Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, which began with 8 AM Mass. I knew that daughter E would be cantoring, but found out on arrival that her spouse L was singing with her and that the handbell choir was ringing for the last time before their summer break. It was heartwarming and joyful to hear E and L sing together in public in the weeks before their first child arrives. Our friend music director Nancy said that she could feel L’s breath supporting E, although I think that even into her ninth month of pregnancy, E’s breath control is better than mine.
Unfortunately, the rest of the day was more subdued. We wound up needing to take Nana to the walk-in medical clinic and then to the emergency room for some tests. She had made some gains and started outpatient physical therapy instead of having in-home therapy, but, in the last week, she has gotten weaker and more fatigued. This morning, we have a follow-up appointment with her primary care physician.
Sometimes, it is two steps forward, one – or more – back.
Whether you live in a city or a town or more rural area, weather always seems to be a topic of conversation.
For example, at my recent college reunion (which – shameless plug – you can read about here and here and here), we talked a lot about rain. Our commencement thirty-five years ago had had to be moved indoors due to rain, which limited attendance to only two people per graduate and caused all manner of disruption. (This was before the construction of the spacious indoor track and tennis facility that would now be used if weather forced a move indoors.) We have also had some remarkably rainy reunions. This year, we had lots of rain on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday was lovely for our parade, outdoor meeting, and evening illumination of campus.
Some people still confuse weather and climate, though, which is very frustrating. Yesterday, I posted about the US and the Paris climate agreement. I have written a lot about climate over the years, which grew out of being a New York fracktivist. I and millions of other US climate activists will continue to do our part in accomplishing our country’s climate commitments and supporting other countries as they implement their own goals.
I listened with dismay to DT’s Rose Garden address yesterday, astonished at the level of misunderstanding of climate science, domestic and international economics, and the Paris climate agreement in evidence.
While the president made it seem that the United States is immediately leaving the Paris accord, that is not the case. There is a three year period starting in November, 2016 during which no signatory may exit the agreement. The one-year period in which the separation would occur can’t start until then, so the earliest date that the United States could officially leave would be Nov. 4, 2020, the day after our next presidential election. A lot can happen in three and a half years and my hope is that the United States will never officially withdraw from the Paris agreement.
Even without the federal government’s leadership, many of the states, cities, companies, and individuals in the US will be continuing reductions in carbon emissions and promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over sixty mayors of large cities declared their intention to follow the climate agreement. The governors of New York, California, and Washington have started an initiative for states to continue working on their clean energy goals. Many companies, large and small, are committed to renewable energy sources for their operations. Many families, like mine, are weatherizing their homes, using energy efficient appliances and lighting, buying solar panels, and driving hybrid or all-electric vehicles like our Chevy Bolt.
The majority of the people of the United States believe in the Paris accord and will continue to work alongside the nations of the world to combat climate change. I hope we will soon return to official federal-level participation. It would not be the first time that the administration has had to backpedal after an unwise decision.
On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.
At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)
Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.
Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…
The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.
Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.
We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.
Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!
We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.
Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.
Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.
Saturdays are always the busiest days at Smith reunions. While our 35th is part of the second reunion weekend this time around so that we aren’t here to celebrate Ivy Day with the graduates, we still hold an Alumnae Parade.
The alums all dress in white, with ribbon sashes and other accents in their class colors. The class of ’82’s color is red. After the the marching band, the parade continues with the eldest reunion class first. This year, I believe for the first time ever, we had a woman with us celebrating her 80th reunion! She is 100 years old! Incredibly, although there was both a wheelchair and a golf cart at the ready for her use, she chose to walk arm-in-arm with a companion! As she walked between the lines of alumnae waiting to follow her, she drew much applause and whooping. We should all be so blessed to be granted such robust health to be able to join in our own 80th reunions someday.
The parade led us to seats on Chapin Lawn for our annual meeting of the Alumnae Association. We voted on new officers, listened to addresses from a just-graduated alumna and the college president, and found out our fundraising totals for the previous five years. I’m pleased to say that ’82 did very well.
Next, we assembled box lunches and met at Stoddard Hall for lunch and a presentation by College Archivist, Nanci Young. Our reunion theme this year is ” Creativity, Connection, Community” and Nanci presented an overview of changing communications at Smith, using materials from the Archives. We had a lively discussion about the current state of communication and how people preferred to interact when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.
