Last weekend my husband, Kip, and I enjoyed a trip back to my alma mater to watch my beloved Tarheels play basketball. Kip’s sisters sure know how to wrap up a great Christmas gift for their brother! Our half-court seats beat out any student section I ever graced some 25 years ago. Kip even reminded me that though we named our 3 year old, Dean, after his grandfather, our admiration for Coach Dean Smith certainly made the ink permanent on his birth certificate.
Yes! Hark the Sound sung under the Dean Dome is close to a church choir on Sunday morning.
Yet I am no longer a college freshman.
I am now the mother of a college freshman. I am reminded of this fact daily…. at the grocery store, at swim meets, at church and at school.
Did you cry when he left?
Your house is really different now isn’t it?
I bet you really miss him.
Aren’t you going to be sad to see him head back after Christmas break?
There is some truth in all of the above, but it has been the memories of my own college years that fill me more with excitement for him than any imagined fear.
It was 1989 and I remember it well.
My mom and dad helped me overstuff the car with dorm room necessities and I set off on I-40 eastbound to the place that would mold me, shape me, and best prepare me for later chapters. Chapel Hill, NC may not have been the biggest dot on the map; but for me, I saw a landscape out of every window, I found the door always open, and I believed the sky to be forever Carolina blue.
Well….maybe not on my first freshman night. I still roll the footage in my head of my family pulling out of the Granville Towers parking lot as I watched from my fourth story window, truly alone for the first time in my 18 years. Cellphones, laptops, and social media weren’t even in my vocabulary, and GASP! I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have cable TV.
Left to my own devices, I ventured out of my room, unharnessed, unfettered. Maybe I walked on a tightrope or maybe it was more of a trapeze. At times it certainly felt like the Big Top. Regardless, I made some of the best friends of my life who would soon feel more like family.
I returned to Chapel Hill early from that first Christmas break.
We studied together. We laughed together. We shared meals together. We played together. We traveled together. We worked together. We summered together.
We lived, loved and cried together.
These friends took good care of me. They protected me whether it be from the massive crowds gathered on Franklin Street when our 1993 basketball team won the National Championship or when a rare early morning thunderstorm hit while we were camping, sans tents, at Jordan Lake.
These friends also took good care of my heart. Dates were often under their scrutiny, and I knew when someone didn’t meet their high standards and expectations. Watchful eyes were on me, over me and all around when we went out together. My dad may have appreciated that about them most.
We were certainly a motley crew, a mixed bag of football players, military cadets, brainiacs, former cheerleaders, and mere lovers of life. And on one summer weekend I brought them all home with me. My dad smoked a pig in the backyard, my mom kept the drinks cold, and my hometown friends and neighbors came over to join in on many a game of horseshoes. I think my folks may have had to add a few inches of water to the swimming pool when the day was done. I loved every minute of that weekend.
I also recall a nine-month stretch when I didn’t drive the hour and a half home for a single weekend or school break. I skipped a scheduled dental appointment in town because I had better plans in Chapel Hill. My last cavity didn’t sit well with my mother.
Don’t get me wrong… I did come home. I loved catching up with my high school besties, sharing laughs with my dad, devouring my mom’s southern cooking, and “shopping” in my parent’s pantry before heading back to school. My dad would check under the hood of my car and slip me a $20 bill before kissing me good-bye. I always called home to ensure my safe return to school and to hear the words “we love you” just one more time. Sunday evenings often ushered in a homesick feeling for me whether I had journeyed home or not.
My Tarheel family, most of them far from home as well, often felt those same feelings too. We initiated a Sunday night dinner tradition, sometimes at the nearby family farm of one of our friends, or on the back patios of our tiny apartments. The smell of the grill and a crowded dinner table helped ease our woes. These evenings together are still some of my fondest memories.
If my hometown gave me roots, then Chapel Hill certainly gave me wings. The music my heartstrings play for the town and the people who shaped my college years will be long remembered. I embrace every visit back. The skyline has changed. I’m now a visitor instead of a resident, yet the “Blue Cups” taste the same.
My son is a freshman at a college an hour and half in the opposite direction. It’s located in a scenic mountain town that has its own colorful people and places to explore.
So, do I miss him when he is away at school? Yes.
Do I worry about him sometimes? Yes.
Do I look forward to the times when he comes home? Most certainly.
But more than anything, I celebrate this special time in his life. I know that he is loving a town of his own. He is making new friends who will undoubtedly be a treasured part of his life many years from now. And he is creating memories that will bond him forever to those mountains where an extended family is being knitted together.
In a few more days, I will prepare to start cleaning out my pantry to fill his bags with food and all the extras. I will slip him a $20 bill when no one is looking. And I will most certainly look forward to the evening phone call when he arrives safely back in his dorm room and this Tarheel can tell her Mountaineer “I love you” one more time.