“Going Home, going home, I’m just going home . . . .” William Arms Fisher wrote a spiritual tune with nostalgic lyrics adapted from the famous largo in Dvorak’s 9th Symphony that hints of going home “through an open door.”
Last Saturday I walked through the open door back home to my college reunion during Homecoming weekend at Eastern Mennonite University. Nestled among the purple mountains of Virginia in the lush Shenandoah Valley, EMU‘s banner proclaims itself “A Chritian University Like No Other.”
EMU was just a college when I attended. Now the campus seems twice as large and current students way younger than I remember. I kept having to adjust to the sensation of flipping between decades as I viewed the campus and my classmates in a time warp.
There were other adjustments too. College girls now were sporting blue jeans and serious jewelry; my female classmates, like me, all wore braids or buns with prayer coverings.
Our class gift was the donation of the campus’ first piano. Now there was a magnificent pipe organ in the sanctuary, string ensembles playing folksy tunes, and (gasp!) a theatre department.
“Scatter seeds of loving deeds . . . till we are gathered home at last.” Walking Roots Band
Yes, we have all changed. The institution has changed too, outwardly at least, but the mission of the university has remained the same: commitment to rigorous academics with an invitation “to follow Christ’s call, to bear witness to faith, serve with compassion, and walk boldly in the way of nonviolence and peace” in true Anabaptist Mennonite tradition. The motto that was displayed front and center in the sanctuary of the chapel when I was a student still remains: Thy Word is Truth John 17:17.
Shirley Hershey Showalter and I have been getting acquainted in the blog world by visiting each other’s websites since March 2013. In September of this year her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets and Glittering World was published and she has been on a whirlwind book tour, yet she made time for us to meet and visit over breakfast at her home in Harrisonburg, VA on the edge of the EMU campus.
Her breakfast room and office space overlook the gorgeous Massanutten Mountains. The office space includes what you would expect from a college English professor, turned college president and now author–tons of books and orderly files. However, I discovered that there is a special chair where she weaves the magic: a red upholstered swivel chair facing the mountain view. No wonder her book sings!
“I promise: you will be transported,” says Bill Moyers of her memoir. Part Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, part Growing Up Amish, and part Little House on the Prairie, this book evokes a lost time in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when a sheltered little girl with big dreams entered a family and church caught up in the midst of the cultural changes of the 1950s and `60s.
Her website and blog: http://www.shirleyhersheyshowalter.com
Carolyn reports that she loves, loves, loves the book and has underlined certain passages and even inserted little pink sticky notes to earmark special pages. (Stickies concealed for photo!) Carolyn’s name was chosen in a drawing by commenting on my review of Shirley new book: Book review and Contest
Your comments welcome! I will always reply.
That\’s a fabulous senior picture.
If you define fabulous as plain, not so sure. But the smile is genuine–thanks!
I love books on this era. What a nice \”homecoming reunion\”.
Just as beautiful today as you were in your graduation pic. Some things just never change,
I\’m glad you wear rose-colored glasses. You are always so complimentary. How\’s your progress on BLUSH coming along? I assume you want to savor each page and not hurry through.
The reunion weekend was such a whirlwind–I wish I could have stopped the clock and spent more one-on-one time with college friends. Going back to EMC/U after fifty years brought back to me memories long buried in the sands of time. My advice to others–don\’t wait for fifty years to renew old friendships and be more intentional about keeping alive those connections. Thanks, Marian, for your blog–a good way to be connected across long distances.
I can stay \”Amen\” to all of the above, especially when you say \”don’t wait for fifty years to renew old friendships and be more intentional about keeping alive those connections.\” I\’ve been remiss too, but the good thing is the reunion got the ball rolling and now we can keep the memories alive and create new ones in future correspondence. Thanks for dropping by, Verna. Thanks too for the \”follow\”!
