We had lived long years together, through all the business of getting older and children growing. Suddenly we were scooped out of the busy gray of day on day and were in the sun and bird song of tranquility where the lawns sloped green and no duties lay ahead. We were back, wandering the "quads" of the graduate college where long ago, on the G. I. Bill, we had struggled through "generals and thesis" with the pressures of babies and a broken down house breaking down again; a part-time job gobbling into full time and all the while "too late . . . too late" whispering as the new students grew successively younger and the instructors kept looking more like them. And now -- now we could hardly remember those other selves of ours. We were relaxing, not readying for anything before or after -- just relaxing, not counting the hours, and time began to fracture into spinning dots like a stained glass window floating through the air, tiny panes dropping in slow cascades.
Our rooms had the oak-paneled bareness of generations moving in and out, leaving the scratches and hidden laughter. The fireplace, staunchly bricked, stared implacably empty, giving no glimpse of memories, for we were phantoms come back from another time, leaving no memories, no scratches. In the long lingering walks with camembert cheese sandwiches, differing bits of other time came whirling by -- the plaques of the walls: "this stone from the Houses of Parliament in gratitude for services during World War II. . . ." "The section beyond this belfry occupied by the navy, World War I. . . ." "General Washington commended by Congress in this room. . . ." This frieze, a mosaic from Antioch on the Orontes, third century, A.D. . . ." "On this site, the first church built, 1766. . . ." "This gate for a graduate fallen in battle, Korea. His sun was set while it was still day."
On the front lawn where the great buildings ended and the town crowded in round the fences, there was a pinwheel blur of faces spinning in and out of quick half-focus -- young faces and the old faces and the faces glimpsed momentarily behind the rigidity of minds no longer asking questions. Like trumpeting elephants the class years went straggling by, with their standards and the crazy, quirky signs -- DAMN! I LEFT THE BABY ON THE BUS! . . . SING ALONG -- LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER, FATHER KNEW LLOYD GEORGE. . . . LOOK WHAT'S COMING -- THIS IS MY DAUGHTER, NOT MY GRANDDAUGHTER -- and the crowds gasped, loving the tiny nymph holding tight to an old man's head as she perched on his shoulders.
There were unexpected silent moments for the small bands from the depression and war years and one felt, brushing by starkly, all that it took to have survived, let alone found the dream to search out books. Rustling on their heels like leaves, the post war classes charged by and the baby boom was delineated in children -- children everywhere, climbing over tigers chained in stone, scampering, flinging frisbees over august heads, punching, following like sunny pilgrims on their way to promise. The bands were playing in a Charles Ives' "wild, heroic" tumult, each in its own style, the little black boys roaring down trombones twice their length on notes long learned wrong, and the flags were shaking in a teenage frenzy of dipping, and the batons were flying and dropping, the drums pounding like hammers, while the girls squeaked frail ribbon tunes out of fifes. Over them all strode the majesty of the policemen's Scottish Bagpipes Band, soaring in perfect pitch through the uproar, with stout legs marching under swinging green kilts with every accoutrement, knife in the stocking, pistol at the belt and sporrans handsomely slung low.
Over the next curve, a pillar of balloons reached to the clouds. And we were off, following fancy. On a cascade of high steps, where scholars had trod, children sat in wonder as a magician won their silence by flinging glittering silver rings in a sky lattice unhooked from ho-hum blankness. a pretty girl was sawed in half with no discernable damage, not even to her smile, and a small boy , exulting in the release from natural causes, elected to skateboard down the steps in one magnificent swoop, but was caught by his earthbound father who commented flatly, "Blair steps were not made for the skateboard."
Alas, the father was right -- the show was over, the magician disappeared, and far in the distance, the balloon man loosed his balloons to scatter on the wind, tiny, separate dots of color soon dissolving in the blue of sky.
The sunny hours had dropped away and night was coming with a flurry of academic robes in astounding crimsons and satins. The organ was playing in the great oaken hall and as the candles flickered out, the fire and the ice-blue in the stained glass window shimmered down to dusky patterns that gradually melted in violet pools of dark. Hand in hand, we had returned.