While many of my friends spent last weekend watching the baseball playoffs or big-time college football games, I was in Memphis to see my alma mater, Rhodes College, get mauled by Millsaps College — once again. It was Homecoming weekend. Although this was not the big 30th, 40th or 50th reunion for me, it was a milestone gathering for many of my friends and not knowing when I would see those classmates again, off I went.
Rhodes College is a gem of a school nestled across from the Memphis Zoo and Overton Park, similar to Rice University’s proximity to Hermann Park. I’m biased, but it is spectacularly beautiful — the Gothic architecture style buildings sit in an idyllic 100-acre park-like setting. But besides the campus there is an intimacy the Rhodes experience offers. In our day there were only 1,100 students. Professors, actively concerned with our education and well- being, challenged us to question our beliefs, and explore our talents and potential.
Even though it had been nearly 40 years, walking on campus was like entering a time machine and taking a hallucinogenic drug where people from your distant past appeared but were greyer, heavier, and — well—middle aged.
Entering the cocoon
Homecoming weekend was an emotional time for me. Even though it had been nearly 40 years, walking on campus was like entering a time machine or taking a hallucinogenic drug where people from your distant past appeared but were greyer, heavier, and — well—middle aged.
My life in Houston became a little blurry as my past/current life at Rhodes took center stage. But it was so easy to get back into old routines. Within five minutes, my roommate and I were calling each other “roomie” — a term we hadn’t used since 1973.
And just like in old days we hung out at the Pike house post football game, washing away the Lynxcat’s defeat with a beer—or two.
College homecoming is different than a high school reunion
Several years ago I wrote about returning to Birmingham for my 40th high school reunion after not seeing my high school or classmates since graduation. It was a watershed experience.
My high school reunion was about connecting with my parent’s home and my early roots. A college reunion is a more intimate experience because many of us were living away from home for the first time and experiencing life on our own.
And a college homecoming is, by its name, coming home. Coming home to a group of people with whom you lived. Coming home to the ideals, dreams and hopes you had as an 18-year-old.
And a college homecoming is, by its name, coming home. Coming home to a group of people with whom you lived. Coming home to the ideals, hopes and dreams you had as an 18-year-old.
And it is returning to the scene of innumerable heartbreaks and joys that no doubt contributed to the fabric of who I am. No doubt about it. Homecoming brings up a lot of emotions.
Everyone has a story
Twenty years ago I might have been interested in whether any of my classmates might be good clients for my firm. But that is so ….yesterday.
This time, people seemed to connect with each other on an emotional level. Our possessions, careers and children's accomplishments were not as important to brag about like they were at earlier reunions. This time, conversation centered how we felt, how we reflected on our life and whether our dreams were just dreams or whether they became a reality.
Some friends had achieved personal and professional success. Others had experienced unspeakable tragedies, losses and challenges. With these classmates, it was easy to be open and vulnerable. And with all stories, there was magic in the telling and intimacy in the sharing.
Old stories aren’t so interesting to spouses
There is a special place in heaven for spouses who attend reunions. I observed a few non-Rhodes spouses trying to act interested when conversations started with “Remember that night on the 2nd floor of Bellingrath Hall when we surprised the women with a panty raid….”
And some classmates’ stories have come to an end
It is only normal that by the time you reach your 60s that you will lose friends to illness and accidents. Those losses seem more palpably sad in a group setting because of the collective memories of the individual. Who knew sitting together in the sorority house in 1972 that Frances would die of cancer before she was 40 or Jack would become a famous doctor only to be one of the first people we knew to die of AIDS?
Who knew sitting together in the sorority house in 1972 that Frances would die of cancer before she was 40 or Jack would become a famous doctor only to be one of the first people we knew to die of AIDS?
Yes, there was sadness and a toast to those who had left this earth way too soon. And with that we couldn’t help but be aware of our own mortality. Who in the room would not be at the next reunion?
Passion to pals
And of course no homecoming story is complete without the mention of seeing the former flame. Edgar was the love of my life through high school and college. We broke up his senior year and never saw each other again until three years ago. There was no bitter break up—just growing in different directions.
Edgar and I have both been happily married to other people for over 30 years and could not be more different (he doesn’t even do Facebook!) yet spending an afternoon with this man who knows every family member and person in my life throughout college and high school was a warm and joyful experience.
And how wonderful to see that impish boy with the sparkling green eyes become the doctor and man he dreamed of becoming and then some as he unselfishly gives his time helping victims of world disasters.
Emerging from the cocoon
In the flash of an eye it was Sunday and time to enter the time machine and return to my current life. Such a paradox: Sad to be leaving but happy to be going home—my Houston home, my Houston life.
I was not the only one to shed a few tears while hugging friends goodbye. Unfortunately my time machine turned out to be a United Express jet with a mechanical problem. Perhaps symbolic of my own resistance to returning, I arrived home six hours late. My luggage, apparently equally conflicted, arrived home 24 hours later. The entire weekend seems a little blurry now. It seems like a dream but a dream I can have again next year at my 40th reunion.