Marian, I loved our too-short time together. Thanks for including me in this list of friends. One of the amazing things about homecoming on a college campus is that the entire spectrum of adult life unfolds before the president, who often visits many of the reunions. I can tell you from experience that you are not alone in not returning often until the later years. Reunion sizes actually grow and much higher percentages of people attend as their years increase. The cause? It has something to do with the same impulse that takes us to blogging and memoirs. Wordsworth called these years the ones that \”bring the philosophic mind.\” We drop our pretenses, stop our preening and look at each other in wonder.
I\’m so glad you included a picture of Carolyn. Now I, too, have made another new friend.
And the song you selected from the Walking Roots Band, was perfect for this post. \”Scatter seeds of loving deeds . . . \’till we are gathered home at last.\”
BTW, the mountains I gaze upon are not the Blue Ridge (I made this mistake myself at first). The Valley lies between the Blue Ridge on the East and the Alleghenies on the West. Between them is a shorter range called the Massanutten. I never knew that when I was in college. But then I have a terrible sense of geography and worse directional sense.
What is lovely about having the \”western view\” is that I am connected to Pennsylvania via this ridge. So it brings me another dimension of home. So do the cows in the meadow. 🙂
Ah, Shirley, thanks for your thoughtful analysis of the impulses evoked by reunions. Quoting Wordsworth too: \”The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . . \” and then we come to our senses! Verna expresses it well when she says she wishes she could have \”stopped the clock.\” Our committee spent almost two years planning the event and collecting a book of letters. Then it was all over in a day. I have shared this post with my class mates, so no doubt threads of conversations will continue.
By the way, when I wrote the Blue Ridge, I had my doubts. Thanks for getting the geography right. We used to climb Massanutten peak in college days. Now it appears you have a wide-angle lens to view the world.
Always so helpful, Shirley. I\’ll have to call you my wing woman.
Marian, I too am sorry we did not meet, but thanks for the picture to tell me who you are. Bob and I must say that we do not remember giving you rides to PA, but then, for a long while now, we\’ve known that our experience is longer than our memories! Thanks for putting this review and reflection together for us. It was as though I needed to come to the reunion to see who it really was who was a freshman with me, my only year at EMC. From these I learned two things that others noticed about me, that I didn\’t really know when I was a freshman, so they were new to me now!
Thanks so much for the reply. I have similar sensations when meeting folks from \”days of yore,\” so you are not alone in the deja vu (???) experience. What I remember from the trips from EMC on Route 11 through York is that you and Bob seemed so happy together and laughed a lot. I was in the back seat, an observer. Are you on the class photo? If so, where were you standing?
Thanks again for stopping by, Nancy. Also, I invite you to check out future blog posts. Generally, I post twice a week with memories from my Mennonite years, meditations, tips for grandparents. Now I have begun to do book reviews with book giveaway contests. It was wonderful hearing from you after all these years
Feel as if I was with you! Glad to have you back!
That\’s the idea. I\’m always pleased to see your name in my comment box. It was quite a trip. Next time I see you, I have more photos to share–if you please!
Another wonderful post, Marian! I love an institution that knows how to embrace changes in the superficial while adhering to those principles that truly matter.
It was so surreal going back there after decades of absence. No excuse: When I head north from Florida, I usually land in PA, not VA. You expressed exactly how I feel about my alma mater: Hanging in there–strong. Thanks for the insight, Traci.
Marian, can you tell I\”m catching up on your blog??? I\’ve been working feverishly on cleaning up administrative files for my book reviews, getting my blogs through the annual cleanup and backup, and basically not doing any blog reading.
I am fascinated with this post — the looking back, the newness of coming together with friends just met, and the sharing of it all with us. The photo of you and Shirley is fantastic, and I\’m so glad you got to meet. But I love your senior photo — absolutely love, just as you are now. Thanks for sharing all this wonderful history and news.
History and news — that\’s what October 12 turned out to be. The day began with breakfast with Shirley, progressed to Valerie Weaver-Zercher\’s lecture, and then meeting all those college friends from years ago. The day went by in such a blur it took awhile to process the whole thing. Thank you for commenting and always appreciating it all.