I just returned from New Student Orientation (NSO) with my oldest daughter, at my alma mater. So, prepare for several memory-filled posts. On the first day, after I dropped her off to take a math placement test, I realized I wasn’t that far from the site of several of my own memories. A pleasant walk of about 10 minutes, and there I was …
But first, a little background. During my years at IU, I spent many Friday evenings at Robert and Cynthia’s. Robert was a campus minister, although by the time he arrived at IU I think he was more or less retired. But he’d always worked with college students, and wasn’t ready to totally give that up. So each Friday evening, he and his wife Cynthia invited any interested students over to their house, which was just across the street from campus. She cooked a delicious dinner, and Robert shared a brief devotional thought, we all visited, and then we kids headed back to our dorms.
These Friday nights were a fun time for me. One thing I hadn’t anticipated with college was the things I’d miss — an actual house. A home-cooked meal. Seeing little kids (or older people, for that matter — it’s just … strange to live among people 18-22 all.the.time). Robert and Cynthia’s offered conversation with adults, a delicious dinner, and a charming house. Their cottage was sort of Mary Engelbreit-ish. Cynthia was very crafty and had it filled with all types of interesting, meaningful things.
Hmmmm. It wasn’t really how I remembered it. Well, the basics were the same. But those shrubs — egads! Those chairs out front? Robert and Cynthia would never have had it looking like that.
I remembered evenings there. Robert was a real intellectual-type. He’d been a Baptist minister, but I’d peg him as much more like a Presbyterian or Episcopal. A few of his devotional assertions struck me as downright heretical, but hey — this was a major state university, and I knew that most everything came with a lib’ral slant (for the record, I’m always been proud of the fact that I’m pretty sure I left IU just as conservative as I went in. I have an inner core of steel that I’m not often given credit — or blame — for). He could be a bit fussy (for instance, insisting that one should not drink any liquids with a meal, but rather should wait an hour or two), but since he didn’t enforce these quirks on the rest of us, he carried it off as charming rather than annoying.
Robert often went on about theological issues that weren’t especially scintillating to me, but he liked to end the evening with us all in a circle. He came up with a little phrase, which he’d turn to the next person (let’s say it’s me), and recite: “God be with you.” Then, he’d roll his eyes up, and with a mischievous smile (oh, he loved this), he’d say, “Now you say, ‘YOU be with GOD.'” So, I’d say that, and then repeat the process with whoever was standing next to me. It was a little corny, but he was so into it that you just had to go with it.
I’ll always remember one evening when Robert told us that Cynthia was “one of the greatest Christian choreographers.” Christian choreographer was not a term I’d ever heard, nor apparently had any of the others, so Robert asked her to perform a number for us. Without hesitation, Cynthia burst into a lusty alto rendition of “Spirit of the Living God,” eyes closed, and acting out the lyrics in a dramatic way.
Well. I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for the ridiculous, and this clearly struck me as such. When she reached “melt me,” I was biting the inside of my cheeks so hard to keep from laughing that I could hardly stand it. Still, she was so sincere that you had to respect her, on some level.
So many times I walked up those steps into the house. Oh my, that peeling paint — Robert and Cynthia would have fixed that.
Cynthia often invited some of the “Friday night girls” over. She’d bake something with us. She’d let us copy her favorite recipes (yes, we’d write them out by hand. I still make her chocolate chip muffins fairly often). She’d take us to a craft fair or make something with us. Her own kids lived far away, so she kind of adopted us. It was so sweet. Robert, meanwhile, would often take the guys aside and discuss something of interest to them.
I’m so glad I found a photo — there’s Robert, top right, and center, front and center. They seemed so old at the time, yet looking at this I realize they’re probably about the age I am now. I’m on the left (ay yi yi those overalls, but hey — it was the ’80s, and even Princess Diana was wearing them). The other two are college kids who were over that night … and yes, we’re standing on the same little porch you see on the house today.
About a year after I graduated, it was Robert who called to tell me my junior year roommate had been killed (more on that later). Another year passed, and he called again. This time, it was because Cynthia had died. Cancer.
When my oldest daughter was a baby, I visited Bloomington and visited with Robert. It was good to see him again. A few years ago, he too died, and an era ended.
I was reminded of all the history a house sees. Robert and Cynthia are gone, but the house remains. Not in the same condition, for sure, but it’s still there. And so it will be with us all. We move through this life, and much of what we accumulate will outlive us.
But I can still see Cynthia in my mind, “dancing” her heart out to that old hymn. Robert is still saying, “Bless the Lord with your life … Bless your LIFE with the LORD!” with a twinkle in his eye.
Did you have any influential adults in your life during your college days? I’d love to hear about them …