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Chapter 2: We Became College Roommates

by K. Rebecca Martin and Yvonne "Birdie" Clark

I was a pre-med major in college, but my life was completely wrapped up in music.

My dad is a pharmacist, so I grew up working in our family-owned pharmacy. I had a healthy respect for drugs. As a teen, when someone decided to pop a prescription pill they had taken out of their parents’ medicine cabinet, I would say: “That’s going to slow down your heart rate down and that one will give you diarrhea!”

My future as a doctor was predictable; however, my life was filled with music! My mom started me in piano lessons at age seven. Oh the pain I must have caused Mrs. McCready, my teacher.

I always conveniently “forgot” that I had a piano lesson.

Learning to play the piano was the most important foundation laid in my music education. My wonderful mother gave me that advantage. My Aunt Yvonne taught me to play ukulele, and I taught myself to play the guitar by watching country singers on TV. Then I enrolled in band in the 5th grade playing tenor sax.

Now, here I was, a pre-med student in college and I was in marching band, concert band, stage band, symphonic band and jazz band. I was worn SLAPout!


East Tennessee State University marching band
college papers in the 1970's

Even as a young child my passion was writing, so I came to the university pursuing a degree in Journalism. Any extra hours I could muster up, I took theatre classes. By my junior year in college, my advisor told me if I would add a few more required courses, then I could have a double major in Theater too. So, I did!

From as long as I can remember, I was a writer. I still have my big sister’s school notebookpacked with poems and stories. Subject matter is everything, from rants against my daddy’s deer hunting to love’s broken heart.

I also liked putting on shows. In fact, about once a week, I would gather the neighborhood kids, most of which were my cousins, to my grandparent’s home. I would have my grandparents go into the kitchen while I put together a show. Then I would charge my dear sweet grandma and grandpa a quarter to come into their own living room to watch the show. After basking in their deafening applause, I used the fifty cents to purchase candy from my grandma's candy counter.

rebecca and grandmother

Prior to college registration, I remember an interviewer asked me: “What do you want to be when you graduate college?” I said: “A writer.” He said, “You don’t just come out of college being ‘a writer’.” My mom and dad had never told me I that I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be, so I respectfully said: “Oh. Okay.” That man ended up being one of my college journalism professors.

So I was trying to balance difficult classes, a heavy schedule and a hearty dose of first-time-ever independence! My grades were plummeting. I was having a good ole time with all my rowdy friends on 3rd floor, and then there was Rebecca, the unusually nice 1st floor socialite who left encouraging little notes on my door.

After Christmas break, I returned to school for some changes. My roommate had quit college to get married. And my housemother, Mrs. Kefoffer, recommended me to be hired as a resident assistant, which amounted to a glorified tattle-tale who watched the front desk, while the housemother watched TV.

My third floor friends, who didn’t like Rebecca to begin with, liked her even less as a resident assistant.

One afternoon Mrs. Kefoffer called me to the door of her apartment, which was right behind the dorm front desk. She said, “Rebecca, don’t turn around yet but, on the lobby couch behind you - that's Phyllis.” I didn’t like the expression on Mrs. Kefoffer’s face. “Phyllis is going to be your new roommate. Phyllis was just released from …!”

I have no idea how she finished the sentence. That’s all I needed to hear! I quickly turned around to look.

There she sat.

Phyllis! …

She was surrounded by bulging luggage and college paraphernalia! Her thick glasses sat very crooked on her face. Her short black hair looked as if she had just gotten out of bed, with a cowlick of hair unintentionally fanned out like a peacock’s tail at the crown of her head. She seemed mesmerized by the fluorescent lobby lights.

Like one who found herself looking at a prison cell, I looked back at Mrs. Kefoffer and said weakly: “May I make one call?”

That afternoon, I heard a voice from heaven. …. Actually it was from the intercom system echoing through the dorm. “Birdie Clark, come to the lobby please.” I recognized Rebecca’s voice, so I hurried down the three flights of stairs. Rebecca said, “Look around. That’s my new roommate if you don’t move in with me.”

That afternoon when Birdie’s 3rd floor friends came in from classes, her red, white and blue bed sheets were gone and Phyllis was in her place, and Birdie’s PH was hanging on the 1st floor.

students on dorm steps in 1970's
Clark's Pharmacy
Clark's Pharmacy in Saltville, Virginia
country house in east Tennessee
Rebecca's grandparents' house in Tennessee.

About the Authors
K. Rebecca Martin and Yvonne H. Clark are the founders, writers and directors of NarroWay Productions. Each holds a Master's Degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in their respective fields. The two have worked together as a music and drama team for more than 45 years.