By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 20, 2015
It’s funny, some of the things that pop up in my head.
On Monday morning, I was getting ready to leave the house when I suddenly thought about Mrs. Koch, a teacher whom I hadn’t thought about in more than half a lifetime. I was her student — when? In middle school, probably, or else in elementary school.
I’m not sure when or for which class I had her, obviously, but it occurred to me Monday morning to wonder if Mrs. Koch was related to the Koch brothers, the wealthy Kansas conservatives who have become sibling bogeymen for lefty liberal types.
I tend to doubt that my old teacher was in fact related to the now-notorious Kansans. For one thing, well, it just seems unlikely. For another thing, I’m not even sure that her surname actually was Koch — it may have been Kolk. (The more I think about it, the more likely this seems. Perhaps at some point I’ll check my memory against that of a peer or parent.)
As much of a surprise as it was to be thinking about Mrs. — let’s call her Mrs. Kolk — I at least know why she surfaced on my mental radar. As I was dressing and brushing my teeth and all that jazz, I had set my iPhone to play episode No. 1,262 of Funemployment Radio, which is one of my favorite podcasts.
During the “Ball Talk” segment, hosts Greg Nibler and Sarah X Dylan, were chatting with their former terrestrial radio boss, the wonderfully entertaining Rick Emerson. This episode had been recorded on Tuesday, Jan. 13, the day after the first-ever college football playoff national championship game. The contest resulted in a 42-20 blowout win by the Ohio State Buckeyes over the University of Oregon. This was especially relevant to the Funemployment ’casters because they live and work in Portland, Ore.
Anyway, the gang got sidetracked from its football discussion by an impromptu botany talk. I think this started when Sarah mentioned how weird it was to see OSU’s mascot, Brutus Buckeye, walking around the sideline. The trio wondered aloud whether a buckeye is a nut or a tree. (It can be both, although Brutus is the former, apparently.)
Then, somehow, Rick started talking about how he’d been poking around on the Internet the other day and stumbled upon a complicated debate of whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. (The answer seems to be that it’s extremely complicated.) And that’s when I Mrs. Kolk appeared in my head.
Why? Because I have a distinct (which is not to say accurate — like I said, this is going back years and years and years) memory of Mrs. Kolk talking disparagingly about a debate in Congress as to whether ketchup was a vegetable. Mrs. Kolk said something acrid about how John Heinz, a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, had gotten up to discuss the matter on the Senate floor. The impression I got was that this was a silly kerfuffle and that politicians were just wasting everyone’s time with this nonsense.
This topic was in fact discussed by Congress in 1981, and Sen. Heinz, a Republican from the Pittsburgh area, was in fact a scion of the hugely successful Heinz ketchup dynasty. So I’m pretty sure that my memory of Mrs. Kolk discussing this matter has some basis in reality. And there was an obvious connection between this obscure bit of history and the discussion on the Funemployment Radio podcast — that “Tomato: fruit or vegetable?” controversy.
That wasn’t the only thought to pop seemingly (but not actually) at random. On Monday afternoon, I was walking out of a grocery store when I thought unbidden about Bobbie Kelsey, who was a young player on the Stanford women’s basketball team that won the 1992 NCAA championship. “Special K,” I muttered to myself — that was Kelsey’s old nickname.
Although Kelsey was a two-time team captain on the Stanford women’s basketball squad, she was never one of the team’s stars. She became head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers women’s hoops team in 2011, which I didn’t know until I looked her up as I was preparing this blog post.
Our time at Stanford overlapped by a few years, but Kelsey and I never met that I can recall. I’m sure Kelsey came to mind because I was thinking about Mrs. Koch (or Mrs. Kolk), and, you know, my brain just automatically free-associated and found another woman from my past whose last name also started with K.
Anyway, my brain can be a pretty random place to live sometimes. (Most times, actually.) And that’s all I have to say about that.