This is the third in a series posts about a 40th Whitman College reunion that begins with Walla Walla Begin Again.
On Saturday morning were the class photos, the parade of classes and convocation. For the photos we all congregated on the steps of “Mem,” the Memorial Building, a truly iconic structure to Whitman students.
I watched Nancy, the director of the alumni office, as she arranged us so that everyone’s head was visible. I had nothing but admiration for the good energy that flowed from her while she laughed and smiled and directed traffic with her arms. The last time I had to arrange the OK Chorale to sing, I yelled at them. We were on the ferry and the space wasn’t optimal. Still I could not believe that a group of adults who understood that they were there to sing, that there was an audience and an accompanist (me) could do nothing but stand there helplessly in little clumps facing every which way.
“Just MOVE!” I shrieked. Not my proudest moment.
I am going to remember how much fun Nancy seemed to be having when the Chorale is at the Green Lake luminarias and our time slot is sifting away. I am going to smile and laugh even if on the inside I am shrieking, “What the fuck is wrong with you people?”
I have showed up in the past for class reunion photos but I had no idea what the parade and convocation were about. I would usually wander off to do something by myself after all the social stimulation of having our picture taken. When the photo was taken on Saturday, we were herded over to a designated spot on Boyer Ave where we waited until all the reunion classes had been photographed.
I chatted with people I had never spoken to before but who I had probably seen numerous times. When I was a student, there were 1000 of us. You couldn’t walk across campus to get your mail without passing pretty nearly everyone enrolled. And who you didn’t know, you heard about. Someone was always talking about someone else to the point that names became familiar but not necessarily the faces that went with them.
We lingered in the bright sun and chilly morning air. No place does beautiful fall days like Walla Walla. People (male) came up to me. I read their name tags and thought, “Wow, one of the cool kids is talking with me.” Or people (female) said hello. I read their name tags and thought, “Yikes, I was terrified of you!” I had some lovely conversations with people I had never spoken to before.
Bruce asked me to take a photo of him and a classmate whose name I cannot now remember although we had a long, interesting conversation. He handed me the smart phone. It was heavy and unlike anything I was used to. I pointed it toward the two of them and looked at the screen.
“Bruce, all I’m getting is your crotches. Is that what you wanted?” It would have made the photo request unexpectedly interesting.
Bruce showed me how to pull the screen in and push the scene out. I took a conventional photo.
I walked to what we used to call the SUB (student union building) but which is now called the Pete Reid Center– something I cannot call it– for some water. I wandered back. We waited. All of a sudden “Louie Louie” began to beat its way down Boyer Ave. A ragtag bunch of middle school kids in bright red shirts reading “Touchet Indians” came marching past blowing and pounding their instruments.
Touchet is a small town on highway 12. When you pass through Touchet, you know you are almost to Walla Walla. It’s the last landmark before the Whitman monument.. Apparently the college usually asks the Walla Walla High School marching band (the cool kids by comparison) to play at the reunions, but these kids were so precious it made me cry. There weren’t that many of them, their sound barely meshed, they were nervous, and the school is probably so strapped for cash they can’t afford uniforms that don’t read “Indians,” but they were my favorite part of the morning. So small town, so corny, so splendid.
Behind the band came the class of 1951 in little carts and jeeps. They scooted by, honking and waving. We fell into line after the class 1961. They marched us all down Boyer Ave and up the steps of Cordiner Hall.
“Aha,” I thought. “This is how they get us all to go to convocation.”
I peeled off and went to the bookstore to look at the reunion kitsch and to pinch a few more reunion pens. Then I went for a slow walk following what used to be Lakem Duckem from Park Street across Boyer to the amphitheater where our commencement ceremony was held on a beautiful May day in 1976. Lakem Duckem has been elongated into a stream. People can no longer be “laked.”
Barefoot children with painted faces, their bodies twined with ivy were running around playing Tree Scouts or something like that.
“And look,” they said to me. “We’re barefoot.”
“And I love that about you,” I said.
Not a game boy in sight (Is that even a thing anymore? Again, trying to be cool.) These are the children of Whitman graduates: children who knew how to play outside.
I sat on the steps of the Hunter Conservatory, which used to be called MacDowell Hall until a student came along and opened the building. Inside I went into Kimball Theater, which also used to be called MacDowell Hall. The whole thing was MacDowell Hall. It was its own play on words: the big hall itself and the mini hall that was the little theater. It was where the music professors had their offices and where the practice rooms were and the small theater for recitals. I stood on the stage and sang, looking around and thinking how un-intimidating it all looked now.
Eventually convocation let out and the all-class reunion picnic began on Ankeny Field. Apparently I hadn’t signed up (or paid) for it and when I heard the band blast itself all the way to the Green Lantern, I knew why. When I read there was to be live music, I had anticipated that I would hate the band and I did. I was hungry but they wouldn’t sell me a ticket or give me a plate so I took a water glass and helped myself to what looked like Spanish rice and some pulled beef and an apple. I found Mary-Ellis, Phil, and John and sat down with them.
John and I reminisced about a column called “The Trouble Shooter” that showed up in the Feb 26, 1976 issue of the Whitman College Pioneer, the school newspaper.
A bunch of us were wondering what the food really is in the Jewett kitchen. Not what’s on the menu. We want the real lowdown on the kitchen.
The Trouble Shooter printed a menu purporting to be a more accurate description than the menu posted in the dining hall. It included:
A sordid fruit juice
Sip ‘n’ Rinse cocktails with strep syrup
Grilled Sneeze sandwich
Finger sandwich—open face
The advising professor, a scholarly and proper British man, commented that while he upheld the right to free speech, this column was particularly tasteless—which in itself is a funny comment.
Eventually the loud music drove me to curl up in fetal position inside Mem. Here I will leave you while I recover. I’ll be back with my 4th and final installment of the 1976 Whitman College Reunion weekend.