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Back to School

So this past weekend, Josh and I drove out to his old college in Iowa.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We drove.  It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  Hop in the car, zip across to the Midwest, maybe even stop at some other locations and reminisce about our college years in the middle states.

My heart died somewhere near Chicago.

Somewhere near Chicago, my heart died in my chest when I looked at the odometer and realized how much longer we had until we arrived.  I started inwardly wheezing like the Little Engine That Couldn’t.  I know I can’t I know I can’t I know I can’t.

But we did.  And a little after 11 pm Iowa-time (midnight back home), we rolled onto the Grinnell campus and collected our keys and registration.  We unpacked the car and moved ourselves into a dorm room as if we were eighteen-year-olds, giddy to be away from home for the first time.



We stayed in a dorm.  I realized about five minutes into the experience that I am too old for a dorm.  I am too old for a rickety bed that creaks every time you move.  (How do these kids have sex?)  I am too old to schlep my toiletries down the hall to the lightless bathroom and pee in a metal-walled stall.  I am too old to listen to people talking outside my window or in the hallway at 2 am.  I am like… so so so old.  I couldn’t even. (See, I can now speak like a Millennial.)

I luckily didn’t find the cockroaches until our last morning.

On the second day, I went back to the dorm room for a bit and overheard a conversation in the hallway about a bat that had been flying around our floor the night before.  A bat?  Did someone say a bat?

I tried to get more information about said bat for the rest of our trip, but no one else seemed phased by the bat.  I would be standing in line, chatting with someone, and I’d smile and say, “Hey, what do you know about the bat that was in Younker?”  And they would reply, “Oh, yeah, there was a bat.  What else have you guys been doing today?”

I really wanted to bring it back to the bat.  Because did the person realize there had been a bat?

I am too old for bats.


It was my first trip to Grinnell.  It is a beautiful campus.  It’s small.  Like it’s really really small; Josh’s college was the size of my high school, and my college could have eaten Josh’s college as an appetizer.

There was a dining hall called Quad that made my heart ache — it looked like the Great Hall in Harry Potter.  And there was a coffeehouse in the basement of a set of dorms where we listened to his old professors play bluegrass music.  There were study nooks everywhere, and a junglegym of carrels in the library.  (In fact, if you Google “study carrel junglegym,” a picture from Grinnell’s library pops up.)

And then there were all the new buildings; a shiny student union, and a beautiful science center, and a sports complex.  It was this mixture of modern and haimish; the sort of place where you wanted to meet someone and hang out on the lawn.  Or read a book, tucked away in a squashy chair in a wood-floored room.



I guess what struck me the most were the people.  Yes, I was arriving with Josh, this known entity, but I sort of had the sense that if I had shown up without him and attended reunion in his place, everyone would have embraced me in the same way.  They were that kind and friendly.


It was clear how much the people he knew from there loved him, and how much he loved them back.  Many he hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  I loved seeing him so loved.  I know that I should reach for a more descriptive word than loved, but that’s just it: I loved seeing him so happy.  I loved seeing him moved by being in this place with people who are really important to him.  It was so comfortable; so relaxed.  It made for a very easy weekend as well as hard to say goodbye.


But at the end of the weekend, we had another 15 hour drive home; this time with rain.  A heavy downpour followed us through several states, and it was nerve-wracking going the last 200 miles.  But we made it home and collapsed into bed.

I have a few last thoughts but this post is growing too long, so I’ll end it here and ask if you have been back to your old school — college or otherwise — and whether it was for reunion or simply a visit to the campus.  I have a theory with this one.

Thank you, Dorje, for the photo from dinner.


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 06.03.15 at 7:51 am }

I went and gave a seminar. No reunions.

2 andy { 06.03.15 at 8:37 am }

I only ever did 1 semester of University and high school was a horrible experience meant to be blocked out of my mind forever, so I have never gone back to either. Grade school was pretty awesome and a bunch of us have reconnected on FB. That is a reunion I would enjoy!

3 loribeth { 06.03.15 at 9:31 am }

I went to my 10-year high school reunion, and to my 10-year journalism school reunion, which is only about a 2-hour drive from here. There were only about a half dozen of us, out of a class of about 30. We went downstairs & took over the grad students’ lounge, just like old times. Dh drove with me but stayed at the hotel & read a book while I caroused. šŸ˜‰ We were back there again a few years later — my uncle was having surgery at the university hospital and we drove around the campus with my aunt & cousin & showed them where I had lived, etc.

I haven’t been back to my old undergrad campus in many years (which is where dh & I had our wedding), although it’s not far from where my sister lives. A couple of years back, they closed the residence where dh had lived & where I also spent a lot of time (cough cough). šŸ˜‰ It’s a huge, 100-year-old brick building with thick concrete walls — which apparently made it difficult to equip the rooms with Wi-Fi and private bathrooms and other modern conveniences that today’s students demand. :p But happily, the school of music has taken over — those thick walls make for excellent practice rooms šŸ˜‰ and the auditorium where we used to hold dances is being restored to its original purpose, a concert hall. They did tear down one of the two gymnasiums, where I used to watch dh play basketball. (It was also used in the filming of a Richard Gere movie, years later.) They had an open house weekend with tours before they closed the dorm for renovations, and I would have given my eyeteeth to be there one more time. I still spend a lot of time there in my dreams.

