It was early in the research, a couple of years ago. It was the afternoon. I still remember what it felt like. I wish I was there now. I’m there on Glenn Ave, in my office. I had an office for a time, across from Glenn Dean drugs, what was once Glenn Dean, what will always be Glenn Dean, hallelujah. It wasn’t cloudy, it wasn’t sunny. Just kinda just right. But the afternoon is about to hit the crucial point of decision and if you can’t muster something, anything at just that moment, the day is going to be a waste. So we here go. I knew Dean Foy was still alive before the Tulane game. But that game, homecoming 2006, the first I took my daughter to, he led the stadium in a “War Eagle.” A thousand years old and he’s still out there! Did he even need a mic? Who knows. So yeah, then I knew that he was more than still alive. War Eagle. A lot of them aren’t, though. I had just called Chief Dawson’s house. He was still listed in the phone book. I asked for him and a woman told me he wasn’t there, he’s deceased, ten years. It was his widow. Oh, I’m sorry, well, but say, you wouldn’t by chance have any stories. Well, of course she did.
And so I Google Dean Foy’s number. It’s another one of my awesome whims, but God in heaven, you know it’s the only I know how to be. I find it. I call him. He answers and sounds the way you want an old, old man to sound. “Well, why don’t you come on over and we’ll talk. Yessir, yessir, alright now, bye.” He hangs up.
I hit the “end” button and say “touchdown” out loud. Seriously. The movie cameras are trained on me, I had to. This is about to big a big scene, a really big deal. I’m taking sweet, OCD time with my gear, my movements slow and deliberate. I will not forget anything. But my heart is racing. It’s racing now just thinking about it. I pretty much knew where his house was but I still print out a map. The drive over through the wonderful Auburn neighborhoods is magic, oh man, the brick houses built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the soft October sun breathing in the afternoon trees, sighing for dusk… and it was so quiet in the car. It was my (Birmingham) grandmother’s car, a candy apple red Lincoln Town Car. It’s a long story. The point is, it was quiet. The thoughts were everywhere. Speaking of, I thought the Lincoln might give me some credibility with him, in case he was watching out the window.
I find the house. It’s on my right. The first thing I notice is the Auburn pin-wheel by the mailbox, rolling slowly with the breeze. It’s a wood house of dark brown, almost looks like a cabin. There are azaleas and dogwoods in the yard, it’s October but they’re Dean Foy’s azaleas and they’re still in bloom. “Ten years ago in that yard there were 200 pine trees, this big around and 85 ft. tall,” he tells me later. They cut them all down. I don’t know how 200 trees could have fit, but it’s Dean Foy, so there could have been 2,000, I take him at his word.
Up the steps. I’m trick or treating. I’m picking a girl up for a dance. There’s a hand-colored poster board taped to his front door. Big bubble letters spell out “Soar Like a War Eagle” just above a drawing of an eagle, a big one, totally colored in, even the head, golden brown, historically accurate. Underneath it is a computer printout of the type of fighter plane he flew in WWII, of course I learn that later. The wind chime? Polished orange and blue rocks, dangling from wood gnarled into the Auburn logo. And boy, I’m snapping pictures. I take pictures of everything. The bells of Samford Hall chime 3:45. Far away, a dog barks. End scene. How I would love to wrestle in the yard with that beautiful Auburn dog.
He opens the door. He lets me in. His hair is still Bozo awesome. His handshake feels like Bo Jackson’s did when I was five years old. The Auburn University Dean of Students from 1950 to 1978 is wearing a gray Auburn t-shirt, neatly tucked into his pants.
The living room where then 91-year-old Jim Foy waits for 100 when he’s not leading folks in the Auburn Fight Song or presenting sportsmanship trophies named in his honor or attending lectures on history he made and lived is less a museum of collegiate totems and relics and more a nice, humble tapestry of what the Auburn Spirit can accomplish. There are symbols of respect and admiration from his colleagues all over the place. There are photographs of his successful daughters. I think to myself, “these are provisions for the luxurious contemplation of God and what He intended for America.”
His nurse is down stairs, he tells me. She lives down there. Guess what else is down there? Never before seen footage, glued to 16mm film on reels untouched since the ‘40s and 50s, of the once annual parade through the streets of Birmingham commemorating the renewed football rivalry between Auburn and Alabama. Foy helped organize it, he and Birmingham’s chief of police, Bull Connor, before that name meant much.
