The first year away from home

By Joe Rector

Caden Rector, like many young people, left for college the other day. He’s attending Western Carolina, where he signed to play baseball. Although he’s Jim’s grandson, the boy was on my mind, so I sent him a text message, wished him well, and told him to enjoy his college years. I suppose he was already in the swing of things since his reply came a day later: “Thank you.” Isn’t that one of the standard replies on cell phones? At any rate, I began to reminisce about that first year of college. That’s what we older folks do: remember the good times from years gone by.

I wasn’t one bit excited about going to Tennessee Tech. Yes, Jim was going; my older brother Dal and his wife were already there. My best friends from high school were also making the 100- mile trip to Cookeville. Ask my wife or anyone who knows me well; I’m not much of a traveler. Home was a comfortable place where I have all that I need. The irony about college was that I wanted to stay home with the familiar, but I also wanted to see what life was like as a college student.

Mother drove us to Tech, we emptied our things from the car, and she visited Dal and Brenda for a while. Then she was gone. I’ll bet she smiled and sang the entire trip home. She’d struggled with three boys after Daddy died when Jim and I were thirteen. Now she was free to do as she pleased. I hope she enjoyed those years because she’d earned them.

Jim and I shared a room, so life was normal in that way. However, as a music major, he had rehearsals and other demands on his time, and I usually only saw him was in the evening. After the first quarter, He headed back home to marry Brenda. That was fifty years ago (Happy Anniversary!). My brother was the only person with whom I’d ever shared a room, and I had no intentions of acquiring a new roommate. I scooted both beds together to make one big one. The first guy saw that and told the head resident he wasn’t about to stay in that room. The second guy came after I was instructed to move the beds back to their original places. This person had no plans for graduating. All he was interested in was staying out late every night and enjoying the healing effects of “medicinal plants.” I never learned the names of either boy.

I had early classes, so I decided that I needed to get up especially early every morning. The clock I had couldn’t have been louder if it were in a metal wash pan, and I always let it ring for a few minutes before turning it off. I’d shower and dress, all the while making as much noise as possible to annoy my new dorm buddy. He covered his head with a pillow and cursed. In about a week, I returned to my room to find it empty. I never saw the guy again.

My fear was that I would not be able to find my classes and would be late. So, I set out to find those rooms and the buildings where they were located. Every day, I was always at least half-hour early for classes. It’s an OCD thing that has remained with me through the years.

I made few friends during that first quarter. Studying was important to me because I didn’t want to do poorly and disappoint Mother. It is amazing how much more important good grades are when one has to pay for the classes he takes. I met two girls in one of the god-awful education classes required. Sandra and Sharon were best buddies, and for some reason, they took me in. I had no chance of dating them since both had boyfriends. The girls commuted from Baxter, and we’d hang out in the student union between classes. I’d love to know what became of them.

Unfortunately, I met a girl named Jacque in the old student union. On that day, the place was packed, and she invited me to sit. We struck up a conversation, and then began dating. The problem was that she had a boyfriend. He was a football player at MTSU. He came looking for me one night, but I made myself unavailable. Jacque went home for winter break and never returned.

Plenty of other things transpired during that first year of college. It was the beginning of big changes in my life. I hope that Caden’s time will be just as memorable when he reaches my age. Hang in there, kid! The best days of your life are the ones in college.

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