I recently had the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater for a fundraising function. It is an all-girls school and since I was only blessed with sons, the need to return to the school has not presented itself in a long time.
It’s quite the experience returning to a place that holds your critical formative years as part of its history. I felt as if I were walking back in time. Everything seemed familiar but with changes. And yet I was a stranger. The entrance driveway seemed shorter, the roundabout smaller, the landscaping sparse – I remembered so many more trees.
And as I looked back at the entrance, I remembered my father driving through the gates, hanging out of the car window, calling “Ninkins” – his pet name for me – waving his hand to catch my attention. I was drowning with embarrassment. And before I could collect my bags, he jumped out of the car and picked them up for me, opening the door and ushering me in with a big proud smile on his face. I wanted to die.
I smiled now at how silly I was not to understand that my Dad was just so happy to pick me up from school, just this once. And yes, he intended to embarrass me but in the loving way he always did.
The event started with a Mass, as all events did at Holy Name Convent. The Hall seemed smaller, filled with HNC girls of all ages. I remembered faces, but names not so much. I remembered smiles and expressions and surprisingly I remembered the songs as if it were yesterday. That familiarity started to creep back in, and I started to feel at home again.
As I gathered together with my classmates, the constant chitter chatter began, and the girlishness sneaked backed in. The giggles, the stories, the dreams shared. “Remember when” preceded every sentence, followed by roars of laughter.
The principal captured our attention with her warmth. She welcomed us back with open arms. She was engaging and well-spoken with a winning smile. I hung on her every word. Something I must admit I seldom did way back when – my attention always being interrupted by some gossipy story or another. But this day I listened. And she warmed my heart. And I smiled. How lucky the girls must be to be led by her.
Memories jumped at me at every corner. Standing alone by the tree in the courtyard in the midday sun, retribution for some random act of disobedience. Sharing our life stories sitting on the edge of the drain (no better place to pour your heart out to your friends). Pinning paper tails on students (what a bully I was). Gossiping about the teachers and their love life. Painting a mural on one of the walls in recognition of our many years at school (well I must have been there for moral support only as my painting skills are non-existent).
It was a time when life-long friendships were formed. When, cocooned by the guidance and care of the teachers, you built dreams for your future. You built a base that would support you in the big bad world. You built memories that would last a lifetime.