Yesterday my husband and I visited our daughter who is starting grad school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, our old alma mater. I haven’t seen it much since I graduated in 198x (long ago!) and the area has changed a lot with tear downs and new construction. The two houses I had lived in, very near to each other, were gone—the whole block replaced by a massive new fire station and a tidy strip of restaurants and little shops. We had to drive by twice trying to find where those houses used to be.
We recognized a handful of landmarks; the stately Quad was the same. From my horticulture classes, I recognized only Mumford Hall. There was the old cemetery where a friend (now my husband) had taken me one night to see the tombstones rising from the fog–cheap thrills, and yes, I love old cemeteries. On the northern end of campus my husband pointed out big new halls for engineering (nanotechnology!) and computer science and the awesome Beckman Institute. We did find the dark wood apartment building he had lived in, looking small and out-of-place sandwiched among newer complexes.
Only a few places, like Follett’s and Busey Bank, were the same around Green Street, where the fun was. No more Garcia’s Flying Tomato Brothers pizza! We had lunch at Legends which used be a joint with lots of pool tables but now there’s two. Legends has The Chief in a box. I loved Chief Illiniwek (not a real tribe), the most respectful and respectable mascot of any major university, who was deemed too offensive to be allowed (Florida State Chief Osceola and the Washington Redskins are fine), but seeing a life-sized human in a plastic exhibit box was weird to me.
I was lost among ghosts of memories. Trying to find them was a challenge, but there was the little corner bar (then Treno’s) where my equally poor roommate and I would go on Friday nights for free hotdogs and quarter beers. We’d stuff a hotdog or two under our shirts or jackets and carry them home for lunch the next day. Across the street was Krannert Center for Performing Arts where I got to see dress rehearsals for the plays because one of my roommates was a theatre major. I walked out at the intermission of Carmen because I didn’t understand what they were singing and thought it was over. I heard William Warfield boom out ”Ol’ Man River” and croon ”Summertime” there, and after my babies were born I sang “Summertime” to them as a lullaby (note the lyric and your daddy’s rich and your ma good-lookin’!).
Going back in time is not always a good thing. I was disappointed, almost as badly as when I visited the house I grew up in and found the owners had chopped all the trees down. I didn’t find the tree-lined charm of the old U of I in the midst of modern monster buildings, even though the new university buildings kept the same style as the old, for the most part. All was impressive, just too new, too much, too jarring for my old memories. Unlike for my childhood home, though, I will return to look at the university, at least while our daughter attends. I like the Alma Mater statue’s message, “To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings.”
My advice to everyone: take photos to document your home, your school, your town. You’ll be glad you did.