Grumpy about the vacation: my college town is a dump

We drove a few miles off course yesterday on our way to New Jersey, so that we could visit Oberlin College. I remember it as an idyllic little college in the middle of an idyllic little town, in the middle of a forty-mile-radius cornfield.

The campus has a lot of beautiful old stone buildings and beautiful grounds. But I remember a lot of dumpy flat fields too. They’re still there. They look just like I remember.


I also remember a kind of dumpy little town. Still dumpy in 2014.


We had this idea that the kids would enjoy seeing where their parents met. But Jesse got very upset when we said that THIS (wide sweep of arms encompassing entire campus and surrounding terrain) was where we met. “What does that MEAN???” She snarled. “People don’t meet all over the place! That doesn’t make ANY sense!! People can’t MEET for the first time in more than one place!!”

Uh, okay. So we walked over to Burton Hall, the dorm where we were housed our sophomore year. It was locked up, but we pointed out the windows of the specific room where we actually met for the first time. The building looked kind of dumpy. Jesse was underwhelmed. We made the kids pose for a shot next to the corner of Burton where our rooms were. They displayed their enthusiasm.


We drove past the house we shared senior year with a bunch of friends, in four separate apartments. We remember a lot of good times there. It’s a dump.


Nick pondered why we had brought him to this strange place, and why we seemed so happy to be here.


And I realized I don’t have an answer that’ll make much sense to a little kid. A great college experience is one of those definitional things, forming and informing a person’s beliefs and social values for the rest of her life. Plus I just had so much fun in my four years at Oberlin. And Anthony happened to me there. The seeds of our long journey together were planted in our imaginations in that beautiful, dumpy place.

Look! There we are, just a few paces from where we first laid eyes on each other almost 29 years ago.


Something’s changed… A few more pounds (okay, more than a few on me). Grays and wrinkles. And what’s that on my leg? Oh. Spawn. Who could have imagined? Not me while I was at Oberlin. But it was a school that taught us to re-imagine ourselves again and again while holding on to our moral centers. I hope I’ve done that.

I know the years have left me kind of dumpy, but I hope it’s the same kind of dumpiness that I saw at Oberlin – superficial, a mask over something more magical and robust. I was happy to introduce Oberlin to Jesse and Nick, even if they were bored and annoyed. I think someday they’ll pass through Oberlin — maybe even as students — and they’ll understand why Anthony and I were content after we wandered the streets of our alma mater.



3 thoughts on “Grumpy about the vacation: my college town is a dump

  1. That same corner Burton room on the ground floor (as pictured just above and beyond Jesse’s head in pic #1 of the dorm) was where I spent my sophomore year, the first of two fabulous years in Burton. I would love to take the kids to Oberlin some day. We are just so dang far away. Things have got off on somewhat of a good foot, Oberlin-wise, with No. 1 son as he just spent a week at “bluegrass camp” with an awesome and fun Oberlin-trained guitar instructor. Planting the seed.

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