It was a perfect day to see fall colors at the top of Sardine and down Wellsville Canyon. Stunning play of fiery maple leaves, the lighter red almost salmony scrub oak, bright yellow and yellow green quaking aspen, the deep evergreens. In the foreground, straw-colored grass–the background for purple gray sage shaded with trunks made black by rain.
Amy opened her window as we drove the diagonal highway through rural Young Ward and College Ward. I said this would be perfect air to help us locate exactly where we were but it was still too cool–or perhaps my sense of smell hadn’t awakened yet.
She had told me about the new Ag Science building on the east side of the Quad so, after dropping her off at Fine Arts, I parked on the south side of 4th North (There’s a pedestrian underpass now–today’s students have it so easy!) and scaled wet grass on Old Main hill. I climbed up through the amphitheater and looked back at the view of the valley. The only change to this structure (upon this return after forty years) was that the wood planks used for seating are now attached with grabber screws–still no match for the extremes of weather that also popped the nails.
I used a south door into Old Main. The space has all been remodeled into classrooms and offices. The original front entrance and hall have been incorporated into a wide suite for the president and assistants. I missed the auditorium where I took history and lined up for commencement (and where theatre students would entertain us those days we trudged up from Adams Elementary). I walked by classes in session, looking through two-decades-old Victorian-design light oak trim around interior windows and doors, as I exited onto the Quad.
You know how the scale of a remembered space usually seems smaller when you return. Funny. In this case the Quad felt bigger or, at least more empty. I haven’t quite figured out why. Maybe because I took the walk right through the middle with a much different mindset than I would have in my twenties. Today there was no one–crossing my path or on the surrounding sidewalks, in cars, looking out from buildings–no one who I had gone through school with, who I had taken tests from or turned in papers to, who had watched me weed the fitzer beds with summer grounds crewmen, who knew me, my parents–or who wanted to date me. But I had the sense that it didn’t matter. No one was expecting me. No one there had even known to miss me. No one knew that I had come back. Except me. Yet, even in my own mind, I couldn’t claim–as a conquering hero–the center of the Quad. It isn’t that kind of space. Yes, a person or group might define it temporarily. But you always move on–there is nothing to keep you there. You pass through it from one place to another.
Needless to say, cell phones and computers have changed the texture of USU just like everywhere else. But I wasn’t expecting the new Ag Science building to smell like Starbucks when I walked in. (The old College Bluebird is gone but its function continues live and well.) Made way past fumes into a gorgeous atrium with its long, linear stairway to the third floor. Study rooms like glass treehouses project here and there as one ascends. Suspended sculpture forms a screen, new landscapes by local artist decorate the solid walls. A wall of glass–made private with an earthtone graphic of abstract cattails (yes, cattails can be even more abstract)–encloses the offices where I would have expected to find Dad. He wasn’t there. Neither was Lew, his office mate. Nor Paulette, their secretary.
At the east end of the third floor, I happened onto Journalism (my undergraduate major). It felt like home–or I felt happy that it had a new home in this finely detailed building that opened to vistas of the valley.
The grand finale was the dean’s office, the western terminus of the fourth floor. As I approached, its reception area framed a perfect view of the Quad side of Old Main. But, better, this was a floor-to-ceiling glass bay. I stepped into it to see mountain ranges to the south and west, campus trees. The sidewalk along the eastern border of the Quad coursed below me leading north to a view of the Art Barn and the empty quarter acre where Dad’s old building stood. “That site won’t be green space for long,” the dean’s secretary said cheerily and then surprised me by asserting the old building was intended to be temporary.
No, I didn’t correct her. But that was far from my impression when I was very young. If she wanted to talk temporary, I could have dredged up memories of the wooden, wartime structure Dad had first moved into for an office and how, not long after,
Dad’s key to a brand-new building let us onto polished green terrazzo stairs with smooth aluminum railings, the smell of new plaster, and state-of-the-art communication reach-through technology that allowed his secretary to answer the same telephone he would take the call on. (Well maybe THAT feature did become quickly dated. Telephones on each desk soon seemed necessary. Perhaps the dean’s secretary is not completely wrong; the universe can come back in balance.)
I guess I could delay in endless paragraphs the key reason I started writing. How about just one more: A huge addition to the Business building is under construction on a parcel that includes the cleared site of a 1940s dorm, the first housing for “coeds.” I walked along the contractor’s security chain link fence to enter a beautiful library–located north and east of the one I knew. From there, I circled past the still-standing Natural Resources with it’s signature mosaic mural–perhaps a little faded but still disturbing with that glaring woman’s face. Then I might have glared toward the empty site of Dad’s building, its edges awkward because they weren’t originally designed to be a level field (maybe they could lay out fertilizer test plots there–maybe I should). The Union hasn’t changed that much and I’ve returned to the Institute in other, recent years. Widstoe Hall has been replaced but not renamed. Old Main Hill central stairs are still the same.
Back to the car. Heading toward the north. The family names for houses along 4th East come easily to my mind. Homes of my classmates. Still there even if their parents are not. 10th North. “ROAD CLOSED Local Traffic Only.” I drive through the barricade onto gravel road base; the pavement has been removed. I don’t even notice how uncharacteristically quiet the streets are. The world has stopped but it seems right. Sister Larkin’s house is gone. The Cooks. I turn onto 2nd East, pull over to the right stopping short of another traffic barricade. I hope I’ve parked far enough out of the way of a front-end loader whose thick treads climb down a pale clay bank that used to be our south driveway.
I feel a sensation in my chest. A panic I instantly wish to escape. It’s enough to remind me of losing Mom, Dad or, the first time I felt it, losing Scott. I start to cry but this time it doesn’t last too long. The loader returns with long plastic pipes balanced and bending across its prongs. It uses our dual driveways to bypass the traffic barricade. I consider following it to continue north but an official-looking small pickup arrives and threads through two cones. I realize I can do the same to pull back onto the pavement.
On to 14th North to meet my cousin at the DI and then to lunch.
Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52
copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved