Even if I don’t go back, I’ll always be tempted

It comes every year, whether in the mail, on social media or both, and it’s tempting every year.

It’s from my alma mater, Utica College, inviting me to the annual Homecoming weekend.

This year’s is a big one, too, and not just because it was cancelled last year for the obvious reason. It’s also celebrating the college’s 75th anniversary.

Except for the start of each semester, most of the drives would be after dinner at my parents’ house on Sunday evenings. It took about 90 minutes, maybe a little less if I was making good time.

I’d put “Open House Party” with John Garabedian on the radio and drive a little more than 70 miles back to campus. Even though the radio station was in the other direction, the signal held almost all the way to Utica.

A little less than half the trip would be through the small towns near where I grew up, a lengthy uphill marking the start of the push to where I got on the New York State Thruway in Canajoharie.

Coming back from Utica, it was very important to keep an eye on my speed, since that uphill was a long downhill. Not only was there a traffic light at the bottom, even if the light was green, hitting the bottom too fast was an excellent way to get all four tires in the air.

Or so I heard … not like I would ever do such a thing.

The drive from Albany when I lived there and from where I live now in Massachusetts isn’t nearly as interesting. It’s basically getting to the Thruway/Massachusetts Turnpike and just driving … and driving … and the scenery isn’t all that spectacular for most of it.

Then I would pass the Beech-Nut factory. It was practically the first thing you’d see after getting on the Thruway in Canajoharie and the last thing before getting off, but even coming from longer distances, it signified the start of a new phase of the journey.

It opened in 1891, employing 1,800 to 2,000 people at its peak. The plant has been closed for years, but there are new plans for the site … a cannabis facility.

That’s certainly not something I would have imagined while listening to Top-40 hits during “the biggest party on the planet.”

I wonder what it will look like from the Thruway if it gets built.

Even though it’s tempting every time, I’ve only been to Homecoming a handful of times in the 27 years since I graduated.

Suzi and I actually had our second date at Homecoming — she asked if she could drive up from Connecticut and meet me, and I wasn’t going to say no. We visited a class being taught by one of my professor friends who asked if the woman with me was my “lovely wife.”

“Not yet,” Suzi said. (Remember … second date.)

I’ve gone alone other times, but I’ve always wanted to go early and get there before activities began in earnest late Friday afternoon. It wasn’t so much wanting to get there before the crowds as wanting to experience a day in campus life again.

I visited professor friends’ classes if I could, shopped in the campus bookstore, grabbed lunch in the campus pizza place and just generally breathed in the atmosphere.

Once I ran out of things to do on campus, I’d usually head to the hotel — one year, Suzi and I stayed in Cooperstown to add to our journey — before the evening’s activities. In particular, I’m a fan of the casino night, especially the blackjack, where I usually win tons of funny money that I’m sure I’d never be able to do for real.

The main activity on Saturday is the football game.

Unless I saw friends there, I didn’t usually sit in the bleachers. I wanted to be able to move around, see the game from different perspectives and talk to anyone I might run into.

When the game was over, I’d take my time walking away, wondering if there would be any reason to stay a little bit longer. There usually wasn’t, and since I usually stayed at my parents’ house Saturday night instead of pushing all the way home, it was a chance to get there fairly early and maybe be able to visit my grandparents or friends.

But it always felt like the end of something — the end of a time to refresh myself, and I always felt bad, since I didn’t know when I’d be back.

So what am I trying to find? What are the connections I’m trying to rekindle in a place where I no longer have many connections?

Where is the nostalgia behind going back to an old stomping ground when you haven’t stomped on most of the ground?

There are new buildings going up all the time, and more dedications and ribbon-cuttings are scheduled for Homecoming.

I long ago reached the age where I could easily be students’ parents, but most of the professors from my time are retired, and one recently died.

That second date with Suzi that I mentioned? We spent a little while at the football game that year … which was one of the first games after they brought back the football program. (It was not pretty.)

And while I do see a few friends, it’s not usually a huge get-together.

Even though it’s not on campus, they’ve remodeled and renamed the Aud … and the Beech-Nut factory that always told me I was starting to get close to my destination could be turned into a cannabis facility. (Even though I don’t partake myself, I’m not opposed. It’s just … a little jarring.)

So what am I trying to find? What are the connections I’m trying to rekindle in a place where I no longer have many connections?

I think it’s that while so much is new and fresh and different, I know that it’s still my college, the first place I really was on my own, the place where I lost my “y.” And no amount of buildings I’ve never set foot in can keep me from remembering how that made me feel.

And while I can’t live in the past — nor would I want to — it’s nice to visit those feelings once in a while. I think that’s what I’m going for.

For various reasons, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to Homecoming this year.

But I’m still tempted.

Update — Thanks to Life During Covid: 2021 edition, the college announced Homecoming is cancelled this year. If the college thinks this is the right thing to do, I won’t argue, but it’s still disappointing, even if I wasn’t planning to go.

4 thoughts on “Even if I don’t go back, I’ll always be tempted

  1. I went back to homecomings for the first few years after I graduated, but haven’t been in a while. Maybe I’ll go back some day, but like your school, mine has grown so exponentially (in just 5 years!) it doesn’t really feel the same anymore

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The week gone by — Aug. 22* – A Silly Place

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