The origin of the early life of your humble writer: Part XLII

By: Preston Aucoin

Although I decided not to pursue a degree in geology and instead to transfer to the college of Liberal Arts to the pre-law curriculum which, needless to say, greatly pleased papa but it was my independent decision as I did everything else, some decisions good and some bad.

The GI Bill was for a limited amount of time and therefore I had a limited amount of time. I had to figure a time frame to fit both pre-law and law school before it ran out. This meant I had to finish at SLI during the summer of 1956 to enter LSU Law School in the fall of 1956, and then graduate from law school during the fall semester of 1958, ending in January of 1959. This meant playing catch-up football at both colleges.

So, I scheduled many courses at SLI, receiving permission from the dean to schedule as many as 22 hours a semester, which would leave me no time to play. And then when I got to Baton Rouge, it would mean a maximum load and attending both summer schools in order to finish in two-and-a-half years instead of three, which was permissible then. That is no longer the case, you have to have a bachelor’s degree to get in and a three year attendance is mandatory. My work was cut out for me.

I did however, find time to enter the institution of matrimony and in May of 1956 married Linda Lea Francois of Ritchie (where LSUE is located) aka, known as my Sweetie Pie. So far so good, I did not deviate from my tight schedule and I acquired my requisite 96 hours at the end of the summer semester and I applied with the housing authority at LSU to live in the Vet Village, but it was filled and we were put on the waiting list (just like in the Air Force, wait, wait, wait).

I found an upstairs apartment that housed four or five LSU students close to the campus and rented it. It belonged to Nina Pugh, a lawyer, wife of City Judge Tom Pugh, whose brother, George Pugh, was a professor at the LSU Law School. There was a parking lot on the side of the law school and if you went early, you could get a parking place. I was always an early riser, so that was not a problem.

The plan to finish in two-and-a-half years required taking a maximum of 15 hours a semester, which was not easy. We were assigned 15 pages of hard reading in all classes in each subject. Since I was carrying five subjects, it meant 75 pages in each subject, three times a week or 225 pages.

The kind reader of this column may not consider that a heavy assignment but let me hasten to point out these law text books were not like James Patterson fiction novels. They were jam-packed with paragraph after paragraph of new legal esoteric (not erotic) words and Latin phrases I had never encountered in my life.

I struggled not to despair when I tried to read these mysterious cryptic pages of legal mumbo jumbo verbiage, which I was sure had never been uttered in L’anse Bourbeuse and decided I better trot over to Claiter’s Book Store in Tiger Town and buy myself a good legal dictionary, in addition to a good standard Webster’s dictionary if I was going to do some comprehensive reading, which I had already figured out would be the key to passing the law exams.

So, I purchased these two books, which cut into my tight budget since this was an unanticipated expense. So, with renewed determination and vigor I set out to read and understand what I was reading. I pledged to myself to look up every word and Latin phrase that I was unfamiliar with, which was nearly every other noun and very often the verb and adjective. So, I proceeded with this laborious reading.

I neglected to mention in addition to the 15 pages per class in each subject, we were assigned outside reading which was as difficult as the assigned reading. What the reading consisted of were actual law cases. After we read them, we had to digest and brief which meant writing a condensed version of the case and what the important legal issue(s) were presented and answered, not always an easy task.

Everything in law school that first year was scary, but the two most frightening were: 1)Being called upon to recite in class; 2)one exam grade to determine your fate for the semester. I will elaborate on both of these discomfiting and menacing features of law school.

The first consisted of your being called upon at random and without warning by the professor to declaim in open class. This recitation usually consisted of your having to narrate one of the cases you were assigned to read and brief, and to state the legal issue(s) presented and how the court resolved them. But, the recitation was not limited to that. It could and usually consisted of side issues, or related, similar issues, etc. Or more goosepimply, a hypothetical situation which some professors, who fancied themselves trial lawyers (but weren’t’), derived a near sadistic pleasure in presenting to a student, usually a freshman, in front of the entire class, in his best effort to humiliate the student. Such a profession was George Pugh, brother-in-law of Nina Pugh (City Judge Tom Pugh’s wife) from whom I rented my apartment as alluded to earlier, who said he was a good guy and on the ground level with the students. I don’t know about that. But here is what he did to me.

He may or may not have known me (I think he did) or if he called upon me at random, but he did, under either circumstance, and presented me with a hypothetical situation of something that had occurred near the campanile on the parade ground of the LSU campus. The campanile is a tall bell tower. As I began trying to answer the hypothecate, it became obvious I didn’t know what the campanile was. He stopped me and said, “you don’t know what the campaniel is,” and I said, “no sir.” The colloquy between master and student continued. He then said, “and you want to go to law school and you don’t know what the campanile is” and I replied, “yes sir.” I was pretty well humiliated by then, which is exactly what he wanted. He derived a sadistic pleasure from this. Then, his next question, which was more of an assertion, was “you are from Ville Platte.” I answered that I was, a few of the students were snickering, all from North Louisiana, no doubt. The class hour dragged by and finally the bell rang, but I was hardly saved by the bell.

The second terrifying facet was even worse, one four-hour exam at the end of the semester in each course, no tests during the semester, no grades, no indication of how you were doing like when you were in undergraduate school. When we first arrived and were told this, we thought it was a cruel joke and this was impossible. Who had ever heard of that? Well, it was true. So, all that first semester, I lived in the shadow of death. How under this blue sky was I going to prepare for this chilling exam? I was going to have to go back to day one and review all that material. In other words, I would have to put all my eggs in the same basket and go for broke. More of this looming ordeal in the next column. Perhaps the gentle reader will share my traumatic sensation.

I invite the reader of this column to listen to my radio program on KVPI 92.5 FM or 10.50 AM at 12:30 noon every other Wednesday.

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