— Emily Gibbs in “Our Town,” returning to her childhood home from the afterlife
I often feel like that when I am in Athens, home of Ohio University, my college. And my town for the years 1965-1969, a special time in my life.
I was there recently for a football game, one of those weird mid-week ESPN-funded televised games that hardly anyone attends. But I was there. I have season tickets and lots of free time.
We won the game, beating — no, stomping all over — Buffalo, a team with a 9-1 record and, at the time, a national ranking in the Top 25.
But it was the rest of my visit that got me thinking about Emily Gibbs. I was in Athens longer than when Emily came back to earth to relive her twelfth birthday. But some of my feelings were just as intense.
It was a night game, so afterward I stayed in Athens. You usually cannot get a hotel room near campus, but, hey, Wednesday night in November — no problem.
My hotel was built on what was probably the end of the runway for the university airport when I was student. These days, my room overlooked a bicycle path. Applebees (not yet invented in 1969) was next door.
It was raining and gray when I awoke. That set off the memory neurons which took me back to my four years in Athens.
As I recall, it was rainy and wet a lot when I was a student. And, of course, I was often right out in it with no car, no weatherproof clothing and not much common sense.
That dreary morning, I set off by car for the Charles J. Ping Recreation Center. It is built on what was the university golf course in my day. The Hocking River ran through that property then. But the year after I graduated, the Army Corps of Engineers relocated the entire river so it would stop flooding the campus.
Some roads were closed on my evocative drive to Ping, but I delighted myself with the way I navigated the back streets to get to the big modern workout facility, as deftly as when I rode my little motorcycle on those brick streets in the 1960s.
I was pretty sure I would have the place to myself. I mean, really? 7:30 on a cold, rainy November morning? There could not be more than a handful of college students willing to go out for exercise under those conditions, right?
Wrong, there were plenty of them.
Once inside, I immediately felt like such a codger. And why not? I was at least four decades older than anyone there.
Doing some basic math, I realized that not only had none of the students in the building that day yet been born when I myself was a student at OU, none of their parents had been born yet, either. Their grandparents were my contemporaries on campus.
I suppose the girl at the front desk thought I was, perhaps, a faculty member when she asked for my ID card.
“Medicare or Social Security?” I responded.
After we straightened that out and I paid my admission fee, I next dealt with two young women staffing the equipment desk. When I asked for a towel, I don’t think I was imagining that they responded speaking slower and louder than usual, asking which size towel I preferred — as if perhaps I was unfamiliar with the towel concept. Or thinking that maybe that the towel had not yet been invented when I was younger.
The facility itself had every exercise machine known to man and a few that were unknown to me, things I had never seen and did not know how to use.
But I didn’t care. I was back on campus — grown up, alive and completely aware of how wonderful that is.
I couldn’t look at everything hard enough.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.