I always have it in September.
I loved school. Not elementary or high school though.
How I loved college. I finally found a place that suited me completely. The atmosphere of learning. The very air charged with intelligence.Living right where you went to school. Walking to classes. The pride of reading. And reading for hours. For days. For years.
I probably should have been a college professor, so I could stay forever.
And every September, I want to go back.
(I think next year I really will… as soon as I decide whether I want to speak French or study philosophy or archaeology or watercolor or….)
But in the meantime, I will reminisce.
I learned so many amazing things in college, but my most precious memories do not concern linguistics or 19th century history. My best memories are of just a few moments in time when I knew I was in the best place on earth.
First up: The best laugh I ever had in College. (I have told my dog story before, but I must include it here too.)
I always liked a window seat in class. It made for better day-dreaming in Elements of English Phonetics. (Yeah, I took that. A snooze-fest.) So a window seat was required.
So one glorious afternoon, I’m gazing out the window. I’m watching a dog chase the falling autumn leaves. He’s happy. Running in circles and barking at leaves seems to be a very nice dog occupation. Along comes a guy on crutches, leg in a big white cast. The dog runs up, tail wagging, and grabs the end of one crutch. It seems another favorite past-time for this doggy is tug-of-war. He’s pulling and jumping, and the poor dude is trying to balance on one leg, and desperately trying to get the dog to let go of the crutch. It is great fun – for the dog. I thought I might have to run from the classroom (I wish) and rescue the guy. But finally another student comes along and pulls the dog away and holds him while the crutches guy makes a getaway. I’m smiling.
Four minutes later. Along comes a blind girl with a cane. I’m not kidding. And I’m thinking, Oh NO! And sure enough, here comes Doggy, tail a-wagging. He grabs the cane and pulls and tugs, and the poor blind girl is wrestling and appears to be hollering for help. And eventually a couple of kids run over and save her. Doggy finally – and happily – goes trotting off.
I’m laughing now, as I was laughing then. That dog just wanted to play, and he was one lucky dog. He found TWO people in a row with STICKS!
And here is the most beautiful sound I ever heard in college.
There was a girl in my dorm whose boyfriend could whistle. And I don’t mean the kind that construction workers toot or what I use to call my dog. No. This boy’s whistle was a masterpiece.
And he didn’t whistle some snappy little jingle either. He would whistle classical compositions.
His Schubert and Bach were gorgeous. I felt the melodies in every nerve ending in my body. My fingertips would tremble when I heard him.
He came over almost every evening to study with his girlfriend. He would leave about eleven, and walk past my window and up the hill to his own dorm. And he would whistle.
I am unable to describe the beauty of Debussy — starting out strong under my window, and growing fainter, but just as thrilling, as it rose up the hill and crested and lingered.
I often wept back then, in the dark, at the exquisite and haunting concert.
Part of me wanted to marry that boy and listen to his songs forever, but mostly I was just happy that he existed and I had the privilege of hearing him.
(By the way, his girlfriend did marry him, and they are still married… more than 40 years later.)
And lastly, here are the sweetest words I ever read in college:
UConn offered a Poetry class. Not poetry reading or appreciation, although we did plenty of that too. But poetry writing. It was taught by Marcella Spann Booth, who had worked with Ezra Pound.
There was limited enrollment for this class. You had to apply and be accepted by Dr. Booth. And I was one of the fortunate dozen chosen to participate my last semester on campus.
How those young men and women could write! I could hardly wait each week for the delight of reading something new and fresh and amazing.
And I was not disappointed. But in all that talent there were two students whose words have stayed with me all those years.
One young women, whose name and face I do not even remember, came in one day with a poem that started:
Last year, the blackbirds beat me to the cherries.
All these years later, I still think that is lovely and evocative image. I love the very feel of those words.
And even more memorable, there was a guy in the class whose poetry made me wince – but in the best way possible. His poetry was raw and sharp. He could cut you with his words.
I still remember a whole stanza from a poem I loved right down in my soul. He wrote about his girlfriend’s ambivalent sexuality:
There’s a postcard of a painting
On the wall above the bed.
She put it up yesterday.
Two satyrs lead a maiden off to sex.
The rhythm. The simplicity. It stunned me.
And I think about this too: That we write to preserve our thoughts. To share something that will last. And this piece of a poem was discussed for perhaps half an hour – forty-three years ago.
And I remember it.
I would say it has lasted.
Here is a classical whistler, Eric Aranow, performing Clair de Lune by Debussy. I would suggest you close your eyes and just listen. Imagine this is the last thing you hear before you fall asleep.
PS – For those of you whose eyes do not glaze over at the thought of poetry, I am attaching the link to my poem about my teacher, Marcella Spann Booth, and her rumored relationship with Ezra Pound. Marcella