Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting my Rosie on

Our freshman corridor portrait
Logging into my computer, I am reminded of them and that time. My password is my nickname (oops, now everyone knows) Rosie, earned back then. College can be a precious time. Mine was and I look ahead to my high schoolers and hope the same for them.

In a few hours I will be on my way to our every-five years' reunion that began when we all turned 40. We stayed very connected beyond graduation, attended each other's weddings and began to drift after long-term men and children arrived.

Ox College, now Oxford Community Arts Center
The seven of us, plus a few more, were randomly thrown together freshman year in a very old dormitory at the far edge of campus removed from the more-modern quads. At first glance, it seemed like a catastrophe – a recipe for loneliness and isolation. Turned out it was anything but. Now, we all feel privileged that we had the opportunity to live in such a beautiful, unique building complete with parquet-floored ballroom, auditorium, marble-stalled bathrooms, antique-studded study rooms and stuffy Victorian parlors where ancient yearbooks were stashed in benches. The place had a patina and oozed a certain austerity from its days as "Oxford Female College." I am certain we contributed to erasing that aura at what we affectionately called "Ox."
The ballroom, site of the Ox College Spring Cotillion

When someone asked where you lived on campus and you replied "Ox College," the usual response was one of pity because of the distance to campus and supposed social life that centered around the quads. However, they were mistaken. We didn't put on the freshman 10 (extra weight), although we had our own dining hall and better food, simply because we had more walking or biking to get anywhere except uptown. We were at the far edge of uptown, between the Oxford Lane Library and Planned Parenthood and closer to the bars than anyone but the frat boys. That proved rather convenient as we returned from winter break and the university was closed for the first time in its history because of a blizzard. We could get uptown for groceries, pizza and beer. Not so for the quadders.

Because we were so out of the way, during little-sis rush (we were all indies and not into the cloned life of sororities), the fraternities always sent us escorts. It proved an interesting social life and a handful of us joined an off-the-beaten-frat-row eclectic fraternity because someone's sister was already a little sis. We got the royal treatment and were wooed.

Exterior of second alley
The friendships that have endured, however, are among this group of women who occupied second alley, a small wing of the dorm. Over the four years, we all re-arranged with whom we lived, but mostly, in some combination of one another. This weekend, six of us get to be together again as we have been at 40, 45, 50 and, now 55. The glue of our group, Maggy, attempted to assemble us last year and, finally, in desperation launched a Facebook group called "55 and Doing Fine Ox College Reunion." That created momentum so that we will be in the woods at a 1900s refurbished hunting lodge with no kids or spouses and a lot of catching up and reminiscing to do.

I had a preview last week when I traveled to Cleveland for an author's conference and stayed with Bethy and her husband. She hasn't changed at all and we picked up right where we left off. I first met Beth in the kitchen at Ox. She was making yogurt in a contraption I had never seen. She was Jewish and seemed so exotic and earthy to me. I was smitten. Still am. She's as grounded, humorous, compassionate and saucy as ever.

I don't recall how long it's been since I've seen Debbie, but I was so surprised at her friendliness freshman year. She's so comfortable in her beautiful skin that I assumed she was a selective sorority type – boy was I wrong. She introduced us to little-sis life and was such a wonderful combination of hard work and silliness, when you'd least expect. Can't wait to catch up.

Jackie was Debbie's room mate and so grounded and wise in college. She would tell the truth when necessary in a way the rest of us could hear and respect, rare for someone that young. Don't get the impression she was a stick in the mud – far from it. She was always good for a party or trip uptown. I would have loved to have lived with her.

Barb, whom we'll terribly miss this weekend, was my room mate junior year when we rented an apartment. I'll never forget an early conversation when she said the thing she craved most after mowing was a cold beer. That seemed so strange to me at the time. She was wise and worldly (from the BIG city of Cleveland), a gifted artist and easy room mate, even with her lab mice.

Funny that Maggy has become the glue that binds us because she didn't turn up until second semester. She wasted no time connecting with her small-town, genuine wholesomeness and hearty friendship. She knows no strangers and perseveres to keep this bunch together. You can always count on Maggy to make you feel better – that's just her way.

I revered Anni, who always seemed to have her act together. We'd often collide late at night in the bathroom, sharing cheese and crackers and conversation, thinking the entire second alley couldn't hear us. She is an excellent confidant, with attentive ears and a big heart. I know that hasn't changed.

There was such acceptance, affirmation and companionship in this group. You can see why I am so excited that I get to be Rosie this weekend. I really like her and how each of these wonderful women is reflected in and contributed to who she is.

• When have a circle of friends deeply shaped me?
• How do I remain connected?
• What were pivotal young-adult relationships?
• How have I grown as a result?
• Even if I didn't see it then, where was Spirit in all of this?

I flew the coop
for for years
and never came home,

according to
my mother

college was a pivotal
and precious time
in my life

anchored by
young women

with whom
I have been
privileged to
grow older


I am

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