I fell in love on the Phillips University campus. I remember it was fall, the sun was shining, and the monarchs were flying south. Fresh out of high school and considered an adult for the first time in my life, I had a new boyfriend and the world by the tail. Everything was shiny and new.
Our small town of Enid in 1971 had not felt the national political strife ravaging the big cities, even though there was an unpopular war and assassinations of public figures happened often. There was still an innocence, unlike today, that was mirrored in my own soul.
In contrast to the newness of my life, the campus I loved was full of old buildings (many of them cold in winter and hot in summer), Plato-like discussions in class that challenged you to think, and life-long friends to help you tromp through fresh-fallen snow. I loved the simple things. For a young student I had an old heart and something about the place felt safe, like home. I adored the classroom and was sure I would be a teacher someday. I felt a pure joy of learning.
We sat in my boyfriend’s car in the parking lot at lunch and ate sandwiches from home because we were too poor for the student union. Most of our “dates” consisted of studying in the library on days we did not have class. He worked nights and tried to stay awake during class. I took notes and shared them with him.
But though I loved the old campus, hidden deep in my heart, I couldn’t wait to escape the small town of my youth. If it was good enough for my parents, it was not good enough for me. I wanted to leave for the big city as soon as possible, leaving the old campus behind. However, there was a boy.
In an ironic twist of fate, by second semester I was on a campus in the big city, this time not because I wanted to, but because I was forced into leaving. Strife at home and with my new love made it impossible for me to stay. I soon found that the romantic idea of life outside of Enid might not be all that I had dreamed. I gained the freshman fifteen from too many parties and cafeteria food which consisted mostly of fried starch with gravy. Friends were in short supply, and I was miserable.
At the new college I still learned, we still had discussions in class, I was still on a college campus, but there was a longing. A longing for the boy I left behind and yes, even for the mother who gave me little choice but to leave my hometown. I discovered that growing up and feeling free came with responsibilities and heartache.
By March I made the decision to call the boy. He came – as I knew he would. By June I was a new bride and a mother-to-be, but no longer a student, and about to find out that Responsibility would always be capitalized.
The new baby girl in my life scared me to death the first time I held her. Not because of her, she was beautiful and perfect, but because of me. I had no idea how to be a mother, but she was the light of my life. Responsibility could be like that.
A few years later another light was born; one for each side to show me the way. I knew even less about raising a boy since I had no brothers and my father was not involved in child- rearing. But I could learn.
We struggled through life paying bills and raising children. I went back to school twice at the same time as my children – but never back to my favorite campus – and then into the working world. The marriage was good and bad, with ups and downs, but it was strong enough to endure life. I worked to provide for my family even though never accomplishing everything I planned.
I still live in my hometown – other than that college semester in the big city. I realized recently whenever I felt down, I traveled to that place where I first felt the stirrings of maturity and freedom bubbling to the surface. I drove to the other side of town and walked on the campus that made me feel brand new. There I was allowed to become the person I knew I could be, not the one I was molded into by the constraints of society. That time in my life, not just leaving childhood and entering into adulthood, created a brand new person.
These days I’m retired, no longer working outside the home or raising kids. I fill my days writing stories – some true and others not. Again I feel much like that young girl who had the world at her feet just waiting to decide which path she would walk down today. Getting dinner on the table and laundry done before the closet is empty is the biggest worry I encounter most days. The boy is still around and he has become as old and gray as me. The children have children of their own and they now spell Responsibility with a capital R.
As I write this it is fall and the sun is shining. Outside my window, there are monarchs on their perennial journey south, and the Phillips University campus still stands on the east side of town, though it has a new name. As I walk the grounds, I see students fall in love, study, and become the humans they were meant to be. Life goes on and the earth still spins.
Although I wanted to travel and explore, I was given the gift of blooming where I was planted. And bloom I did. I made a family and a living all the while living with the people I loved. I grew up and had a splendid life in my hometown after all.
Wow. Made me rethink what “wanted to do” and nothing is the same. You always make me think, Peggy. Thank you for being you.
I think I’m getting nostalgic in my old age.