You Can’t Go Home Again

April 21, 2012

Our daughter Cate matriculated at Beloit College, a fine, small liberal arts college in Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit–the town, and the college within it–is located along the Wisconsin/Illinois border about 95 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. That Cate enrolled at Beloit College is totally fitting, as she would not be alive if Jane and I had not both been Beloit College students who happened to meet in the fall of 1977, as I was wrapping up my 3-1/2 years at Beloit and Jane was starting hers. (It did take us almost nine years to connect up for real, but that’s another story!)

Beloit was not my home or Jane’s before we arrived there. I was Tucson-raised, while Jane was born in Tennessee and attended high school in Virginia. Nevertheless, college provides a home for students, especially those who “go away.” For me, for the better part of four years, Beloit was home. I did my laundry (when I did it at all) at a laundromat on Portland Ave. I drank my cocktails at the Golden Cove, where we all tried to see if we could leave, after paying, without Ben the bartender/owner saying goodbye. (We always failed; he was simply too observant!) I did my chilling outside in the winter, and when I say “chilling” I mean the cold kind. In the summer I helped fill with water and drop from a dorm roof the empty plastic bags that used to contain the milk you’d serve yourself from the stainless steel boxes. (We called the “droppings” unit displays, and for the “why” on that one you’d have to contact a  Basic Elmo! Never mind, as before you know it you’ll be all into dropping toilets from fire escapes, etc.) I did my picketing–grapes were definitely NOT IN in the mid-1970s–in front of Salamone’s, one of the local grocery stores.) And I ate my pizza at a small place that shall go nameless, down the street from Salamone’s. Great pies with a very puffy crust. Eight slices, which always created an issue with three of us sharing. And so on. Yes, “so on” does include attending classes, learning stuff, making friends, etc.

I’d been back to Beloit a few times since 1977. I’ve also “kept up” over the years. I was my class agent, signing lots of letters, wondering why the class of 1978 gives markedly less than the classes of 1977 and 1979, and almost all of the other classes, too. (I also always listened politely to the fund development person explain why a generational shift that caught those people born mostly between late 1955 and 1956 caused a level of thriftiness not seen before or after, all the while knowing the lack of giving involved the identity of the asker!) I attended some reunions, and popped over to the campus once or twice while I was visiting my sister, who lives about 15 miles south of Beloit. Nevertheless, I missed plenty. (More accurately, plenty has occurred in the six or so years since we last visited.)

An amazing new science building sits on what used to be “the back way” down to the dirty, smelly river, which is not dirty or smelly any longer. The student union is located in a building that was closed and locked when we attended and the old student union barely makes the map. (Ask someone about the Smith Building and when it stopped being the union and you get dumb stares.) Athletic facilities are new, newer and in one instance not yet finished. (No reason, any longer, for the coin toss winner in football games to consider avoiding having to run uphill in the second half, as the field is now flat.)

When I arrived in Chicago in 1974 Mayor Richard J. Daley was the mayor. A bus met arriving Beloit students at O’Hare (which Mayor Daley called O’Hara). When we last visited in 2005, the Mayor was Richard M. Daley. (I don’t know what he called the airport.) The mayor thing is significant because, in Chicago, signage identifying the mayor was always a big deal, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel must be preoccupied with the deficits Richie Daley left for him, as the signs have not been repainted.

The first day at Beloit College for me did not include my parents, who stayed behind in Tucson. Frankly, if anyone’s parents showed up, the event has been lost to the ages. I can’t imagine anyone being uncool enough to let his/her parents be seen in 1974.

Now, there are parental events, just for the ‘rents. Had we stayed home, our daughter would have likely been branded as “unwanted” or worse. The attending parents all look younger than our parents looked when we started college although our parents were almost a decade and a half younger than Jane and I are now.

As for Beloit the town, there is the clean river. Salamone’s is long gone, and downtown has a store called Bushel & Peck’s, a grocery store and cafe that sells locally grown organic produce. (The only thing worth picketing now is Governor Walker and, as for him, one hopes the recall election will soon turn him into a bad memory!) And, alas, the pizza joint must have new owners, because the crusts taste like cardboard and the pizza maker must have graduated from the “more cheese is always better” school!

What you have read so far was written in August 2011, days after Cate started her first semester. Now, with the chance for this piece to sit idly–and for Cate to be anything but idle–for the last eight months or so, I am delighted about how Cate is progressing and amazed by the pace of a full life. I also wish I could be a college freshman today!!! Alas, the title says it all … !

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