A Trip Back

As we crested Lexington Highway where the road spills into downtown Athens, I felt like I was coasting through a 3-D version of the memories in my mind. It had been so long since I’d seen Athens, really seen Athens, and it was just as I remembered – except with a few more chain stores on the outskirts of town.
Everywhere I looked, an old memory returned. Many of them were small and insignificant. That was the restaurant where I dropped my slice of pizza on the floor. Over there was the coffee shop where I loved to study because they had a garage door for a wall and they’d leave it open to the breeze. Some of the clubs, restaurants and bars had changed, but many were still the same, down to Adams Optics and The Grill.
We checked into our hotel, and had a few hours before my mom and dad arrived. Lee and I walked downtown with Cami to get a picture of her on top of one of the bulldog statues.
We also had to show her the famous arch leading onto North Campus.
As we approached the arch, I saw light pouring from a lighting kit that belonged to a news crew. A few steps closer, and I could see the reporter preparing for the live shot with a cameraman and a couple other people fiddling with cords and wires. I was trying to decide if it was a crew from Atlanta or Toccoa, when Lee pointed out what should’ve been obvious – these were students with the University’s NewsSource 15 show. It had been my show when I was a senior – we had named the darn thing (although I voted for NewsCenter 15)! I remembered being just as nervous as she looked, thumbing through scripts and trying to get under control. They had all their gear piled high on a little golf-cart type vehicle, and I really had to work hard to resist the urge to say something to them. I knew what would come out of my mouth.
“I used to be a student here and I was on NewsSource. Back in my day, we didn’t have these fancy cars. We had to drag our gear onto the campus busses to get to our stories and live shots. You kids don’t even know how good you have it.”
But that would’ve made me sound insufferably old and cranky, so I just smiled and walked on by. Although I really wanted to wave to my old professor through the camera and put Cami’s face up in front of the lens. I restrained. But oh how seeing that crew brought me back.
The whole weekend was like that. We saw some old friends, drove by some old haunts, and reconnected with the town we loved. We walked around Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, the store that still smells like hippies. We drove past Russell Hall, where I’d visited Lee when he lived there as a freshman. Next door was my freshman dorm, where I buried several hamster babies in the dirt outside my window. We visited the bookstore right outside Sanford stadium (where I wanted to buy everything that had the Georgia “G” on it because I was feeling so enamored with my alma mater.) Walking through the Tate Center was like another set of flashbacks. The computer room where I registered for classes on a system so old it would take hours. The atrium where I watched the OJ verdict come down. The cafeteria where I had breakfast with Vince Dooley and told him how badly the Equestrian Team needed varsity status.
I think Lee had the most jarringly wonderful flashback though. While my mom and I went shopping, he took a walk around North Campus and visited the art school. He checked out one of the senior exhibits, in which the student had applied stitching to old dropcloths from the art studio. There, on one of the dropcloths, was a test screen print Lee had done while a student there. He had to look twice because he was so surprised to see it, but it was unmistakably his artwork behind her stitches.
It’s a good time of year to be in Athens, too. In Savannah, fall doesn’t come with much color because live oaks and palm trees stay green. But in Athens, the leaves are all golden, orange, yellow or red, and just beautiful.
We also enjoyed spending time with my parents, who I suspect were way more excited to see Camille than to tour town. I’m not sure they even knew they were in Athens. They just knew they were in Camiville. They were sweet enough to watch her during the evenings so Lee and I could go to dinner with friends one night, and catch a movie the next.
The weekend went by much too quickly, and there are still several things I’d like to do. Fortunately, we’ll be back next month for a conference, so we’ll get to see more.
I felt young, being back in my college town – but somehow old at the same time. But old isn’t necessarily bad. I felt quite proud to be walking through the streets of Athens, holding hands with my husband, showing our precious new baby around one of my favorite towns.