As our Corolla rounded the last turn on the Maine country road, unresplendent now with foliage as ground cover, my alma mater’s monolithic athletic complex cropped up suddenly, separating the boondocks from academia.
The gym was my savior in the bitterly cold Maine winters, when even on a sunny day the sun was a slacker. Unlike a lot of my outdoorsy classmates who loved the winter for the skiing, skating, snow-shoeing and snow-yellowing, I was an indoor guy. I would have gone stir crazy without nights of pick-up B-ball with my friends in the cozy gym. It was a luxury to work up an enjoyable sweat in a -15 degree world.
But the real fun was getting back to my dorm in the Martian environment that awaited outside. The athletic complex was a campus outpost, several icy walkways and parking lots from the dorm. Even dressed in my artic parka, the trek back was Shackleton’s expedition lite.
I always ran to minimize frost-bite odds and always felt wonderful when I made it to base camp, also known as the student union, halfway to my dorms. In a few minutes I would exit for the second leg back to my dorm. In the lounge my friends and I would massage our feet and tell “how cold was it” stories.
My son, Matt, if he matriculates here, will also be bailed out by winter basketball and follow in my frozen footsteps, He’s a hoop junkie, he also doesn’t ski, and he abandoned skating after a fall as a three year old. But I would wager he’ll live to tell these unique Nanook of the North war stories.
On the tour we stop in at my old dining hall. It looks the same, except there are food stations where in my day there was one line for Alma Mater burgers– period. Matt appears not too impressed, as this is the umpteenth dining hall he has seen on the college tour circuit.
But Matt doesn’t see the ghosts that exhilarate me. They’re sitting in the dining room, the guys long-haired and sweat-shirted, the girls mostly long-haired and sweat-shirted. From my frat’s phantom table sexist comments abound about each girl that dares to walk up to the soft serve ice-cream machine.
If he matriculates Matt won’t need this horn dog, frat boy mentality I’m delighted that this dining hall is still in operation, so Mattie could have a chance to down an Alma Mater burger, but also have the better opportunity to say, “No thanks. I’ll have the sushi.”
After the tour I tell Matt I want to show him my dorm. We make the pilgrimage to the quad, where three long brick dorm buildings and the library with its renowned bell tower surround a circular green patch of lawn.
I position Matt in front of the door to my former brick home and line up my Kodak moment. It seems like I’m focusing the cell phone on myself. I’m hoping this is the first of a bunch of doppelganger shots I take of Matt in the next four years.
On the way home I’m in a mellow, nostalgic glow until I ask Matt how he liked the alma mater. Matt says it seems too isolated and he just didn’t get good vibes about it. We agree, though, that it is a good school academically and as an child of an alumnus his chances of getting in are good.
Still the glow is flickering. You can’t go home again if your kid won’t go with you.
A few months later a dreaded slim envelope arrives from the alma mater. Matt is not broken up. The only salvageable thought I have in this situation is that, anyway, the winters there suck.
Bill Levine is a father of two boys and a freelance writer based in Belmont, MA. His essays have appeared in The Boston Parents Paper.
Photo: Ken Zirkel