While my fellow Greenvillians were celebrating homecoming last week, I was engaged in a brief homecoming of my own. I spent a couple of days in my hometown, West Lafayette, IN in order to conduct some business on behalf of my employer (the University of Dayton School of Law) and to visit my parents and a few friends who still live there. Professionally, my visit was a bomb. Personally, it was da bomb.
I was eager to make this particular trip because my mother recently suffered from an infection that entered her blood stream and nearly killed her. She also just completed her fourth round of chemotherapy to combat stage 3 lymphoma. Meanwhile, my father has been understandably anxious and unable to sleep, and my two sisters who could provide eye-witness accounts reported he was an exhausted shell of his former self. Thus, I wanted to offer them a little first-hand encouragement and love, gauge the situation firsthand, and simply take advantage of another opportunity to see them—for who knows when such opportunities will cease?
When I arrived I was surprised how spry they appeared. Both are in their 80’s now, and I didn’t anticipate they’d recover quite so well or so quickly. I attribute this happy outcome to good genes, a pretty healthy lifestyle, strong faith, and an optimistic disposition. My first evening there we had a wonderful and wide-ranging conversation about my mother’s “scare” (as she refers to it), the goings-on with Krista and our children, my work, politics, religion, extended family, old friends, and a number of other topics. It was obvious that mom and dad were thrilled to have me there (there’s no accounting for taste, after all) as there is now no rational way to deny our time together is limited. At the end of the evening dad groaned as he ascended from his chair, announced he was heading to bed, and added “You know, Timothy, children are very enjoyable after they turn 50. Good night.”
The following day I sat at a table in an open area of the Purdue Student Union where I waited to provide information to prospective law students, along with representatives from dozens of other professional and graduate schools around the country. I was hoping to speak with perhaps 15-20 undergraduates during my shift. I spoke with one. Ein. Uno. Un. Sigh.
Still, thanks to the technological age we’re living in, I was able to attend to several other time-sensitive tasks from my remote perch. Moreover, a local cable provider was taping “Comcast Newsmakers” segments about 15 yards away from me, brief interviews of some current Purdue luminaries to be airedon a local access channel. One of their subjects was a young man named David Boudia, a gold and bronze medal winner (in diving) at this summer’s London Olympics. Another was a very unassuming middle-aged Asian fellow, Professor Ei-Ichi Negishi, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry a couple of years ago. I had the opportunity to meet each and overheard part of the Professor’s interview. At one point the host asked, “Professor, what was it like to win the Noble Prize?” Negishi thought a moment and replied, “Hmmm. Pretty good, I guess.”
When my shift was over I packed up, headed to my car and drove around town for old time’s sake. During my tour I approached the building where I attended elementary and Junior High school, and I impulsively pulled into its parking lot. For the first time since 1975, I stepped inside the building where I learned to read and write, add and subtract, develop and maintain friendships, deal with disappointments, and execute a bank-shot. After explaining to an amused secretary the reason for my visit, I poked around the classrooms and wandered the halls. I experienced again the unique aroma of my former school, a combination of floor wax, cleaning chemicals, and slightly mildewing books. My memory banks went into overdrive: Here’s where Mr. Woods confronted me over the assignments I’d failed to turn in (I’d stuffed them inside my pigsty of a desk and forgotten them); Here’s where I first told a girl I (gulp!) liked her; Here’s where Alan Prylock relieved himself in front of the whole class; Here’s where I was elected 5th grade class president; Here’s where my class made a movie—“Jump Into the World of Color”—that was profiled in the local paper. And on and on they went—the memories of sounds and smells and feelings and people, sweet and overwhelming, gone but never forgotten. And never, ever to be taken for granted.
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.