By Tim Hayes
Whistling through my local Target the other day, it immediately became obvious that the start of a new school year – for college students, in particular – loomed, and loomed large.
It also became obvious that, with my kids at least, we had made it past those days of racking up hundreds of dollars worth of desk lamps, end tables, picture frames, new clothes, shoes, laptops, and other collegiate supplies, at long last.
Then, on my drive back home, I tuned into the oldies station here and landed smack in the middle of a replay of an old “American Top 40” program with Casey Kasem, from the week ending August 8, 1978 – mere days before I left for college for the first time. I listened to the rest of that program, from No. 23 (“Runaway” by Jefferson Starship) to No. 1 (“Miss You” by the Rolling Stones), and found myself back with long hair, short gym shorts, huge aviator eyeglasses, and a sense of excitement, impatience, and coursing adrenaline, champing at the bit to dive into this amazing new chapter of life.
Remember in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” when Indy heads into the bowels of the cave to find the Holy Grail? One of the challenges, created by an optical illusion, gives the impression that he is about to step out into nothing but a sheer, fatal fall into a stone gorge. Before Indy realizes that a perfectly safe path does indeed stretch to the other side, he closes his eyes, extends his leg, and tells himself, “It’s a leap of faith,” before his foot finds solid ground and he continues on the trek.
That’s the sensation I dealt with that late summer of 1978. My job that sweltering season entailed painting gigantic garage doors, with about 20 small windows each, at a truck terminal. Between the smell of the oil-based paint, the dirt and grit from tractor-trailer exhaust, the nasty emissions from a chemical plant across the road, and the punishingly humid 90-plus degree heat that summer, the notion of heading off to a cool, leafy, shady autumn college campus in pursuit of pure knowledge sounded like heaven on earth.
I had a great many good friends in high school, and had a wonderful four years there. At the same time, the notion of starting fresh, among a much larger pool of students from other states and other parts of the world, in an environment that encouraged not only studies but learning how to live – your own life, certainly, and in peace and cooperation with others – really lit my fire.
In fact, a dear cousin who had attended the same university a couple of years ahead of me once said that your high school friends may be great, but the friends you make in college are the ones you keep for life, a statement that has proven to be absolutely true. Most of those high school friends, so treasured while we attended school together as teenagers, remained a part of my circle for a few months once college began, then we eventually lost touch – only to reunite about a year ago at a funeral home, after one of them passed away very unexpectedly. It had been more than 35 years — enough for two full high school-aged lives to have passed — since we’d all been in the same room together.
My family somehow put up with me that summer before leaving for college – an amazing statement, since I must have been even more insufferable than usual. Two songs, whenever they happened to come on the radio, guaranteed me sending a full-blast-volume beatdown out my bedroom window to the unsuspecting world below.
The first? “Indiana Wants Me,” by R. Dean Taylor, which tells the story of a escapee from the Indiana State Penitentiary being tracked down by police. That didn’t matter to me, though. I just loved shouting the lines “Indiana wants me,” since I was headed off to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The second song had actually climbed the charts that summer of ’78 – “Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel, and became a favorite for obvious reasons.
Certain life moments represent such potential, carry such energy, and hold such promise, they create indelible memories that can be conjured up again with the right provocation, like my stroll through Target and hearing those old songs on the radio. Parents of college-bound children, take special note.
Thinking back on my final days as a “kid,” before the transition into “college student” and “adult,” certainly qualifies as one of those times for me. Because my life certainly did take an entirely new trajectory once I moved onto campus.
How, you ask?
Well, I met her the second day there. And last month, we marked our 34th wedding anniversary. I just knew college was gonna be amazing. A leap of faith, indeed, and one that has never stopped paying the greatest dividends imaginable.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting