Friday, August 23, 2013

School Starting Takes Me Back

 The old ritual is beginning for another year. The cars, trucks and SUV’s and even a few moving vans are parked in single file outside the apartment complex or dorm. Parent-types seem to be everywhere. They begin to haul TV’s, water skis and computers as big as televisions into the dorm. There are clothes and clogs and suitcases filled with all sorts of finery. Then come the pillows and bed linens and quilts and blankets. Someone drags in a rug and two people carry a huge chair. There are boxes of DVD'S and small refrigerators, hairdryers and curling irons. There are tennis rackets and plastic bags of junk food. I've even seen some of their cars arriving dragging boats behind them. Boats to school? Back in the dorm and apartment most the Mothers are pointing to what goes where while the Daddies either direct traffic or carry bundle after bundle inside. Many of the students just stand around greeting each other, texting or listening to their ipods. It’s that time of the year when the old ritual from home to school takes place once again..

 Sixty years ago my own college journey began when a friend picked me up in front of my house. All my treasures were neatly fitted into a footlocker. It was heavy, but I hauled it out to his car. We shuffled boxes and suitcases around in the trunk and made room for my belongings. It was early and the Georgia morning was still cool. My Mother had left her job at the mill and come across the street to see me off. On our front porch my mother stood with her little apron, her printed dress and her hairnet to keep the cotton at bay. She didn’t leave the porch—she didn’t want me to see her cry. I threw her a kiss and got into my friend’s car.

At the time, I did not realize how hard that day was for her. Sending her oldest out of the nest into the great big world. When I took my own daughter to college and left her there waving goodbye, I felt what my mother must have felt back there standing on her porch. My mother had only finished the eighth grade. She was very proud since I was the first in our family to go to college. But she already knew what it took me years to discover. A door was closing and another opening. I was leaving home really never to be the boy with a bedroom right off the living room. She let me go that September morning. She simply stayed on the porch, waved goodbye and held back her tears.

Every week without fail in my school mailbox there would be a letter in her handwriting and a crumpled ten-dollar bill and a five. This would be my allowance for the week.

And so as school takes up and the SUV’s and cars line the campus—the memories come back. I remember a mother who stood on our porch the morning I left home.  I remember the enormous sacrifice that fifteen dollars meant that came faithfully. She was willing to send me away to experience what she had never had a chance to discover.

The goods that move into those apartment or dorm rooms today are a far cry from that footlocker that held my belongings. But the feelings of these fathers and mothers surely have a universal ring. With heavy hearts, holding back the tears they, too, will let their son or daughter go. After the room is straightened up, the curtains are hung and the mother has made the bed, she and her husband will get into their empty vehicle and head home. In the silence they will know what their Sally or Junior will not know for years and years. Life will be different. Rooms at home will be quiet. The old stairs will not shake as they did when the kids ran up and down the steps. And every night just before sleep comes that Mother and Father will see a face and whisper a prayer.

(This memory was published the first August of my blog. I reprint it today for those who might have missed it.)


  1. What does "cotton at bay" means? Out of sight? Hidden? Is it an old english expression? Can't seem to find any info about it on the internet

    1. Vika--"cotton at bay" means she worked in a cotton mill. Those that worked there their heads were covered in cotton lint after a few hours. Snobs called them "lint heads." Maybe I should have been clearer. Thanks for reading.

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