This past weekend was my college reunion. It may seem odd to have a reunion at a college that no longer exists, but College of Saint Teresa alumnae are lucky that their campus still exists intact.
We could gather in the CSTea House, the little yellow house on the corner of Gould and Seventh streets, where the Alumnae Association is headquartered. When we were in school, it was a snack shop for between-class meetings and a Coke or hamburger. (CSTea House will be on the Winona County Historical Societyís House Tour this year on December 2.)
We attended Mass in the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels, the exquisite church on campus now owned and beautifully maintained by Saint Maryís University. We registered and had hors díoeuvres in Alverna Center, which used to be home to the Sisters of St. Francis who taught and staffed the college. When we were students there, it was a mysterious place, off-limits to students, and a haven for the sisters, who must have quite often had entirely too much contact with us. We also had breakfast in that building.
The Saturday night banquet was held in the dining room in Lourdes Hall, which used to serve the entire college. It is just as acoustically miserable as ever. Every chair scrape is magnified a thousand times, and you find yourself yelling to be heard over the din. Microphones make nary a dent in the cacophany.
Memories flooded back to me of that dining hallóan important place for someone who loves food as much as I do. I could remember the teeth-tingling coldness of the milk from the dispenser, the breakfast treat they called Bishopís Bread. I remember collapsing with laughter the first time I saw Candlestick Salad, a pineapple ring with half a banana stuck in the middle, with a maraschino cherry half topping off the banana. Naturally, we thought it was rather phallic. But we also thought the nuns put saltpeter in our food on weekend nights. (Saltpeter is a food additive that was rumored to suppress a personís libido. You donít hear about it much anymore. Perhaps it is time to bring it back to school lunch. From our experience, however, it didnít work.)
I remembered my beloved sophomore roommate, Rosanne Scannell, now deceased, who ate her toast upside down; the pair of shoes I wore that used to catch on the dining chair and send it clattering to the floor in a great crash. I remembered my first prom there with a guy named Tuna, who took me out to dinner at Linehanís Restaurant at the Holiday Inn and introduced me to rare steak. I was there on the day Kennedy was assassinated. I recalled the brilliant Rita Perez, a refuge from Castroís Cuba who, it is rumored, returned to Cuba to be with her mother, and of whom I have not heard since that time. I remembered how difficult it was to say goodbye to my good friends of four years on that last day. And I remembered, too, not being able to eat dinner because I had a date later with John Edstrom.
It was there in Lourdes Dining Hall that it overcame meóa strong feeling of wonder at the places life takes one. I had a similar feeling last January, on an overcast winter day, sitting in Alverna Hall for Maria Faustís memorial service. From where I sat, I could see Lourdes Hall, its U-shaped mall leading to the elegant front entrance with its porches and balustrades.
It hit me then, and again Saturday, that on the day that I arrived in Winona in the fall of 1963, I was worried about the immediate future. Would I like my roommate? (Not really.) Would I be homesick? (Definitely yes.) Would I do well? (After a while.) Would I be happy? (Also after a while.)
But what I didnít think was that day changed my life forever. I thought then, for instance, that I would always live in Massachusetts, close to my family, close to my high school friends, close to everything that made me feel comfortable. I didnít envision a life with a midwestern Protestant, or a job running a newspaper. I had assumed that I would live the life that my parents didómy husband would be a college professor and I would be a faculty wife and homemaker, and when they were grown, I would probably teach.
I knew I would meet new people, and although I thought I had come from a more diverse place than most of my classmates, I didnít know what diversity encompassed other than ethnicity and skin color.
I didnít have a notion of what love could be, what life could become when experienced through anotherís world view. I had travelled, but safely to places like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, Cape Cod, Nova Scotia, Washington D.C., and several times across the country to visit family in Nebraska. I didnít know what travel to a third-world country would be like, or to the capitals of Europe, or the backroads of the world.
I didnít even suspect how marriage would change the way I thought of myself, or how having children would make me a different person altogether. I never would have envisioned myself as a writer, an editor, a business owner.
I had known happiness and fun. But I didnít know joy. I had known sadness, but not anguish, not devastation. I didnít know with that first step over the threshold into Lourdes Hall, I was sealing my fate.
And the amazing thing is, I still donít know the end of the story.