SUSAN MCCLINTON, 61, talks with her husband, PHILIP MCCLINTON, 63
Susan McClinton: When I was twenty-one, I came into the topless bar that you were bouncing. They were having amateur night, and I had decided to compete because I needed the prize money—I had two children to support.
Philip McClinton: When you came in, you immediately caught my attention. I just thought, She doesn’t belong in here.
Susan: I remember at one point that night you said, “I’ll keep an eye on you.” And I think that was probably the beginning of our relationship. You always hear people talking about love at first sight. And for us, I think that really was the case. From the moment I saw you, I was just madly in love with you.
Philip: Well, you got me and all the baggage that came with me—I wasn’t worth much at that point. I was into a number of things decent people just don’t do.
Susan: You and I both had been on the wrong track. I was in an abusive marriage, and I was doing drugs and drinking a lot. If you hadn’t come into my life at that particular moment, I think I would have ended up in a very bad place. But we knew if we wanted any kind of life together, we had to pull ourselves up and get out of those situations.
I remember at one point telling you that I had always enjoyed science. You said, “Well, why don’t we just go back to school?” And I said, “You are out of your mind!” Because we didn’t have any money to pay for tuition or anything like that. And I was just petrified to make that leap.
Philip: Neither one of us had anything but a ninth-grade education. I’d tried tenth grade three times and I couldn’t cut it. Still, I said, “We should become biologists.” We didn’t think anyone would take us, but I said, “Call ’em and tell ’em we’re grown and we need to do something.” And Sul Ross State University accepted us on probation. I was thirty-nine, and you were thirty-seven. We were both working on biology degrees, and we took almost all of our courses together.
Susan: You didn’t tell me until after we had been in school a while that you thought you wouldn’t make it because you had never made good grades. But I told you, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you through it.” And I tutored you in a lot of the harder subjects. We made little flash cards. In cell biology, we had to learn the Krebs cycle, and I drew a diagram and taped it up on the bathroom mirror so in the mornings you’d have to look at it and learn it from there.
We ended up with many more hours for our bachelor’s degrees than most people do, because we just took every biology-related class there was. But then we decided that we needed to go farther and continue our research—
Philip: So we started our master’s program. And, Susie, with your help I got through it all.
Susan: When we graduated, I don’t think you could’ve wiped the smiles off our faces with a hand grenade. It was incredible. My life started out so bumpy, and after all the things we went through, I never thought we’d get college degrees.
You were always the one that said, “Why don’t we try?” You know? You opened up such a world to me. I learned for the first time that I really was a person of worth—and I think you instilled that in me.
Philip: You figured out things on your own that you never dreamed you could do. And you did them so well. You turned into a very, very fine field biologist, and I’m proud of you.
Susan: You’ve always said we’re not joined at the hip, we’re joined at the heart. We’ve called this a rescue romance, because we saved each other. We’ve been through rocky times, but the thing that we always fell back on was how much we loved each other.
Recorded in Cody, Wyoming, on July 26, 2012.
Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps
Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps and the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors, including six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. He is the author/editor of numerous books that grew out of his public radio documentary work, including three StoryCorps books: Listening Is an Act of Love (2007) and Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps (2010), and All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps—all New York Times best sellers. Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is set to be published by The Penguin Press.
Isay’s new book, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps (Penguin, October 17, 2013), honors the people who nourish and strengthen us. StoryCorps founder Dave Isay draws from ten years of the revolutionary oral history project’s rich archives, collecting conversations that celebrate the power of the human bond and capture the moment at which individuals become family. Between blood relations, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, in the most trying circumstances and in the unlikeliest of places, enduring connections are formed and lives are forever changed.