A trip down memory lane
Last week, my children were on Spring Break from their respective elementary and preschools. I had to work while they were out of school for the holiday, which kept us a bit grounded.
However, I have fond memories of traveling over childhood spring breaks, and I wanted my children to feel the same. We pow-wowed with my cousin, Lindsay, and her children, who were also on spring break. Though her family lives only a town away, we rarely get to spend time together. When we decided to meet up, Lindsay and I took a bit of a walk down memory lane.
Lindsay is two years younger than I. We grew up just a hilly street from each other, were raised much like siblings, and are both graduates of Clemson University. Each of us had responsibilities keeping us closer to home this spring break. Still, we wanted to salvage the holiday for our kids. Why not, we thought, take a day trip down to Clemson: our old college stomping grounds? Why not let our kids see where we spent four important years of our lives?
Driving into the small, but bustling, college town, I went wide-eyed at the way it has changed. New development in the form of strip malls, restaurants, and apartment buildings line a two-lane highway which, when Lindsay and I were in college, boasted maybe three fast food restaurants and two higher-end places. Restaurants where, if you were lucky, you could convince your parents to take you out to eat when they came to visit.
On campus, tired married housing duplexes have been replaced by gleaming high-rise apartments. The sheer number of new residential buildings astounds. While many buildings and green spaces remained familiar to my cousin and me, much of campus was unrecognizable.
More, I felt utterly disconnected to the girl I’d been, all those years ago.
“I don’t know if I’d even recognize myself as a college student,” I said to Lindsay. “I can’t even remember what I was worried about or cared about back then.”
“Yourself,” Lindsay said, matter-of-fact. “All we had to worry about was ourselves.”
She’s right, of course. As a college student, my main concern was myself: what I was doing in the moment, and who I was doing it with. I had dreams, certainly, but I didn’t look much farther ahead than the nearest weekend. Those bigger dreams were something for which to strive after I’d finished college.
If you had told 21-year-old me that less than 20 years down the road my grandest goal would be to get my family through the week, I’d have laughed aloud. It would have been inconceivable to recognize how my life’s focus would one day shift.
In “Hamlet,” my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet himself says that, “… there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” As a twenty-something college student, I tended to overthink just about everything—still do, more than is perhaps good for me. This is to say, there was nothing good or bad about my goals as a college student, and there is nothing either good or bad about my goals as a fully-fledged grown-up. Life has a way of sifting out the excess.
As we drove through campus, recalling different friends and memories individual and shared, Lindsay and I considered both the changes about ourselves we like … and the ones we don’t. For her part, Lindsay feels like a more laid-back version of herself now, as an adult. She’d been too anxious about doing everything right when she was a student, she says. As for me, I’m torn: I wish I’d been much more serious about my studies back then. At the same time, I had a fearless zest for adventure as a college student—and I’d like some of that zest back.
We ended up spending most of the day in Clemson at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens, where we picnicked with our children. We watched as our kids scrambled up and down the steps, and spun around the stage of the stone amphitheater, scampered down paved and wooded trails, and argued over where the map said to go next. Each of us had spent time in the Gardens as students at Clemson: Lindsay and her future husband had made their own plans there. I had jogged the then unmarked, dirt trails of the Gardens alone, incapable of fear.
Recalling our younger selves, we laughed and rolled our eyes. Our lives have turned out to be much different from what we’d expected. In fact, if I passed my younger self on the street today, I doubt she and I would even recognize each other.
Still, it might be nice to reach out, and take a bit of myself back.
Katherine Scott Crawford is a historical novelist, college professor, hiker and mom who lives in Western North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.