Change is good.
For thirty-nine years, I didn’t attend a college reunion, and then last weekend, I did.
I went because I promised my college housemates I would go, so I kept my word and went. The irony is: no one from this cohort attended, though the one who lives nearby drove down for a wonderful visit.
I was ambivalent about going: it meant four days away from home, two of them spent in the car. Even in a hybrid, that’s a lot of carbon spewed into the atmosphere just to indulge in nostalgia.
I’m not nostalgic.
“Nostalgia,” I just read in someone else’s essay, “fuels our resentment toward change.”
I like change.
I like that I’m not the eighteen year old who arrived in Oberlin, Ohio, on a hot day in 1974, nor the 22-year old who graduated on an even hotter day in 1978. I don’t do well in the heat, which may be one of the reasons I live so happily in Vermont.
Another is that Vermont seemed like Oberlin for grown-ups: a place of fierce individualism within tight community, a place of natural beauty, casual dress, homegrown food and liberal politics. A place with lots of music.
But the Oberlin I arrived to late Friday afternoon was almost unrecognizably upscale. It’s hipster cool; Vermont’s more aging hippies. Happily, good coffee is now a staple in both places. Change is good.
When I attended Oberlin, new trees had recently been planted to replace dead elms. Now, benches sit beneath stately trees, inviting rest in deep shade. This landscape differs notably from the sunbaked hard-pack that passed for grass on which we sprawled back then.
As I said, change is good.
I walked around, admiring renovated old buildings and tastefully designed new ones, and I visited Mudd Learning Center, the library that opened the year I arrived on campus. Mine is the first class never to have studied at Carnegie, something older students always rubbed in. They didn’t like Mudd, or maybe they didn’t like change, or both.
I loved Mudd, and I spent a lot of time in there. My senior year, I even had a study carrel: Number 222. This was the first of a series of small rooms I’ve written in, the beginning of a trend. I had another carrel at Baker Library when I was at Columbia; a stone cottage on a moor in Northumberland when I lived in England, and a small cabin when I first came to Vermont. Now I write in an 8×10 custom-built studio, the best yet.
Mudd Learning Center has changed since it first opened: the card catalog is gone, the reserve reading room no longer exists, and the enormous, air-conditioned room which housed the then state-of-the-art Sigma-9 main-frame computer, has been converted into what appears to be a computer museum. It was closed, but I peered through the glass door to see every model of Apple computer I’ve ever owned, beginning with my very first: a Macintosh 512 from 1984.
The digital clocks that used to click every time a number flapped over have all been replaced by silent analogs, and the periodical reading room is now a café. But upstairs, the moon chairs are still there, and back in the stacks, that unmistakable aroma of books. Some things never change, and that’s good, too.
I did meet up with some classmates I hadn’t seen in most of forty years, and I met other classmates I never knew. I dined with one former professor who is no longer so much older than me. It was good to catch up.
Even the drive was better than bearable; it was fun. I drove with Suzy (class of ’77) whose husband (Walter, ’78) like mine (Tim, ’77) stayed home. They both knew each other at Oberlin, where they ran cross country.
I knew Walter better than Suzy back in the day. I didn’t know Tim at all, nor did Suzy know Walter. But having college in common has made for two long-lasting marriages and a growing friendship between the two couples. Every time we get together for dinner, it’s like a college reunion. But we don’t just reminisce about the past. We’re part of each other’s present lives as well.
I enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane over the weekend. I enjoyed the glimpse of my long-ago self. But I don’t want to dwell there. I’ve changed, and so has the school: Buildings, personnel, even knowledge.
Change is good.
I’m glad I kept my word. And I’m ever so glad to be home again, living in place.
Deepa Nilamani says
I enjoyed your article. I too have not gone for college re-unions at all and hope to go one day when I go back to Sri-Lanka on a vacation. There will be mixed emotions as some will be changed and some will not. Yes I like change but I like a few bits and pieces to be the same old thing too. I have been told that very few are comfortable with 100% change. As human beings we need that security of something we knew before to have around !!!
The places you have written are completely unknown to me as I have never been to that part of the world, but very interesting. I am an avid reader and, one can expand one’s knowledge so much with the I net now. I am learning so much from the blogs too. I have been following “Live to Write -Write to Live” for some times and am glad I came across your blog. I enjoyed reading and Thank you for your post 🙂
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Thanks so much for your comment. I’m especially pleased when readers from Live to Write – Write to Live cross over to Living in Place (and vice versa). All best wishes~
Debby Detering says
This story appeals to me for two reasons.
1. We visited Oberlin in 1980 when our middle daughter went for an interview, in 1981 when she entered, and in 1985 when she graduated. She chose Oberlin partly for the music, although she never considered a music major. She reported loving a walk down the dormitory hallway and hearing Beethoven, etc. She hasn’t kept in touch with Oberlin or classmates because her she took a road less traveled by, and has been a Russian Orthodox nun, in a rural convent in Canada, since 1995, very much “living in place” and in some ways the most successful of our children, if success isn’t measured financially. Not many mothers get phone calls from a daughter with a happy lilt to her voice: “It’s been a lovely day–most of it in church!” By the way, she’s the only Russian Orthodox person in our family, which includes mainline, big-box evangelical, and “nothing.”
2. I’m collecting first-computer stories as I develop the character of a 60+ professsor of geography who acquires his first computer in 1985 (not an Apple, because mine, in 1988, wasn’t) and I’m working out how that affects his relationship with a troubled 17-year-old. The fact that you had your first about that time simply adds a smidgen to my background information. Of course, if you were to write a column about that decision and the getting-acquainted-with-technology process, I’d be overwhelmed with delight!
I’m curious: Had the “underground railroad” sculpture (if you can call that particular artistic expression a sculpture) been installed when you were at Oberlin, and is it still there? I planned to put it in a story, but haven’t…yet.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Yes, the Underground Railroad sculpture was at the northwest corner of Lorraine and Professor (I think). i was back two years ago and can’t remember if it was still there or not.
I bought a Macintosh 512 in 1984 when Microsoft Word became available on Apple products because 1) it offered black on white (and not amber or green on black), and 2) I understood out how to use it intuitively.
Good luck with your writing project!