Gaudeamus Igitur

Italy Day 11: Being on a guided trip is like being a baby again: you HOPE your caregivers know you need a nap and a juice break; you HOPE they’ll check to see that you’re still dry. Our caregivers do know all this and have handed us along from dawn to forenoon to golden gloaming with so many of our needs anticipated that I find myself released somehow to range in thought over all of my tiny life, remembering, and regarding anew, and looking forward.

 What I’m remembering today is what it was like to be 18 and beginning my second year at Smith College, when a girl named Vicki James arrived.  Dewey House, where we lived, was a tiny dorm, the place where my Aunt Julia had lived in her own time at Smith with her big sister (my future mom) just three dorms away. It is for me one of THE key places of my life, a stage upon which unfolded so many new thought and fresh insights, a place gracious and formal and fine, staid and timeless – until Vicki came and changed everything.

She knew History, and believed in History’s lessons. She also knew what fun was and she believed in beer. The above picture shows her blindfolded on the lawn in front of Dewey House before the Freshman Sophomore picnic that ended with one of us spraining an ankle and another getting wedged inside one of the sinks at the Davis Student Center. It was Vicki who found out we could drink 35-cent beers in downtown Northampton. She liked the townie boys and so I liked them too, and the nights we walked down to see them we’d roll back up the hill toward campus singing the ancient Latin drinking song she taught us all.  “Gaudeamus Igitur dum Juvenes” it began. Let us rejoice now while we are young because “Where are they who were in the world before us?” As if we didn’t know. We knew all right, but we didn’t think for a minute that we would ever be anything other than young, with firm strong limbs like the marble limbs of the Greek and Roman youth we saw in our textbooks.

I had my first apartment ever with Vicki that summer while I worked and she took the courses at Harvard that would let her finish Smith in three years’ time.  A week into our living in that tiny Cambridge house I met the boy who would become my husband. Vicki went on to the PhD program at Harvard; David, then a Senior there, went on to get his MBA at the B School just across the river. And I, who had so earnestly hoped to go to grad school too, instead became a teacher of Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth graders and saw almost every value I had previously held turned on it head, in the best possible way. Those students changed me as much as Vicki had and when the letter came at last admitting me to my own Masters Program I tore it up, taught five more years, and four years after that began writing the newspaper column that has aimed always and only to delight a weary public.

Well, Vicki came a few days ago to see her two old friends in Bellagio. She is called Victoria now, Dottorressa Munsey in fact and has lived here in Northern Italy for the last quarter century. She and I walked the hills above the city while David toured the Villa Carlotta and then three old friends ate dinner together.

Our blindfolds are off now and we all see more clearly. And if we are old, yet are we happy.

So here below is old Dewey House that gave birth to our young dreams; and below that and larger for the beauty of the photo the clear light from our hotel room that helped me remember it.


8 thoughts on “Gaudeamus Igitur

  1. A charming vignette, putting me in mind of my time at a sister school so many years past.

    But I am still wondering why anyone would sit on a bowl of oatmeal.(???!!!)

  2. Why did I go to Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart with its modern and sterile campus? Everything about the place was dreary. The poor nuns were denied peripheral vision. I could have gone to Mount Holyoke, like Smith an institution with charming old buildings and warm traditions. What masochistic impulse held me at a Catholic school for four years? I left the church in my senior year so I wouldn’t have to take the required dogma or liturgy. The beginning of freedom and independence!

  3. What a nice story and beautiful pictures
    the house looks like a dream. You have
    such a knack of taking a life story and
    making it sooooo interesting for everyone
    to read. You have such a wonderful talent
    Glad your trip was wonderful and yes
    a sip of red or white wine can be just
    the thing once in awhile.
    Keep letting me be a part of your wonderful
    stories…….I look forward to each one!!!!

  4. Greetings from Wright Hall at Smith College! Patrick and I are visiting our friends Peter and Kevin here. The timing of your post is so funny since Peter is one of my oldest friends from college and his partner Kevin is a faculty member at Smith with an office in Wright Hall. We’re visiting them on our way home from a weekend in Vermont. We’ve been walking around campus and will go see Dewey Hall soon. We just went through the green house and are walking around campus on a gorgeous fall day. We hope to visit Italy some day too, but wanted to send our greetings from your alma mater!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s