Home Again, But Not Really

I’m the first to admit that I can be overly sentimental. Today I had a real chance to indulge that tendency with a visit to Lincoln Land Community College, where I was a student from 1988-1990. We were there for my daughter, Josie. Her 5th grade class had entered a “Rube Goldberg” competition where the objective is to build a ridiculously complicated machine to perform a very simple task, in this case folding a piece of paper. They won 5th place and we were very proud of her.

We spend most of the afternoon there and I was reminded of an old saying, “You can’t go home again.” It’s been nearly 25 years since I left LLCC and the place has both changed and grown. Many parts of it are unrecognizable. Areas that were a central part of my life then have been completely rebuilt and bear no resemblance to what I remember. Other parts of it look pretty much the same.

My son, Jimmy, and I spent some time after Josie’s demonstration walking around. For him, it was a chance to stay occupied while we awaited the competition’s results. For me it was a nice trip down good old memory lane. I still remembered my way around and found it hard to believe how much time has passed.

There are a few familiar names on some of the office doors, but not many. I was completely shocked to find that one of my history teachers, Dr. John Roberts, is still on the faculty. I had many fine instructors there, but he’s always stood out in my memory.

During my last semester at Lincoln Land I took a course he taught on Illinois history. I didn’t need the class and when I first saw it in the catalog I was going to pass it by. What changed my mind was the discovery that Dr. Roberts was going to teach it. I immediately enrolled and did not regret the decision. The best term paper I ever wrote as a student was for that class.

What I remember most about Dr. Roberts was his parting words before the final exam started. He would say (and I think I’m quoting him accurately) “Fine something you love. Something you love doing so much that you’ll say to yourself ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’” It’s probably the best advice anyone’s ever given me.

Walking around LLCC with my son reminded me how much I enjoyed my time there. Before starting college, school was something I simply endured and then just barely. Oh, there had been good times along the way but for the most part school was the means to an end. When I hit college, I finally learned to love school.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I really fit in somewhere. I was involved in things that I enjoyed and was around people who accepted me for who I was. My time there ended, of course, but I can’t say that I was happy about it. Even today when I run in to someone I knew then, or connect with them on Facebook, it is always with a smile on my face.

Every time I have a chance to visit a place that’s played an important role in my life, I’m struck by the changes. The church and grade school I grew up in bears no resemblance to what I remember. I don’t think any of the original structure is left, though I could be wrong. My high school has gone through enormous changes, too.

Two years ago I visited my mother’s hometown, Cambria, Illinois, for the first time in decades. The house she grew up in is still there and looks the same. So does much of the town. I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again sometime, maybe to show my kids places I used to visit and enjoy.

The one place I have never revisited is the house I grew up in. I’ve driven by it a couple of times and the woman who bought it from my father has offered to let me look around but I declined. I know she and her husband have completely redone the place, inside and out. That’s fine with me. It’s their house now and they had every right to make it into what they wanted. But I want to remember it the way it was.

So, yes, I am more than a little sentimental about my past. Days like today remind me how blessed I’ve been to have certain places and people in my life. When I ‘return’ to my life as it is now it is with some regret that the old days are over, but I’m also grateful that I got to be in those places, with those people, in those times.

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