Road-Tripping: William and Mary

In hindsight, it was a tactical error taking my 7-and 9-year-old to The Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park BEFORE taking them to Colonial Williamsburg and to see my college campus.  Somehow, it was deflating, this juxtaposition of the “Howlin Tornado” with a tutorial from a milliner about whether beeswax or soap better smooths thread.  We took the obligatory photo in the stockade, really because I wanted the little ones locked up for a while.  This was going to be fun, dammit.  This place is important to me.

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I spent four years tripping occasionally on the uneven brick paths of William and Mary; I jogged down DOG Street, dodging horse manure.  Back then I spent hardly a day and ½ actually experiencing the Colonial scene–only when family came to visit–but years later, I breathed in the familiar wonder of an early Virginia spring.  After a fun (my daughters can’t deny it) evening at Chownings Tavern, listening to bawdy tunes on fiddle and fife, my family and I walked out onto a quieter street and took in the same open sky I used to see as a younger me.

New campus buildings are popping up.  We drove by a line of frat houses that didn’t exist when I went to school there: a young guy in a baseball cap sat reading on a stoop.  It felt like a Hollywood set to me, staged and unreal, but of course, this place is solid-ground reality for the kids going through.  Different from mine.  And of course this newness made no difference to my girls and my husband as they experienced Williamsburg for the first time.

Caroline and Lexi were unimpressed with the ambrosia, the heavenly combination of ingredients primarily responsible for my freshman fifteen: the Cheese Shop mayo-based “house dressing” that once sustained me.  But they ran for miles in the Sunken Gardens; they climbed gnarled trees; they banged out the first few measures of “Let it Go” on the harpsichord in the Cabinetmaker’s shop; they learned tricks about hammering silver, stomping clay. They put themselves in jail then danced on stage in the open air.

We decided when we were leaving around 6 pm, that we’d take the long way home so the girls could experience the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel.  Dave and I both remembered taking the drive as kids, and we remembered it being slightly miraculous, riding on the waves, our own version of a water park, I suppose.  The girls?  They liked it.  They were busy nibbling assorted sugary junk from their Wythe’s candy shop bags and playing Shut the Box, a dice game we picked up in Williamsburg.  Who knows if they’ll remember the length of the bridge, the dusk colors and seagulls peering in through our car windows?

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I have this dream on occasion, about being back at my college, walking across campus, trying to get back to my dorm or where I am supposed to be.  The geography, each time I swear is the same: stone walls of the academic buildings, archways and corridors, opening up wide to a field of sloping hills.  It is always unreachable, this place I’m heading.

When I was back at William and Mary, it struck me as I entered from the Market area, how narrow a campus it is, where my dream is set.  The Wren Building and the Sunken Gardens align, while brick (there is hardly a stone in Williamsburg) academic buildings flank neatly.  My freshman dorm, Madison, it was just a stretch away: my girls walked there without complaint.  (The College Delly was as dangerously close to my dorm as I remembered.)

Why in my recurring dream, do I make the path so much longer, the journey so much harder?

Some mechanism of my mind, I suppose, working through a struggle: what I haven’t done, where I haven’t been; perhaps, what I have set out to do—my intentions, dreams, goals—it isn’t happening as expected? If I were to stumble upon my college self in that dream, would she look at me confused, maybe disappointed, saying to me something like, “You were supposed to be HERE by now.”

I don’t know.  I studied writing and literature and history and music, luxuriating in the liberal arts.  I watched yule logs burn; I listened to acoustic guitar echo within 17th century walls; I memorized Petrarchan sonnets; I watched slides of Bavaria while listening to Wagner; I sat in Professor Funigiello’s Italian classes, as many as I could take, with my freshman roommate and hunky baseball players; I researched Raphael’s The Transformation of Christ until my eyes bled; I drank keg beer on sunny Saturday mornings with the Pi Lams; I wrote a C-paper for Professor MacGowan’s nonfiction writing class and turned the rest into A’s because he could teach.

And HERE I am. Remembering the place.  Remembering the people. Still loving to luxuriate in the liberal arts.  I have a husband and kids I did not even try to cook up in my imagination when I was younger.  I’ve kept old friends (halleluiah!) and the ones I’ve met since?  Even my most creative college brainstorming could not have conjured them.

The remembering can be foggy.  The expectations change.  My daughters may not attend the College of William and Mary.  But we gave them their own experience, and somehow, it jibed with mine.  We took the long way home, without video, without bickering, with one stop for dinner, and then two beautiful little girls fell asleep in the back seat.  We were in our own beds at midnight.

Straight-away or sloping hills; brick or stone; old or new.  I’m just so thankful I get to take this trip.

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3 Comments on “Road-Tripping: William and Mary”

  1. Kelly Bennett says:

    So enjoyed these thoughts and observations. What a lovely piece, Katie. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

  2. Sheila Norman says:

    Oh wow. Just wow. Tears are forming in my eyes as I remember sitting in those classrooms with those professors and those expectations and then going back with my kids. Just wow Katie. You nailed it. Again.

  3. Kelli Lorey says:

    Love this! Cannot believe this is your first time taking all of them!!!! My kids were less than enamored with house dressing at first. Now they both love it. Kyle, my oldest is a freshman. It is odd reliving our experience through his vastly different current one. I’m hoping he will one day come to love the place as we do!


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