Friday, April 22, 2011

The losses build

When one thinks about aging, one has to consider loss in all its forms.  You just can't escape that inevitable fact of life.  The physical losses alone would fill a library:  Loss of balance and coordination, loss of hearing, loss of vision, loss of hair, loss of skin elasticity, loss of height, loss of memory, loss of bone know the list.  But forget the physical representations of aging for a moment.  There are the devastating "people" losses - those times when loved ones leave.  Death is the major reason, of course, but there are others: Divorce, kids growing up and moving out, family moving far away, loved ones who have developed dementia, friends who seemingly have dropped off the face of the earth, to name a few.  In each case, the status quo has had an earthquake, and things will never be the same again.

Relationship change, either through death or other means, is probably the most traumatic of the losses in stability, but changes/destruction/closing of important places in our lives can contribute to our overwhelming sense of loss as well.

I had an incredibly satisfying and happy childhood.  I have lots of places in my mind that bring back fond memories, from the corner neighborhood grocery store to the Main Public Library in Memphis, both of which are either gone or so transformed and rebuilt that my memories of "the way things used to be" remain frozen in time but not in present reality.

We like same; we like familiar; we like routine; we like stability.  Yes, I've heard of (even known) some folks who thrive on change and that adrenaline rush, who can't stay in one place because boredom sets in so quickly, who if they had to live my life would develop cobwebs within one week.  But I still think the majority of us are comforted by sameness up to a point.  We want people, places, and things, if they are comforting to us and hold treasured memories, to always be the same.  Unwelcome changes bring confusion and frustration. evolves, as its DNA demands.

I had some news last week that upset me.  Some of you may remember that I only went to college for one year, as I learned quickly that at that time in my life, college just wasn't a good fit for me.  I have always loved learning, but I was ready for something other than formal education, and wanted to stretch my learning in the music part of the equation and forget the math and science part for a while, which you just can't do if want to earn a college degree.  But that one year, my total higher education career, was spent at Lambuth College in Jackson, Tennessee.  It was a small private liberal arts college, almost like an overgrown high school (one of its nicknames was Lambuth High).  Its campus was a lovely Georgian architecture style and its dorm curfews were strict.  Most people outside of Tennessee had never heard of its existence.  Sometimes by word of mouth or by its affiliation with the Methodist Church, a non-Tennessee student would show up (my roommate was from Shelter Island, New York, lured to Lambuth by a close friend from her hometown, God only knows how her friend ever got there in the first place!), but on the whole, we were all fairly Southern kids, at least in my time.

At one point years later, Lambuth decided to become a University, which kind of diluted its specialness and strength, I think, and down the road, got into financial troubles, may have overextended in areas, ran out of money, was denied accreditation, and last week the Board of Directors voted to close the school.  Its beautiful campus may be continued as a seat of higher learning, maybe under the auspices of University of Memphis, maybe not.  Nobody knows.  The only sure thing is there will not be a Lambuth College or Lambuth University in a few weeks.  A place I always assumed would be there will be gone forever.

This has happened to me before, of course.  There are three other important places in my life that have disappeared or are about to, and each one deserves it own blog post which it will receive in the coming weeks, but this week, my mind has been consumed with Lambuth.  It is a wonder it bothers me at all, since I only was there one year, but bother me it does.  For one thing, I met two lifelong friends there, one who maintained the relationship until last year when she had a traumatic experience and has disappeared, and the other, with whom I had lost contact for decades until I tracked her down a few years ago and renewed our wonderful, close friendship.  It was at Lambuth I learned so much about music.  My amazing teacher, Dr. Jo Fleming, introduced me to the pipe organ, and I was hooked.  My voice teacher, Mr. Coulter,  taught me arias, including my favorite to this day, Un Bel Di.  My theory teacher, Mr. Brown, showed me how hymns and chorales were built, how the transitions between chords occurred, all the technical things about music I had never realized.  My speech teacher, Mrs. Whetstone, showed me how much fun it could be to give speeches in front of an audience.  My English teacher, Dr. Mayo, instilled in me a lifelong fear of the word "nice" - saying it should never be used because it doesn't really convey anything.  (Of course, I made sure that year to find a birthday card for him that said "Have a Nice Birthday.")

Lambuth was also my first introduction to a Yankee, Ginny Jernick, from Shelter Island, New York, my roommate. She taught me the word "soda" for Coke.  The only other words for carbonated beverages I had ever heard were "soft drink" from my dad, and my Aunt Bessie from Missouri said, "Pop."  I remember one of the first days of college, Ginny said something about a soda machine in one of the buildings.  The only sodas I had ever heard of were ice cream sodas, and I was confused but understandably overjoyed at the news.  I was suddenly seeing the South from the eyes of a Northerner and got another kind of education in that way.  Ginny didn't like Lambuth, was homesick, and left after the first semester, so I roomed alone for the remainder of the year.

That one year was the first time I had ever lived away from home, a learning experience in itself.  I had only lived in one house, gone to one school from 1st grade through 12th, had only attended one church my whole life up to that point, always sharing a bedroom with my sister.  This was a major adjustment.

Finally, Lambuth introduced me to Ed, my future husband.  There was only a small window of opportunity for us to meet.  He was in and out of college between farming and serving in Vietnam.  I was only there for one year.  But he had a car, and my friends and I didn't, so he agreed to drive us to the ice cream joint one night and before long, despite the concerns of my friends who worried about the dubious wisdom of a relationship between a smoking, divorced drunk and a sheltered, church-going, nonsmoking teetotaler 8 years his junior, things evolved, we went through years of hell intermixed with happiness, and now in August we will have been married for 37 years.  I owe my marriage to Lambuth, and my children and grandchildren owe their very existence to Lambuth.

So my one year at Lambuth had a profound effect on my life. I was there in a pivotal point in my personal growth, and Lambuth changed me forever.  Since I heard the news, I have been thinking over the other places in my past I have lost or am losing, and it is taking a great deal of effort to come to terms with it all.

RIP, Lambuth.

1 comment:

Cuidado said...

Isn't it wonderful that we can look back with our memories. This is where Lambuth is, not in a building or on a piece of land. You captured and put on paper memories of times and experiences that will stay long after the college exists.