We just got back from an absolutely wonderful weekend at St. John's. It was Homecoming Weekend, the 25th anniversary of the graduation of John's class, class of 1984. I had many friends in this class as well, so we both ran into many, many people whom we had known and admired, including some of our best friends from our college days. So it was a particularly special weekend that will stay with me for many years.
It started with a signing in the bookstore, a place I have loved since my student days. John and I both signed books, along with two other folks. When we arrived, the lovely young woman who was handling matters informed us sadly that they had hoped to have some of John's backlist titles (the Everness and Orphans series), but...they had sold out the moment they got them in stock! Needless to say, John and I were delighted rather than dismayed.
Both old friends and current students bought books, and I got to sign them. We also spoke with the older gentleman sitting at the end of the table, a Mr. Ernest Jean Heinmuller. He was from the class for 1942. The first class to ever go through the New Program! (For those not familiar with St. John's College, the entire college is a "Great Books of Western Literature" program. This gentleman was a student when they started this program.) It was just fascinating to speak with him. Not only that, but he had been one of three fellows who built the beautiful heavy walnut tables we use at the school, and he started the coffee shop! He was also there for the first Adler prank. (Mortimer Adler, the great educator who designed the Great Books program and inspired the school, used to lecture at the school back when he was alive. He did this every year for at least fifty-five years. His lectures ran very long, so the Senior class had a tradition of interrupting them after 10pm with a prank. The very first prank, apparently, was from Adler's second lecture...someone set an alarm clock and hid it in the piano. Mr. tells us that you've never heard an alarm clock until you've heard it go off in a piano. Amazing to think that the prank tradition continued for over 50 years! )
His book is a work of poetry, starting with a few amusing haikus from his college days. It is called A Different Focus.
After that, there were cocktail parties, Waltz Parties (which even has some Waltzing again, as they had 25 years ago), breakfasts on the lawn, a cake shaped like the gym (it was the 100 year anniversary of the gym building,) and a very touching memorial for friends who have gone on before us, including Phil Peterson, whom I had known pretty well. I saw a couple of people from my class whom I really like, including Robert George and Jason Walsh, and many good friends from John’s class, including Marie Benedict, Jeff Dunsavage, Bob Sacco, and quite a few others, whom I had not knows as well at school but still adore…some of whom I have come to know better over Facebook.
Talking to Therissa Libby about international adoption was a particular highlight!
But another highlight was the children. A lovely senior babysat for us some of the time, such as during the signing and the dance, when we really could not see to the children, but much of the time, they ran around on their own, while I checked on them occasionally. This was an enormous change from years past—particularly back when they were all little about five years ago, and I spent the whole time in terror that one of them would plunge over the precipice of the moat around McDowell Hall and fall to their doom. This time, I could leave them alone for long stretches of time, and, wonder of wonders, they were still alive and well when I returned.
There were a couple of child related highlights. One was the Cherubim pointing at Mellan Hall and saying “elevator”. After telling him over and over that there was no elevator, I let him lead me through the hall so I could show him. We walked three quarters of the way around the long winding hall, and, sure enough, found an elevator tucked away in a closet like area behind the pendulum pit….how in the world had he know it was there???
The other moment was when I found Orville and Juss standing by the Ptolemy Stone, talking to a young man who may have been an older student or a younger alumni. The young man was explaining the stone to them. I did not interfere (partially because I was being led toward the elevator by the Cherubim, the other was because I was so please to see Orville conversing with someone in an easy fashion.
The next day, as we walked back onto campus, we pass the Ptolemy Stone, and John murmured, “I never quite understood what that did.” To which I replied, “As Orville.”
So, we asked Orville, who proceeded, with only a bit of confusion, to tell us about how the first section was used to measure the position of the sun.
Juss, eager to chime in, kept saying, “It only works on Tuesday.” We looked at him and tried not to laugh, as obviously that makes no sense.
John pointed at the circle that made up the second section: “And this part?”
Orville: “When the shadow of the top falls across the bottom…”
John: “Is that when you take the reading?”
Orville: “No, that only happens on the equinox…which was last Tuesday.”
So, Juss was right after all. It did only happen on Tuesday…last Tuesday, specifically.