P.S. I think this is the first time you’ve shown us a photo of Josh. šŸ™‚ You’re adorable together!

4 Turia { 06.03.15 at 10:54 am }

I also noted the photographic presence of Josh. You both look so happy.

I have never been back for an official reunion. My high school no longer exists- the old building was torn down and a completely new school built in its place. I don’t think my graduating year had a ten-year reunion. If there’s one at the twenty-year mark (which is coming distressingly soon), I would probably be inclined to go.

I’ve been back to my undergraduate campus a couple of times, mostly to visit professors when I happen to be in town. Haven’t made it back for a homecoming yet. I guess the people I really care about I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to go back officially to be there in a sea of (aging) alumni without my friends. My university is a mid-sized one, but I was part of the largest faculty, so I can’t see it being the same sort of experience you had with Josh.

I’ve only been back to the university where I did my Master’s once, but that was very special, because Q. and I were able to take E. and show him the college where we met and fell in love. I would love to go back more frequently, but it’s an ocean away, so it’s not easy. Again, they’ve had official reunions since we left, but they’ve never aligned with a conference/travel plans, so we’ve never been inspired to go.

5 Ann Z { 06.03.15 at 11:11 am }

My husband and I went to a college extremely similar to Grinnell, except that it’s in a small town in Minnesota. Our reunions sound very similar to what you described at Grinnell. Seven years after graduating, I got a job at that same college (I live about 40 miles away) and I’ve worked there ever since. So now I go to every single reunion and I love getting to see so many classmates, and now to see students that I helped while working as a librarian.

If I didn’t work here, I’d still go to every 5-year multiple reunion for me and my husband (we’re different years).

6 Mel { 06.03.15 at 11:11 am }
7 deathstar { 06.03.15 at 11:16 am }

Your husband has a beard! I never thought he’d have a beard! He looks like a wizard! A kind and smart one. No, never been to a reunion. I never graduated university. I left to go to a famous American acting school and didn’t make it to 2nd year (f*you, famous American school that I loved, has anyone there been on Supernatural and Smallville?) so that leaves my high school. I am vaguely considering the 50th anniversary of the school next year but that would mean I would have to pay a considerable chunk of change to get there. I think perhaps this is more an American tradition?

8 Laurel Regan { 06.03.15 at 12:05 pm }

I just have to say, that photo of you and Josh is absolutely wonderful. So nice to see you again, and to see him for my first time! You two are lovely. šŸ™‚

9 torthuil { 06.03.15 at 1:27 pm }

My high school and university are in the city I live in now, so it’s inevitable that I would go back. I went back to my high school to sub once or twice. It was weird. During a free class I thought I’d wander around the school and look at things, but I couldn’t do it! I had this powerful feeling that I SHOULD NOT BE WANDERING IN THE HALLWAYS. So I didn’t. I sat in the empty classroom. I did two degrees (seven years) at university and have no particular desire to spend more time there, ever, but I end up going two or three times a year for events or whatever. I wouldn’t go to a reunion (doubt such things even happen in the programs I attended) because anybody who I wanted to know from university, I know. Same with high school. I’m actually good friends with several people from the class after mine, but know nobody from my actual graduating year (I only attended 2 years). If I went to a reunion I would sit around looking awkward and barely talking to anyone, which would be a lot like high school LOL. Life is better now and while I have have no regrets about the past I am not sentimental about it either!

10 Rachel { 06.03.15 at 3:03 pm }

I’ve been back to my old high school a couple times – it was strange, mostly. Smaller than I remember. I felt like I didn’t even know the person who went there, and yet she is part of my history. Strange experience, but not unpleasant, just strange. I haven’t been back to my University but I hope to – I LOVED it, so I think I would love to return for our 10 year reunion in a couple years. It’s 18 hours away from here so I don’t plan on going “just because”….as much as I would totally do it, my hubby might not be on board with it, lol.

11 illustr8d { 06.03.15 at 3:09 pm }

1. You guys are soooooo cute. I love that photo.
2. I had to go look up the Quad and you’re right it’s extremely HP.
3. The carrell jungle gym is awesome
4. I do not attend any sort of reunions. It’s complicated.

12 Amel { 06.03.15 at 4:55 pm }

LOVE the photo of the two of you. šŸ™‚ Love the fact that it was an awesome reunion. šŸ™‚

Last year when I went back to my hometown, I went to pick up my nephew (bro’s son) from our old elementary school. It felt so weird because the place had changed drastically. Unfortunately I couldn’t go inside to see what the whole area was like because there was a low gate separating the classrooms and the waiting room for parents/people who picked up the kids. It didn’t feel at all like the school I used to go to.

13 Brandy { 06.03.15 at 6:28 pm }

Aw, you made me cry on a Chicago city bus. I am one of Josh’s classmates and I am so glad you felt the Grinnell kindness and love. And glad you made it home safe and sound.

