Like some stories, this one begins with an ending─ my graduation from college. It was a milestone that arrived too soon, but I didn’t know back then, didn’t know much of anything. All I knew was that for the last four years, I’d felt free and amazingly happy, and I believed things would remain like that no matter what path I chose. And then, on the afternoon of graduation day, as my soon to be fiancé turned the corner and Old Main was out of sight, I began to tremble. I looked back in the rear view mirror and envisioned a much younger girl in knee socks and a plaid skirt bouncing up the steep hill to her first class. She did not have a care in the world, except maybe to pass her biology test, or to rush a sorority in the spring. She did have dreams though, but to talk about them might somehow jeopardize them coming true. She was, of course, superstitious as well.
Now, there would be no guide for the next curriculum of my life. Nothing but the models made by my grandmother and mother, aunts, and a fewer older cousins who I hardly ever saw.
Twenty years later, already in my 40’s, the mother of two adolescent girls and past the first decade of a second marriage, I returned to that school for the big reunion. Beside my sorority sisters, the first people I wanted to see were my English professors, two in particular, but they were nowhere to be found. Happy to learn they were alive and well, and still teaching, I found their offices and decided to write them each a note. It was a note of thank you, very long overdue, and I cried while writing because every word was true and heartfelt, and yet I’d never said any of it before. While I had dedicated myself to becoming a teacher, mostly because I loved kids and Dad had told me to choose between going away to college and getting a new car and working, I chose the profession that at the time seemed practical. I could always write, right?
And the universities I’d dreamed about were so much more costly than a teacher’s college, which in NY State in the late 60’s was tuition free. My very frugal Dad was thrilled that there would be money left-over to send both my younger brothers to college sometime down the road.
And I was lucky, it turned out, to have had the kind of professors I did, in a small school where I never felt lost and was given the attention and encouragement I might not have received on a campus with thousands of students. I was, by all standards and still am, a small town girl. And so I wrote my notes of thank you, even though they were a little late. And then, while walking down a staircase, I ran into one of the professors who I’d always liked but never actually studied with. We chatted for a while, and then he told me…that he quotes me at the beginning of every school year in his freshman comp class. Me? I couldn’t imagine what pearls of wisdom might have come spilling from my 20-year old mouth. And then he told me. Simple really, but very true. After he had wished me luck in graduating, I had responded, without a beat:
“But I’m not ready to go,” I’d said, “I’m only just beginning to learn.”