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Story of birth, class mixes myth, fact

Feb. 1, 2001

My birth is shrouded in mystery, but I was born on a ranch in New Mexico when there were no birth certificates. My father was an engineer for Santa Fe. I decided to leave my cramped quarters before the doctor could arrive.

Unassisted in birth, I was surprised enough at what I found that I started breathing without the customary slap on my posterior.

When the doctor did arrive some hours later, since the nearest one was about 10 miles away, he was surprised to find me hiding under the bed. Coaxing me to come out with a promise of something to wear, he placed me in my crib without comment and tended to my mother.

I did not hear any compliments about me, which surprised me.

Later, when two women came and stood over me and remarked, 'Have you ever seen such an ugly baby?' I realized why the doctor had omitted any comment when he saw me.

Alone with my mother, I asked her if I was an ugly baby. She replied that I was, and told me about the ugly duckling that grew up to be a beautiful swan. I was satisfied with this story until my 14th birthday, when, looking into the mirror, I asked mother when the metamorphosis would occur. She said, 'Son, I'm sorry that there is another part to the story. Sometimes the ugly duckling grows up to be an ugly duck! However, you are fortunate in that whatever you do, like combing your hair or smiling, will be an improvement.' This accounts for my development of a sense of humor.

The years passed with a blending of myth and truth until I accepted a position at Baylor in 1952.

Dr. Githens was chairman and when I arrived, I found that he had departed for North Carolina. I did not own a car and I rode a bus to Baylor.

In front of me on the bus were two women returning to Baylor and discussing their spring quarter. I said to myself that these beautiful girls would love physics like I did and maybe would be in my class.

I was in for a rude awakening when they began to discuss their spring schedule. 'What did you take?' one said to the other. She named two subjects when the normal load was three courses a quarter. 'Didn't you have a full load?' 'Yes, she replied. 'What was the other course?' 'I cannot tell you without screaming.'

After much urging, she screamed 'Physics!' I slipped down in my seat and realized that I had to do something different when I came to my first class in casual clothes.

Because there were many veterans in the class, I didn't look any different. I watched my clock and all the while students were discussing what they heard about the new teacher. It reminded me of the comments of the ladies years ago at my birth.

At 14 minutes, 59 seconds, I stood up and left my seat in the class and taught a surprised class.

Since that time my classes have been full of students who wanted to see the odd teacher who was full of surprises.

ROBERT G. PACKARD

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