Autumn Leaves

Last week, I got an opportunity to participate in a recruiting trip to my undergraduate alma mater. It’s been over three years since I walked across the stage in my cap and gown, eager to get to the next chapter in my life. Since then, I’ve visited campus a few times. Every time I go, things reach out and catch on my memory rather like leaves catching on my clothing as I walk through a forest. This post is about those leaves and how some of them can be so unexpected.

At first, it seemed to be the differences that garnered the most attention. As I drove into town and onto campus, I couldn’t help but notice the new stores that had popped up, the new softball stadium, the traffic light and the four-way stop that had traded places on Campus Drive, the unexpected new dorm next to the one in which I spent my freshman year. I tend to relate myself to other people by my similarities and differences. In the same way, I think I was trying to relate my memory to the reality.

Noticing the differences was no surprise to me. I think what really began to take me by surprise were the memories that sprung forth about experiences I had when I passed the places where those events happened. A group of friends (now scattered) can probably vividly remember my feeble attempt at a water balloon attack in Snow Hinton park. My co-op job with the local phone company involved me going out and deciding where new telephone cable would be placed and how certain repairs would be made. A large number of spots seemed almost lit on their own as details of engineering work orders past scrolled into place, and I said things like “Yeah. There’s where I placed that new cable.”

The one that touched me the most, however, happened while I was on my way to the hotel room. I was driving through a part of town that I haven’t had a reason to visit since before I graduated, and I realized quite suddenly that I wanted badly to drive by and look at one of the apartment buildings I used to live in. There’s nothing particularly great about the building, and it’s not really located in what is considered the best part of town. Ask me sometime why a police officer came to the door with questions about our next-door neighbor. Somehow, though, I got this oddly comforting feeling driving by and telling myself, “Yep. I lived a year of my life in that apartment.” Strange how such mundane things can carry such significance.

More than anything else, though, it’s always the people that really help tie things down. I had the good fortune to be arriving on the night of my engineering Fraternity’s weekly meeting. There weren’t a lot of familiar faces, but the activity at the house brought back more memories of my own time there, walking across the hall to debate random silliness with neighbors and just pass the time with friends. I really should have walked up to the soft drink machine and bought a Sunkist for old time’s sake. After the meeting, the current members asked if I’d like to come eat at Wings with them. Anyone that knew me in school knows I couldn’t resist that invitation. Anyway, it gave me a good excuse to relate my story of the Wings delivery guy who waved to me on the street and called me by name.

Best of all, though, was being able to catch the entire EE department faculty on the way out of a staff meeting. The smile on my adviser’s face as he pumped my hand said it all. I spoke with several of the professors briefly and even had the surprise of seeing a former graduate teaching assistant back as a full-time faculty member. Unfortunately, I had very little time to spend with some of the people I most enjoyed seeing.

I told Amy I want to go back sometime and spend a couple of days. Not necessarily for a football game or any other big event, but maybe at the end of a normal school week. I want to go wander across the quad and hear Denny Chimes up close again. I want to see if Poobie really is running the Bashinsky computer lab now. I want to go out for 4 AM breakfast at City Cafe. I want to drive up highway 43, get some barbecue at Woodrow’s and look to see if they ever put in that new carrier system at Clear Creek.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a wonderful life. No matter how it may seem, I don’t want to turn back the clock. That part of my life had its own challenges, and I had good reasons for being happy about moving on. I decided, though, that I don’t ever want to stay away so long that I become a stranger. I live in the present, but it really did take going back to realize what a chunk of my life I left back there. I’ve decided that stopping by and telling it “hello” every once in a while is a good thing.

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