Hey! You have been on my mind so much for the past few months as I’ve gotten ready to celebrate Homecoming at The W this year. It was a big Homecoming for me and my friends from the Class of 1985. And wow, did we have a LARGE time! Such a large time that it's taken me a couple of weeks to put into words some of my recollections from that incredible weekend.
It would’ve been an even bigger time had more of my classmates been there. But Penny, Michelle, Judy, Gay, Sandra, Tina, Lynne, Laronda, and a few dozen others who were there took full advantage of the opportunity to gather back on that campus that means so much to all of us.
Michelle Byars Gray and I decided we needed some quality time back on campus so we took off work and ended up there around noon on Thursday. After eating lunch at The Little Dooey, we traipsed to The W to visit some people and places near and dear to us. During one of our adventures, I happened upon an old banner that had been signed by students and faculty in celebration of an athletic victory. You can’t imagine how excited I became when I unfolded it and saw your signature toward the top of it. I was somewhat surprised that mine wasn’t close by since we were fairly inseparable that year of our lives. Although it wasn’t nearby, I did find my autograph – not surprisingly written in D’Belle green Magic Marker – toward the middle of the cloth. Nisa and Michelle probably jumped six feet when I spotted my name because I squealed so loudly. And the squeal got higher pitched when I noticed that my good friend, Betty “Boop” Vick, had signed her name right next to mine.
That may seem like a simple discovery to you, but it was just a small concrete evidence for me that I – that WE – had truly once belonged there.
Oddly enough, Michelle and I hung out with students on Thursday who weren’t even born when we were coeds in Columbus. But that didn’t matter one bit. You see, we are connected and could relate to one another because of that thin, blue thread that binds the hearts of W Girls no matter if they attended classes in the same decade or not. And though we know that fact, it’s always fun to see it played out.
We were very excited that we happened to be on campus for the two-year Interclub March. Seeing those Blacklisters, Jesters and Maskers march toward that group of juniors lined up outside of the Café Olay brought back so many memories for us.
Although I didn’t let it show, I am still a little scared of one of those groups and watching them march toward me did make me a little nervous. It was awesome, though, to see a tradition that we consider somewhat sacred still taking place – even though their swaggers were a little different from the swaggers we were used to seeing. It was OK, though, cause it IS their school now and their two-year clubs.
After the march was over, I popped around the corner of the cafeteria with Michelle and snapped some group shots for my friends who weren’t able to be there that afternoon. Course it was funny watching the club members attempting to figure out which group I belonged to and what number I might have been in that particular group. A couple of people just outright asked me and I smiled and recalled the story of the late night that Penny, Jane Allen and a couple of others bestowed that sacred honorary 12 upon me. Although I’m certain there are others with similar experiences, I’m not certain many of them ended up in the group graduation photos at Mag Chain like I did.
I definitely thought of you as I looked in the faces of those girls wearing the red Xs and black eye patches. I really don’t think I ever told you how proud I was of you when you pledged Blacklist. We both know I had hoped you’d get a call from another two-year club, but that didn’t happen. Although I got to see you wear your white sweater a couple of times, I never got to see you function with the other girls in your line. That’s something I honestly still regret 25 years later.
I thought of you, too, as we ate dinner at The Goose with Michelle, Nisa, Amber and the rest of the crew. I wondered just how many Diet Cokes and Zero candy bars we had consumed from that place. Although the interior looks a lot different than it did when we spent so much time there, I could close my eyes and be transported back in time to that corner booth where we would sometimes sit and talk.
I especially thought of you later that evening when we were on front campus and I stepped up on the famous Jesus Bench. Just how many nights did we find ourselves having long conversations there? Much of the time you would sit on one end of that half-moon shaped concrete bench while I would stand – or pace – on the other end. I can still remember the specifics of some of those conversations all these years later. I found myself standing there sucking back tears because we were never able to maintain the bond we formed there. And I didn’t understand why and regretted it deeply.
Even though you weren’t at Homecoming physically, I saw you almost everywhere that weekend. I saw you in the faces of some of the students we met. I saw you sitting on the front steps of Stovall and recalled that last conversation we had there on the night of my graduation May 11, 1985. I felt your arm around my shoulder each time we sang “Friends.” I heard you helping me sing harmony on “Hail to Thee.” Our friendship was nestled very prevalently between the lines the characters spoke in “The Long Blue Line” theatre production Friday night.
You were the first person I wanted to call to tell how much fun the D’Belle party was this year (despite the fact that you were a Reveler, you always were supportive and loyal to D'Belles, too). I wanted to share with you how, for the first time in many years I felt a real bond with the D’Belles on campus and how much fun I had getting to know them. I wanted to excitedly tell you how I can’t wait to take the opportunity in the future to get to know them better despite the fact I won’t wear a green dress for them!
I thought of you while singing “Desperado” at karaoke and wondered what crazy song you and I might have chosen to sing as a duet.
There were so many times during that weekend that I thought of you that it made me miss you even more. And missing you made me miss others who weren’t there as well.
The past few years have been filled with challenges and changes for me on a personal level. And our alma mater seems to have been somewhat inundated with challenges and changes in her own right. There’s been a fight over the alumni association and a battle over changing the name of our beloved university. And there’s even been talk of merging with Mississippi State. Although I’ve had an opinion on every issue that has faced The W, I’ve been unusually quiet which is, well, unusually uncharacteristic for me. I can’t explain why, really, other than I’m just weary of all the bickering. I have opted to let someone else battle in the ring while I chose to do my fighting down on my knees. I still believe in the power of prayer and have entrusted God to work on behalf of our beloved Mississippi University for Women.
He truly knows best anyway.
Although I don’t know what the future holds for The W, I can’t help but believe that whatever does happen, those of us who have become connected by the heart there will remain that way. And I’ve got to believe that somehow the world will see the value of The W just as we did as students and as some of us still do. All of us chose that quaint little campus nestled near the heart of Columbus because we had a desire to belong somewhere. And it seems those of us who return there frequently do so because we have the desire to make sure our connections to one another remain intact and sure. Just as we want our university to remain intact and sure.
As quirky as it may sound, I need The W active in my life because it keeps me grounded. And that’s why I’ve remained so loyal to her for all these years. I’ve never really had much else to give, but I’ve tried to keep that intact. There’s a song we used to sing in D’Belles called “Mansions.” Oddly enough, I was discussing the lyrics to it with another D’Belle earlier tonight and explaining that although I didn’t have a lot financially to share with my club – or my alma mater, either – I certainly have lots of intangible things to give. The song pretty much says it better than I can: “We may not have a mansion, we haven’t any land, but we can give you sisterhood just come and take our hand …”
Sisterhood. That’s what I found 26 years ago when I became a “W Girl.” And that’s what I still have with those who I went to school there with and those who I have met since then. We may not keep in touch as often as I’d like or as often as we should, but that doesn’t mean I care any less about you. Or that my support of you has waned either.
You don’t find those kinds of connections many other places and I’m so grateful we have them at Mississippi University for Women.
As another D’Belle song states, “We were different worlds apart, we’re now the same. We laughed and played, and loved together like in a game. You could have stayed outside my heart, but in you came. And may our club just grow in love forevermore. This love for you has no beginning, it has no end. To you may all, my all and more, it’s always there. Though I’ve never given much to you before. God help our club just grow in love forevermore.”
Ditto for our alma mater.
Your former “bestest buddy,”