life and she whined about it often. Money was the important thing. I would need money to buy the expensive things I desired. She tried to compel me with threats that if I didn't do well in school, didn't go on to college, I would never get a good job. I would end up becoming a "gravedigger."

Actually, I had a friend who was a gravedigger. He made good money and the work was easy. I could see myself digging graves. It would keep me fit. It would have me outside in the fresh air. I'd be working with my hands, so my mind would be free to roam through the lands of my own imagination. I wouldn't be taking my work home with me and could read books of my own choosing.

The intent of Bucks County Community College was to give a leg up to the area's high school graduates. It was astonishingly easy and inexpensive for the children of the county's residents to get into this exceptional school. The school was also sought out by students from other counties, other States, and even foreign countries. For them it was considerably harder to get into and more expensive, especially since the college has no dormitories. I really didn't want to go to college. My parents insisted. Being a resident of Bucks County, I had no trouble getting in despite my rather poor grades.

Neither of my parents ever tried to convince me that education could simply be fun. Neither of them thought to tell me an education could help me to first recognize happiness and then take proper steps to acquire it. Neither my mother nor my father thought to explain to me that an education could be a consolation against life's tribulations. All they could teach me was that the objective of an education was more money.

It took the good teachers at Bucks County Community College to instill in me a self-confidence, a belief in my intelligence. I was flabbergasted to discover I could pick the subjects that interested me. I became a Liberal Arts Major. For those of you not living in the U.S., Liberal Arts is defined by my Random House dictionary as, "the academic course of instruction at a college intended to provide general knowledge and comprising the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences, as opposed to professional or technical subjects."  In other words, this was not schooling that led to a job. I started writing poetry during those years at Bucks County Community College.

The lectures seemed more like entertainment with the teachers enthusiastic for their subjects. Colourful, often flamboyant teachers had taught me to understand that it was enough to acquire an education just for its own sake, that the money didn't matter - until it ran out. Thirty years later, walking the campus grounds, I think how my life might have been different if I had known about this other world sooner. I wouldn't now be working for AT&T, which is so much like high school. And on this autumn afternoon growing increasingly cold, and me without a coat, I found myself wishing I could have spent my life the perennial student on a beautiful campus, discussing ideas with exciting minds, and with the time, and the support, to formulate my own ideas.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the thirty-fifth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.
Bentzman" is available from