“I need to go through those.”
“Yeah,” I say, “Yeah… I mean, if you… I mean I could, you know… help.”
And there we are on the couch and I swear he’s in better shape than I am. The cushions sink deeply in the middle, raising the ends up like wings. I have all my stuff around me: my digital voice recorders, my Glomeratas. To my left is a framed photo of him decked out in ski gear taken a year before in Colorado – like, he’s on the slopes, about to take off. There are old Auburn football programs underneath his remote control to my right. I think I have them all. His Glomeratas, Auburn’s yearbook, are across the room on a shelf, some so old the library barely has them, books with photos of his ancestors, and by that I mean his dad and uncles. I am behind the wizard’s curtain but he’s totally real. He’s a cheerleader. “War Eagle” Foy, that’s what they called him… “Joy Boy” Foy. I am looking at, listening to, and brushing knees with absolute rah-rah.
photo by Pat Busbee.
“Well,” I say, and start in a bit on what I’m working on, what has brought me here, a pilgrim. I’m rambling loudly. He’s listening. I hope he doesn’t laugh. I hope he doesn’t show me back to that awesome door. I wrap it up.
“It might not sound like much of a bestseller but I think I’ve got a good vision for it.”
“I think it’s an important book to write,” he says. “Let’s look through the Glomerata and bring back some memories.” Out come the cameras again, lights, camera, it’s like we’re reading a script.
And I am so ready. Let’s act it out, Dean Foy. Introduce me to the cast. I’m ready to share their secrets. I’m ready to wrap the prodigal robe around the good ol’ days. Let’s fire up the grill and tap the keg of your age-defying recall and unmatched passion, which can bless the minutia of university administration from say, 1974 or something, with the tone of high poetry. Lay it on me.
We start at the beginning. We flip through the heavy 1974 Glom like it’s a Guttenberg Bible. The naked people – the Genesis scenes – will be coming up soon, pages 54 and 55.
Overcome by the moment, I actually read the page by page introduction out loud!
“This is a book of one year at Auburn…”
“… a year not unlike year’s past…”
“… but unique because it’s our own…”
“… important because it’s worth remembering…”
“… a collection of memories…”
“… concerning the events, the time… our time…”
“… the styles that represent this year…”
“… but especially the people…”
“…for it’s the people who make Auburn…”
“… change Auburn…”
“… and make this place something special…”
We hit page 29. It has the words “the people of Auburn have determined what this year has been.”
Facing it from the left, on page 28, in a scene from a Sigma Chi fundraiser (Derby Days, I guess), there’s a picture in full golden color of a guy in a plaid shirt, blindfolded, getting kissed deeply by a long haired coed in striped knee socks. An Auburn football patch with the words “War Eagle” is sewn on the pocket of the spectacular seat of her short cut-off blue jean shorts, into which a t-shirt is tucked tightly. Her body is pressed against him; Larry Parker, the photographer and that year’s editor, told me the guy actually passed out. You stare at the photo and can believe it. It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.
photo by Larry Parker.
I say, “Wow, there’s somethin’, huh?”
Foy points to the guy. “Is that me?” He smiles.
Oh man, that was great! I laugh and laugh and laugh. We keep going, the nudity is getting closer, I’m about to be looking at pictures of breasts and butts with Dean Foy.
The last line to the introduction – and it’s poetry – is next to a photo of a setting sun kissing the horizon of a dark county road.
“So remember us, for we’ll remember you.”
Alright, finally there, pages 54 and 55. It gets kind of quiet. Dean Foy was in there amongst them. With a flashlight.
“And so I was just wanting to get your perspective on all this,” I say. “I mean, you know, you imagine your parents generation as being more conservative, a little more prudish and everything, and yet here they are, here they are streaking. I mean, and not only that, there’s pictures of it in the yearbook.”
“Yeah… yeah,” he says.
He looks a little more, then looks up. He closes the book, puts it down and looks straight ahead, over the coffee table with the tiger figurine, out the window with the eagle decal, off into the distance.
I can feel it, here it comes, the key to the secrets of Auburn’s 1974.
He says, “In my mind, this all goes back to the great panty raid of 1947…”