I have been a subtle interloper at my husband’s Middlebury College reunions for 45 years.
I did some bouncing around within my own college experience, gathering scraps of education while amassing memories and experiences from four different institutions of higher learning, each of which contributed in its unique way, to my finally growing up.
But my husband’s school has been alma mater to six family members spanning three generations. Thanks mostly to the generation preceding him, plentiful evidence of close ties to the college remain in various households among us.
There is a Middlebury captain’s chair, a set of dinner plates (featuring various buildings on the oldest part of the campus), and a large, framed photograph of Mead Chapel. There are baseball caps, T-shirts, baby bibs, and key chains that have dotted the landscapes of family closets for years.
The third generation, though, has pretty much eschewed sentimentality, gotten on with the business of busy lives, assigning a somewhat “ho, hum” attitude to the relevance of such memorabilia. Still, though, sometimes the Vermont splendor in autumn draws our daughter, her Middlebury husband and their kids back to “homecoming.”
As for the fourth generation, there’s no spark yet of an interest to follow the tradition — or be saddled with the hefty price tag of a private college.
When, late last fall, my husband received sign-up information for “Reunion Weekend” in the first week in June, he wasn’t enthusiastic. It was expensive; it was a long drive; and anyway, he was in frequent touch with his two best Middlebury friends pretty regularly. No, we wouldn’t go.
But I wanted to go. It felt like my college even though I’d never been a student there, I felt the pull of the Vermont countryside, knowing it had shed its winter coat, and that wet springtime had probably melted into summer. I often heard: “Middlebury – 9 months of hard winter and 3 months of bad skiing.”
But it was where we had fallen in love “for real.” We became engaged, and would marry just five days after his graduation.
Still, it was I who yearned to make the four-hour drive, so we did, leaving behind for a while the worries and responsibilities of home and work.
For me, it was not the “pull” of seeing classmates, but of the place, precious memories highlighted again, and perhaps for the last time. And as for the “kids,” he would not even recognize most of them, so dramatically had people aged since the last reunion only five years earlier.
As we sped past the New Hampshire border mid-morning, and onto the longest and most exquisite leg of the journey, Route 89 north to Vermont, the unspoiled stretches of verdant, lush mountains against the vast, blue sky excited me, rendered me giddy.
Sadly, there were places where that last horrendous hurricane had sucked huge, gaping holes out of the mountains. Enormous trees, ripped out by their roots, still lay along the river’s edge like dead bodies strewn upon the ground.
We arrived at the Middlebury Inn, had lunch, registered at “class headquarters,” took a leisurely walk around the campus, perused the calendar of weekend’s offerings.
We each chose events that we wanted to attend the next day. My favorite was an hour of readings given by published Middlebury authors represented in the New England Review, a publication to which I then bought a subscription.
While there was much to do, we were content to do only some of it. Mostly we opted to stroll around, stopping to rest in Adirondack chairs, reminiscing and taking in the quiet beauty of the place. And yes, we stayed up after eight to “party” at the nighttime events.
I confirmed what I already knew: you can make a place “yours” by osmosis, just by loving it enough.
If I “crashed their party,” I was at least the happiest, most nostalgic attendee at Middlebury College’s 45th reunion.
Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.