The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine - Fall 2010
Internationally Published Author
English Major’s Works Featured in ‘Chicken Soup’ Best-Sellers
For as far back as she can remember, Tina Bausinger’s father tended a garden.
How she loved to feel the coolness of the overturned earth between her toes as a little girl after he tilled the dirt each spring! In her mind’s eye, she can still see him planting, weeding and watering through the heat of the summer. And the memory of those juicy, ripe tomatoes at harvest makes her mouth water to this day.
But her favorite memory of those garden days? Just being with dad.
That’s why The University of Texas at Tyler student savors each recollection. And that’s why she wrote about it. The English major’s short story “Dad’s Tomatoes” honors the memory of her father, David Coleman, who died at age 59 in 2003.
The story gained an international audience this year when published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul,’’ a best-selling book series with titles translated into more than 40 languages.
"Dad’s Tomatoes” is featured in the anthology “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad: 101 Stories about Gratitude, Love and Good Times,” released in April.
Another book in the series includes a poem Bausinger wrote in tribute to her friends who are runners. “The Secret’’ is featured in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance and Endorphins,’’ released in July.
Bausinger’s short story focuses on her father’s love of gardening.
When I wrote the original version, it was around the anniversary of my dad’s death, which is always very hard. It helped me to write about it,’’ she said.
Coleman was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. The short story shares how gardening and good memories helped Bausinger deal with her father’s illness and death … and find the strength to move on.
“It’s one thing to sit in a doctor’s office and hear the words, ‘We’ve done all we can do,’” she said. “You could tell that to my dad 100 times and he would still keep going. He got out there and gardened just like always. But when I really knew… was when he couldn’t garden anymore.”
The season before her dad died, he didn’t have the energy to plant a full garden. “But he couldn’t totally give it up, so he put out tomatoes. They were his favorite, and mine. As his health went down, the tomatoes started dying,” Bausinger remembers.
She was staying with her father more to help take care of him and began watering his tomatoes. “I remember thinking, ‘When this last batch of tomatoes dies, that’s it.’ It became a symbol of the end. I saw vines twisting around, trying to choke out the tomato plants, and wondered if that was what the cancer was doing to my father’s body.”
After her father’s death, Bausinger remembers the pain of seeing his backyard empty. “It made me feel like he had died all over again,” she said.
When she was ready, Bausinger eventually got out the tiller and continued her father’s legacy with a garden of her own. What she saw in the garden that day gave her peace and comfort. “I looked behind me … and my son was playing in the dirt – just like I used to do.”
Life goes on.
Garden of Life
Today, Bausinger tackles life with all the tenacity and ambition of a gardener. At age 38, she juggles the roles of wife, mother, university student, full-time employee and author.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t ready for college. You just have to decide when you’re ready for it and I credit that to my husband. When he went back to school and earned his degree, I realized I could do it. Once I decided to go back to school, I considered nursing, but decided that really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved literature and writing, so it was a natural jump to be an English major,” Bausinger said.
She relocated to Tyler after her husband, Lee, graduated from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., in 2005 with a bachelor of science in chemical engineering. “We moved here in part because he was able to find employment here and partially because Tyler had a good university where I could pursue my dream,’’ Bausinger said.
She’ll graduate in May 2011 as an English major with a minor in classical studies. “I feel like I’ve really learned a lot,” she said. “Dr. (Ann) Beebe has been very instrumental in helping me develop my writing skills.”
Dr. Beebe, an associate professor of English, described Bausinger as a bright, hardworking student.
“Despite Tina’s killer schedule, she never asks for special accommodations, is always ready for class discussion; and I love that she will challenge ideas or assumptions. She is not interested in just taking lecture notes and spitting the information back on an exam; she wants to learn. And she brings a wicked sense of humor to the discussion,’’ Dr. Beebe said.
“We have some outstanding English majors at UT Tyler. It is hard for a student to stand out in such a stellar group. But Tina Bausinger is one of the most talented and dedicated students I have had the honor to teach at UT Tyler.”
As part of her minor emphasis on classical studies, Bausinger is learning Latin. It’s a good choice, said Dr. Paul D. Streufert, associate professor of literature and languages. “As a writer, studying Latin will help her in numerous ways, as it encourages not just vocabulary development but other essential skills for writing, such as grammar, attention to detail and close reading,’’ Dr. Streufert said.
“Tina works so diligently and brings such insight to both language and literature classes,’’ he added.
Bausinger, also president of the UT Tyler Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, said handling a family, school and a job isn’t always easy.
“Sometimes you just have to make that hard choice. You have to decide what is most important. Recently, my oldest daughter, Jordanne, was inducted into Tyler Junior College’s Phi Theta Kappa the same night as my class. I talked to my professor and missed class,’’ said the mother of three, who works as a unit secretary at a Tyler hospital.
“Sometimes you have to be mom. Other times, you have to be a student. I have to switch roles occasionally. If I haven’t seen my husband in a couple of days, I need to prioritize and juggle. Occasionally I fail. And I try to get help if I need it. You have to realize that one person can only do one thing at a time.”
While juggling a family, full-time job and school, Bausinger has managed to become an award-winning writer who knows the power of the written word.
The original version of her short story was featured in The Bell Tower, TJC’s literary magazine. She placed first for Best Short Story in the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Awards Contest. And she won first prize in the UT Tyler Student Poetry Contest last year.
She also writes a humor column, “The Flip Side,” which appears weekly in the Patriot Talon, UT Tyler’s student newspaper. Each week, students follow Bausinger through side-splitting mishaps on and off campus.
“It’s fun to write, and I don’t make this stuff up – it really happens to me,” Bausinger said, adding it’s always interesting when people in the community respond to her campus column.
Bausinger took a chance on a larger audience after hearing at a writer’s conference that the “Chicken Soup” book series was a good way to break into publishing. She submitted “Dad’s Tomatoes’’ and “The Secret,’’ and her gamble paid off.
“The Secret’’ is as much a tribute to women in general as it is to those who run. “I focused on my friends that I know love to run and what I imagine they think and feel when they are running,’’ Bausinger said of writing the poem. “I also thought of how we as women continually want to lift the bar and push ourselves further than we’ve ever gone before.’’
She also has written a novel, “War Eagle Women,” about a group of women from a small town along a picturesque river in Arkansas.
“I grew up in Arkansas and that’s where my dad’s gardens were. War Eagle, Arkansas, is an actual place that I love to visit,” said Bausinger, who is pursuing an agent and publishing options for the novel.
She eventually wants to teach and will apply to graduate school, but her goal right now is to work hard and excel in writing.
Like with her father’s beloved tomatoes, Bausinger has nurtured her writing skills while at UT Tyler. There is no doubt that the fruits of her labor will continue to grow.