My next event was a session with current President Kathy McCartney, giving an overview of the present state of the college and future plans, followed by a Q&A session. I had written a question on the provided cards about fossil fuel divestment, but somehow that question got lost in the shuffle…
Next, I chose to attend vigil Mass at the church up the street from the Quad. This highlighted the loss of the regularly scheduled services at Helen Hills Hills chapel, which had been such an important part of my personal and musical life when I was a student. I participated in many services of several religious traditions, as an organist, choral singer, and accompanist. I miss being able to attend Mass on campus when I return.
Our final class dinner was held at Tyler House. A slideshow of photos from our student and alum days ran on a constant loop. We had final thank yous and the election by acclamation of new class officers. As we ate dinner, one of the storied a cappella groups on campus, the Smithereens, came to sing for us. Conversation and laughter were abundant.
At 8:30, I met a friend from the class of ’81 who lives locally. It was a blessing to get to spend time with her, meet her companion, and catch up on our lives. We also enjoyed the illumination of campus, when hundreds of Japanese lanterns are lit along the paths of the botanic garden and central campus. We finally perched near the Student Center, where a jazz combo was playing on the terrace.
On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts for my 35th reunion at Smith College.
Thursday is light on scheduled activities, as many participants can’t arrive until later in the weekend, but it gives those of us who do have the opportunity to get started on heavy-duty reminiscing, as well as catching up on our current lives and loves. We spent hours chatting at our headquarters and over dinner at the Cutter-Ziskind House dining room. We reflected in a special way on the classmates we have lost over the years; our class memorial chairs thoughtfully prepared a compendium of our deceased classmates which brought each of them to mind for us.
Friday presented us with a number of options for presentations and reflections. In the morning, I chose to attend a faculty presentation by Ellen Doré Watson, entitled “How Poems Mean.” It was held at the Poetry Center, of which she is the current director. We filled the room with women (and one spouse of the male persuasion) and read and discussed poems from a thick packet that Ellen had compiled for us, illustrating how poets convey meaning to readers/listeners. After the presentation, I perused the collection of poetry books and journals, spending the most time with the shelves devoted to alumnae poets. I was especially excited to see the books of Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, with whom I have sung with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. Anne is one of my poetry godmothers, who has always been generous in giving encouragement and advice. I was pleased to have a bit of time to speak with Ellen personally after the gathering had dispersed. I hope to meet her again, perhaps for manuscript review through the Colrain conferences or when I return to campus.
After lunch, a classmate and I walked around campus, enjoying the exercise, our surroundings, and conversation. We were able to visit Haven House, where I lived all four years. It has had extensive renovations since then, so it was interesting to see what had changed – which is nearly everything. I was touched, though, that our wooden mailboxes remain in place, even though students now receive mail through boxes at the Student Center. Even more amazing was that our napkin boxes are still there. In our student days, Haven had its own kitchen and dining room for our residents and those of our sister-house Wesley. We each had our own cloth napkin, which was kept in a labelled cubby near the dining room entrance, taken out and returned there for each meal. The college laundered them every week. Now, dining is concentrated in fewer locations with recycled paper napkins available, but I admit to feeling nostalgic for our student days with homestyle serving most evenings – and candlelight on Thursdays.
Later in the afternoon, I helped to host the Alumnae Chorus reception, along with other Alumnae Chorus members from the class of ’82. We are always on the lookout for other singing alums to join us for events, on campus, in the US, and abroad. We were excited to have Alice Parker ’47 join us, along with a number of her classmates! While we were students, we sang her works, including a commission for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel. The Alumnae Chorus was honored to sing in a tribute concert for and with her in 2014. Alumnae Chorus will be doing a US event in 2018 and another international tour in 2019, so we have a lot to look forward to!
Next was a class dinner, which President Kathleen McCartney visited. This is our first reunion since she became president. I was so impressed with her warmth and Smith-spirit! Smith is lucky to have her at the helm.
After dinner, we returned to our class headquarters for “A Night of Passion” in which classmates shared what they are passionate about. Language, music, nature, quilting and fabric art, writing, and more – each presentation uniquely fascinating. I participated by reading an excerpt from this blog post about meeting up with Smith friends and two Smith related poems, including “Lessons from Mahler”. I so appreciated the warm reception from my classmates, most of whom remember me, if they do at all, as the organist I was in our campus days. It was so affirming to my current poet-identity to have them react so positively to my poems.
When I fell into my dorm-bed in my room overlooking the lawn where the diploma circle was held after commencement last Sunday, I felt content – and really, really tired. I’m not used to being on the fourth floor…