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oberlin_arch_and_peters.jpgI still remember the night in 1979 when I looked out the window of the Oberlin Inn and watched snow fall on Tappan Square. I felt a peace, and a rightness about my audition for the Oberlin Conservatory earlier that day, and about the little college, the town, and the world in general. Unfortunately, when my acceptance letters arrived in the spring of 1980 I decided to attend a conservatory in Boston because it was more prestigious and had the cache of being East Coast as opposed to keeping me in the Midwest for another four years. As it turned out, it was a bad choice, and within two years I was fighting my way back into Oberlin not as a potential cello student at the Conservatory, but hoping to be an English major in the College.

Its not nearly as easy to transfer into a good school as it is to get in as a freshman, and its even harder when you want to pursue an academic degree and you have spent the past two years studying nothing but chord progressions and the evolution of the symphonic form. I was “summoned” to Oberlin for an interview based on the mixed feelings of the admissions panel about my prospects. The head of admissions told me that they were “on the fence” and would like me to go to Oberlin and persuade them that I was a good fit with the school, notwithstanding my atrocious high school math grades and my recent history of picking The Wrong School. I took a day off from my job as a waitress, drove the four hours to Oberlin, and managed to convince the panel that I deserved the fresh start I so passionately wanted at the school with the town square, the Conservatory where I could still play my cello, and the fantastic English department.


oberlin-map-006007_momhtml.jpgRecently, my husband called me from Oberlin. He is a salesman, and his territory includes Ohio. He had never seen my alma mater, and called to tell me he was in Oberlin, wondering “where the college was.” Since we live in a town with a gigantic, sprawling, state university, it is understandable that he failed to identify the small, compact college whose Gothic spires emerge from the middle of country roads and cornfields like something out of a pop-up book. There are, I believe, dormitories at our local university that house the equivalent of Oberlin’s student body.

There aren’t many buildings at Oberlin College, but I lived, and learned and loved and cried and wrote and did a lot of growing up in most of them. I ate at Dascomb, played quartets in the Conservatory, dropped off papers at the 11th hour in Rice, and learned to love Edith Wharton in Peters. I lived in a beautiful single room in a turret in Talcott, ditched fetal pig dissection in Kettering, read Northrup Frye in the “moon” chairs of Mudd Library, and ate blueberry whole wheat doughnuts with my roommate Joan in East Hall. I ate in the vegetarian dining hall my senior year, and choked down baked tofu squares and lentil cheddar loaf while debating whether it was really music if you were just breaking a vase on a piano and then plucking the strings.

ohio_oberlin_1289578_l.jpgEvery year I fell in love with one of my gay friends (First Larry who composed to the poems of Sylvia Plath, then Andrew who acted scenes with me for Shakespeare 301, then Jeff who played the viola in my quintet), and every year I realized that they were going to persist in their gaiety but were the dearest and most loving friends I could hope for. I was a classical DJ at the radio station, climbing up three flights of stairs once a week to spin carefully-themed programs. Every year I watched “Its a Wonderful Life” before going home for Christmas, and “The Graduate” before going home for the summer. I watched “Ghandi” at the tiny Apollo Theater off campus, eating toothpaste I had just purchased at the Ben Franklin because I had no money left for popcorn. When the time came to graduate, I was so despondent about leaving that I could not enjoy the lovely illumination ceremony that takes place in Tappan Square the night before commencement. I was convinced that there was no other place on earth that could be so right for me, and that I would never really be happy again.

Its funny to see my beloved school through the eyes of my husband, who is willing to be persuaded because he loves me, but who sees only a small-ish group of buildings in the midst of the cornfields instead of the complex, bustling, big world I have always described. “If Talcott’s on your right, then the Conservatory’s on your left,” I babbled to him excitedly “I lived there my last year! If you park in the Con lot you can get out and go to the Oberlin Co-Op, or you can drive out and see the Museum and where I took Art History classes.”

It was love at first sight for my school and me; it was my Camelot. Although I’m a little teary just at the moment thinking of a crisp fall day on Tappan Square with a weekend of Dreiser ahead of me, I feel tremendously blessed that there was such a time in my life. We should all be so lucky.



About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

19 responses »

  1. Your passion for your memories is a gift. Keep it sacred for you’ll find you’ll accumulate others that must be balanced by it.

  2. what beautiful memories! ahhh… while I love my MSU and the campus, it was not the right place for me to go to college. It was much to large for my learning style. Absolutely no thought went into my decision. No one else had gone to college in my immediate family, only aunts and uncles and they had gone to MSU….plus this fabulous guy was going there, who I ended up marrying. I got through it, but barely. I hope to help Zachary find a perfect fit for him. Better late than never Ann.

    • I think you had the more common experience; remember that I came from a SUPER academic family, and I had visited, learned about and evaluated colleges for years. Even then I managed to pick wrong the first time. Zachary might love Oberlin, you know. Small, artsy, professors inviting you over to dinner.

      And, if you had made a different choice, you might not have ended up where you are today, with that fabulous guy. From here, where you ended up looks pretty good. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Again, it seems, we led really parallel lives. I would loved to have gone to Oberlin, but my scholarships were for K College, and that’s where I went and had a very similar experience. At least three of the gay guys I fell in love with at K are now my facebook friends, thankfully. My campus, oddly enough, was in a town where there WAS, in fact, a big state school, making it even easier for people to not believe they were seeing the whole campus on the three blocks where K resides–people passing through Kalamazoo will think they’ve seen my school, when in fact it was probably some part of Western’s sprawling campus they saw. I could substitute a K College name for each of your Oberlin buildings, and even the theater where I saw Gandhi. (Of course that’s in part because we were both in college when Gandhi came out.)

    And because I couldn’t quite deal with leaving K College, I spent my first year out of college teaching at a high school in Kzoo. At least I could go see the plays and concerts on campus for one more year. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite as happy.

    For me, actually one or two years of grad school were even more precious and special, but those evaporated quickly as we fell into the camps of those who might actually do something with their degrees, those who would flirt with the idea and take many years to finish, and those who quickly realized it was not a career path and either dropped out or hung out in a less serious way. I miss all those friends a lot, but I miss more the way we all felt and approached life…

    • I had friends at K, and always liked it – I considered it, but I really wanted the conservatory so that I could bridge my musician and post-musician lives. I also knew people who found jobs in Oberlin so that they could stay in town longer; I envied them.

      Unlike your grad school experience, I hated law school, and there is no comparison in my mind between that and college – my college life was spent in a community that I loved; my law school world was bigger, colder and never felt like a community of any kind. If I’d gone on in English (as I should have) I think it might have been different.

      • It’s so funny the way a lot of older women–including you and me–find ourselves regretting the road not taken. (This is just the most current example, but it’s happened before.) I had a blast in grad school but feel it wrecked my future career plans. I spent ten years preparing (unrealistically) for a career as a college English professor, when there were really very few jobs in the field and when I liked very little of the required hoops for getting tenure (as if I’ve even had the chance to try!) Now I find I have to work full-time, and I ask people who knew me then why they didn’t at least TRY to suggest to me that I go to law school, which (for me) would’ve prepared me for a number of jobs (obviously not just as a lawyer). I might’ve hated law school, it’s true, but I would so love to be able to claim that degree and look to turn it into something careerwise. So while you wish you’d done something like what I did, I wish I’d done something like what you did. What a world. I know I’m not supposed to dwell in my regrets, but it makes me feel a little better to say them aloud, and to be reminded that many of us have similar regrets whether we dwell in them or not.

  4. My daughter and I watched “Mona Lisa Smile” after turkey because of some comment (now forgotten) that reminded her of a line from the movie. Check with your mother and see if that counts as campus nostalgia. It didn’t really remind me of the Wellesley I knew and loved.

    There is a Wellesley-Thanksgiving Crane tradition kept alive by my father. Most of what I learned or held dear in college exists only in some misty memory land but not the recipe suggestion sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques” which gets turkey-trotted out annually:

    Next Thanksgiving/Next Thanksgiving
    Save your bread/Save your bread,
    Shove it up your turkey/Shove it up your turkey.
    Dindon, din/Dindon din (French accent because a dindon=turkey)

    • I have never seen “Mona Lisa Smile,” but my recollection is that Leah hated it. i think her rationale was exactly the same as yours.

      I love the Thanksgiving song. I would know that it was a Maurice A. Crane composition if it fell on me from the sky. Dindon din, indeed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. There was a panel? I don’t think I interviewed…I think I just sent transcripts in and wrote a dippy essay on Democracy. I’m sure they would have recognized your intelligence the moment you started to speak; perhaps it is lucky I didn’t have to!

    • I think there probably wasn’t a panel for you – you just got in. I was not a standard transfer because I was coming in from New England Conservatory, where I had taken no academic classes for two years because there weren’t any. I think they wanted to know whether I’d be able to function academically at Oberlin, given my poor high school math grades and no real college track record. I’m so glad they thought I was okay!

  6. I never went to Oberlin, but this brings back many, many memories from my college days. So beautifully written!

    • Thanks! Where did you go to school?

      • In Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn College. Later I went to the New School for General Studies in Grenwich Village… ahhh, the memories!

        My blog partner went to Yeshiva University in New York City and later to Bar Ilan in Israel. He loves your writing style as much as I do.

  7. Albion Dear Albion Keep My Albion Fair….oh that is how I felt about Albion! My mom and dad went to Albion and my aunt went to Albion and my sister went to Albion and my grandma went to Albion (for one day) and I was NOT going to go to Albion. But I did, and it was the right place for me. As my dad said when I was researching colleges, “Cindy, there is more than one right choice.” There are many small liberal arts colleges that would have been “the right choice”….glad you found one too!

    • Well, i fought off Wellesley on the same basis, although I probably would have loved it. There is more than one right choice, and since I started out with a wrong one, I think I was extra thrilled to be at Oberlin. I think there is much to be said for the small liberal arts college; it seems to have been a good fit for both of us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I too am in love with Oberlin, and I did not go to school there! Our daughter did, and is one of those who is now committed to give back to Oberlin (especially the “city.”)

    What beautiful writing…I was looking for pictures of Oberlin in the snow (since there was another winter advisory and one job our daughter now is training for is as an Oberlin firefighter) and I came upon your website. I hope you are writing “your story” for the Oberlin website. There are looking for 1000 Oberlin stories.

    Thank you so much!

    • Jane, thanks for commenting! I find that entire Obie families fall in love with the school…for good reason.

      I’ll check out the website. Keep your daughter warm and safe, at least in spirit; that’s a tough job.


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