What fun to go trekking about my college town and campus late this summer.
I acknowledge that I tend to look backward with a pair of rose-colored glasses firmly set upon my freckled nose. Still, isn’t it better to learn from the sad moments and plunge fully forward than it is to wallow in what didn’t go perfectly forty years ago?
York College of Pennsylvania was a good place to make friends, learn from some excellent (and some eccentric) professors, and broaden my small-town-girl horizons.
Even with my Facebook frustrations, I am happy the site exists because after all these years I’ve reconnected with people who are still fun to know from high school and the multi-states I’ve lived in since leaving home at 18. And going back again. And leaving again.
In the 1960s, York was a city beset with race relation problems. When I hit campus in 1977, it was a place of excitement to me on every level: new learning! New foods! New friends! People of color around me! Growing up in rural Pennsylvania farm country, we were a school of diverse … white folks. Polish, Italian, Slovak, Anglo—we thought we were the cat’s meow when a family moved there from Jamaica. After the novelty wore off, they were treated the same as the rest of us—friends with the same issues we faced.
But in college, I got to have friends from China (wish we’d kept in touch, she was an utterly fascinating science geek), from New Jersey (you folks know who are you are—and why can some of you speak proper English and with others I need a translator, eh, Tom?), from anywhere, USA.
I was so naive that I didn’t understand that we were different, I just kept seeing people as people. My crowning moment in being non-prejudiced was when I was in Doc Big Jim Morrison’s history class. If there was ever a Virginian-accented tower of a man who made history come alive for his students, it was him. I took every class of his that I could and still hope he knew I did it on purpose. We were discussing slavery, a despicable horror on our nation’s history. I was thinking that I wished we had some black students in the class so I could get their perspective. In the next moment, my buddy (history, biology—thank you for dissecting my rat for me) Troy shot his arm up in the air to make a comment.
I had stopped seeing his dark brown skin because I’d seen him as a person for months. I wish I could recall what Troy added to the conversation because I’m betting it was profound as only a 19 year-old can be. But that’s long gone.
College was a place to make friends of various ages, too. Some I connected to through the odd retail job (thanks for re-connecting via Facebook, K), others through whichever apartment I happened to be living in, some through knowing this random person or that one. Some were a few years out of the mess that was Vietnam, here to remake their lives. Some did that successfully and others struggled.
Just like the rest of us.
York taught me about ordering take out Chinese from the dive place down the street from our dive apartment.My sophisticated Jerseyite roommate, J, was an old hand at this, but for me it was a novelty. To this day if one or the other of us is in town, we’ll zap a picture of the place we were sure was a cover for the mob and send it off, laughing at old memories.
It was picking up pizza to go from the joint on the corner of South George Street. Climbing in one door of my beau’s massive old Impala, out the other creaky door (B, did you know what WD40 was? Ha), around the car, in the door, scoot across the seat, out and around again. It was a good way to kill time until the pizza was ready. I’m pretty sure we were sober.
It was making friends with Jean (50something) and Susan (70something), stuck in the apartments they had lived in for years that were now owned by the college. Jean was a novelty as the first corporate female VP I’d ever known—and in a male-laden industry. Susan was enthralling because she’d lived in Paris for many years. Can you imagine! How sweet and kind they were to put up with college students shenanigans, parties, and disregard for the hours they tried to sleep.
Memorable was winning third place in poetry in the Bob Hoffman Writing Contest. Professor Ben (yes, the most eccentric of them all) McKulik handed out award notices in the class and told each student why they won. He got to me and said, “Mur, we don’t know why this poem won, it just did.” To this day, I love the darkness is one of the favorite of the many things I’ve ever written.
York is walking through the Farmer’s Market that’s been there for more than 100 years and having NO memory of it. It’s checking in with chums and roommates and having them assure me, yes we went there for cheap lunches from time to time. How have I forgotten that?
College was learning to drive a stick shift, badly, very badly at first, finally getting so good that a friend let me drive his Porsche 90 mph down a singular straight stretch of desolate road.
It’s my friend JE consoling me the spring I’d gotten the news that a high school friend had died in a car accident. My heart so full of angst that I couldn’t articulate a word of it, he drove me to a deserted railway car, stuck me inside and told me to scream for everything I was worth. I yelled my grief until my throat was raw and while it didn’t change a thing, the exhaustion brought on by the effort enabled me to sleep. My friend sat in a chair nearby and watched over me. Friends are valuable treats we give ourselves during the toughest of times.
Going back to campus was seeing my friend K for the first time in fifteen years and having a tour of the library archives. It was seeing my college in a new light long after graduating.
York College Archives, printed Nuremberg
YCP Stained Glass
YCP Stained Glass
It was knowing that the town, disgruntled as it was in the decade before I got there and as it may be again, provided me with a college experience that I still treasure. I don’t live in that time period anymore, but I can glance back and say to myself that whatever bad happened has been long left behind and moving forward is the only way to go.