I left home for keeps at 17, when I packed up my poetry books and my dorky bike and headed for college. We drove west on old Route 2 in that car that smelled like dog no matter how often we tried to clean it. ‘Who will ever accept me the way my family did?’ I worried on that trip, ‘me with my obsessive list-making and my line of meaningless chatter like a monkey’s?’
Then we arrived and here was my roommate from Aspen Colorado, blond and blunt and athletic. “Man, you’re Catholic?” was the first thing she said to me with high amusement. “I never met a real Catholic before!”
I felt awkward for…. oh, at least an hour on that long dark hallway our rooms lay along. But then other freshmen began opening the doors to their rooms, all our families having left gone by then and didn’t we all have our favorite pillows and our homely slippers, even the same nature posters with that legend “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World” printed along the bottom. By the end of that first day freshman year I had six new friends. And by the first day of sophomore year I couldn’t wait to get back to campus, a feeling that kept multiplying exponentially with each passing year.
Then, almost overnight it seemed, we graduated and joined the long line of alums.
I missed our 5th reunion but went back for my 10th, and for every reunion thereafter and loved every one. I kept meeting these wonderful open people I had not known as an undergraduate and it was all utterly great. What was even greater was coming back on ordinary days, when I was passing through Northampton MA on a business trip, say, or coming to attend a lecture or two-day symposium, or, best times of all, coming to see Annie Marotta and Susan De Young, our two daughters, one ‘real’ and one honorary, who graduated the last year the amazing Ruth Simmons was President there at Smith. I remember how Ruth – we all called her just ‘Ruth’, the way Moses is just called Moses – left the podium and came to the front of the stage at Commencement exercises and held out her arms in this cherishing gesture while the whole class of 2001 clapped and hollered and stamped for her.
I adored my time at Smith and I adored every inch of its beautiful campus. The love of my life and I decided we would marry while standing on this red bridge by the athletic fields.
Then, two whole decades later, I brought four of our kids back to see the place, little thinking that Annie and Susan would one day go to school here; little thinking that Carrie, in the background, would do a Summer Science program here. Michael our youngest would have gone to school here himself if he weren’t a boy.
Anyway, this is all of us at that red bridge. Susie was the one taking the picture so she isn’t in it. And this below is a short video that to me shows why the school is still so great. Commencement was yesterday and all day my thoughts were travelling westward along old Route 2, just as I had done that first time long ago.