This year, I’ve been looking back at the year 1980. There’s one more story before the year winds down.
North Central College is laid out predominantly in a narrow north-south strip, with the athletic facilities at the south end, and the library and a couple of the dorms at the far north end. My first term there, I lived on the third floor of Seager Hall, which was fairly close to the south end, and near the all-campus Kaufman Dining Hall. My room was on the north side of the building, so in the evenings from my window, I could see all of the students walking back from dinner to their night classes, the library or their dorms up campus.
It sure beat looking across at my assigned roommate’s wall, which was adorned with a large Confederate flag.
Studying in my room was not possible, partly since the same roommate who hung the rebel flag also had a big television set, which he used a lot. I found early on that the best place to study was at the library, so it became a regular trek for me up to the north end of campus. It was kind of a lonely, dark, walk, though, and it was always nice to have someone to talk to along the way. Sometimes, from my northside perch, I would watch for people I knew, and then hustle down the stairs and catch up with them and share the walk.
For me, that first semester, most of the “people I knew” were swimmers. Once training begins, swimming pretty much takes over your life, and your circle of acquaintances becomes smaller and tighter. Almost all of the early friends I made there were swimmers, from both the men’s and women’s teams, since the two teams naturally tended to hang out a lot together.
A few of those evenings, I found myself walking up campus with Jean, a junior on the women’s team. She lived in Kimmel Hall at the far north end, and always seemed receptive to a little friendly conversation along the way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a terribly long walk to the library, so we didn’t exchange life histories or anything, but we did begin to develop a friendship.
The fall trimester played out. We had a swimming meet or two, then finals, and then the swimming teams headed for Florida. Jean didn’t go to Fort Lauderdale that year, for one reason or another; I think they had a family ski vacation planned later in December. After our Florida trip, the men’s team went back to Naperville for a week of training, and then one meet — the Rockford Relays — before I went back home to St. Louis for winter break.
NCC did pretty well at the meet. I’m not sure if we won the overall meet, but I was on one winning relay; I know this because I still have the award: a engraved mug. For the last 20 years, it has held pens and pencils on my desk at work. (OK, I see the official name of the meet was the “Regent Invitational.” Trust me, everyone called it the Rockford Relays.)
Rockford, Ill., is not far from Woodstock, Ill., which is where Jean lived, and she came to the meet to watch. I got a chance to chat with her a little, during those long breaks between races that characterize swimming meets. We compared Florida stories: mine from the trip just completed, hers from previous years. When the meet was over, we wished each other merry Christmas and happy travels, and said we’d see each other after the break.
I went back home to St. Louis to get ready for Christmas. By now it was just mid-December, so I was able to get an early start on my shopping.
A few days before Christmas, a card arrived for me in the mail. It was a Christmas card, from Jean. Nothing fancy, just a nice little card, with a short note to wish me a merry Christmas. Now, I was a guy in college; nobody sent me cards, so it made quite an impression. I’m not going to say that Christmas card changed the course of history — I’m guessing Jean and I would have ended up together that next trimester anyway — but I will say it definitely made my holiday, and gave me a reason to look forward to getting back to NCC after the break.
The rest of the story, you probably know: before the end of January, we were together as boyfriend/girlfriend. After we graduated in 1982, we had a long-distance relationship for several years — lots of mail back and forth between us during that period, as you might imagine — until we finally got married in 1986. This coming summer, we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
Merry Christmas from Shoulblog!