14 Mali { 06.03.15 at 8:04 pm }

I drive past my university almost every time I go south to visit my mother. I’m in touch with some of the people I spent time with, and some of the others are now members of my family! (I met my husband at university, and his brother met his wife there, and we all used to hang out together.) But I agree. I’m too old to stay in a dorm room.

There was a major high school reunion (100 years of the high school, or something like that) when I was going through infertility and pregnancy loss, or just after it. I was feeling old and a failure, and I didn’t go. Not many of my friends/classmates did go, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed to miss it. We don’t really have the 10/20/20 etc year class reunions here that seem to be common in the US.

15 Rashed { 06.03.15 at 8:22 pm }

I was at the same reunion! My wife is from the class of ’05, so this was her tenth reunion (my tenth Grinnell reunion was held two years ago, and I attended that as well). All in all, this was the seventh time I went back to Grinnell after graduating in 2003, but only the second time I was there for a reunion.
I really enjoyed the experience both times. At my tenth reunion in 2013, I mostly hung out with my two best friends from Grinnell, as well as the wife and daughter of one of these friends. My wife and son were there as well. My two friends and I would take over a dorm lounge and sit and talk there until 3 am. This time around, the experience was a little different, as my close friends weren’t there, so instead I got to know my wife’s friends better, and also enjoyed various campus events that were part of the reunion (particularly the movie “The Land’s Music” that was shown in the Harris Center). On Sunday, once reunion had ended, my wife and I drove around, delivering cans of Quebec maple syrup (we live in Quebec) to various professors we’re friends with. We left town late but happy.

16 Katie { 06.03.15 at 10:09 pm }

No roaches, but the first morning in the dorms, a giant centipede sauntered by like he owned the place. My friends and I were at the Too Many Strings Band show, too (we’re class of ’05–I’m the wife of Rashed, whose comment is above). Great to read about your Grinnell experience! šŸ™‚

17 Cristy { 06.03.15 at 10:30 pm }

I interviewed at Grinnell when I was 18 yrs old. I remember that road trip fondly. I ended up deciding not to apply there (though I suspect you and I have the same alma mater), but remember the college campus fondly for its beauty.

Glad you survived the trip. And the bat. šŸ˜‰ may the memories be wonderful ones you can tell your kids in 7 yrs when you begin the college hunting process.

18 Ellen K. { 06.03.15 at 11:41 pm }

That is a damned long drive from Chicago to Grinnell.

I went back to my Big Ten campus a few times after graduation and felt out of place, even though we were hanging out with friends. I went back 2 or 3 years ago, too, and it wasn’t much fun at all. Part of it may have been that I was in a group of friends and didn’t have any solitude (or much say in how we spent our time), and part of it was that the campustown has changed a lot and is so much more upscale now. It might be nice to just go by myself sometime. But I am generally happy to keep the past in the past and the future in the future.

My 20-year high school reunion is this fall. I went to my 10-year reunion, and it was fine — the seated dinner seemed stilted, though.

19 Mina { 06.04.15 at 1:29 am }

I went to visit my high school, and got crossed that they got my name wrong on the valedictorians plaque. I am the only one with no first name on that list. My mum was a teacher there as well, and she was in sour terms with the guy in charge with name writing on the plaque, and so I am the odd listing there. no one took charge, so no reunion was organised, ever, for my class. Tant pis.

20 Mina { 06.04.15 at 1:30 am }

I alSo love that picture of you two! You are adorable!

21 Lizzy { 06.04.15 at 1:50 pm }

I just finished my Master’s at the university I did my undergrad. Aside from that, I do attend alumni events as part of my undergrad class. I went to a huge, urban university and loved every moment of it. The opposite of Grinnell I think .

22 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.04.15 at 6:31 pm }


Love that pic of you and Josh.

I have such fond memories of my dorm life. I have a feeling that revisiting it would not be as glowy as it is in my memories.

23 Queenie { 06.05.15 at 4:53 am }

Ooh, I can’t wait to hear your theory! Nope, never been back. Once I’m done, I’m done. Hey, and a photo of Josh!

24 nonsequiturchica { 06.05.15 at 3:34 pm }

I went back a few times to my college after graduating for rivalry weekend (football). But after about three years of that I stopped going (I also moved very far away instead of just being an hour away). I most recently went back for my 10 year reunion (my husband went to the same college but didn’t go to his 10 year reunion the year before)- it was weird. It was nice to see people that I only see on Facebook but the campus had changed and I just felt old. I am looking forward to bringing my daughter to see our college at some point- it’s kind of cool that both of her parents went to the same college but didn’t know each other until a few years after graduation!

25 Heather { 06.06.15 at 3:25 pm }

I went to a 10 year school reunion when I had just got engaged. Good to see familiar faces.

26 Middle Girl { 06.06.15 at 10:39 pm }

No bats!

No reunions.

27 Jessica { 06.08.15 at 4:19 am }

I rarely pass by my old U. Most of my classmates have moved on and scattered in many directions.

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