Yea, Sewanee’s Right!
Here’s how it went in August 1972:
The bus pulled away late in the afternoon after a long ride through the Middle Tennessee countryside from downtown Nashville. I was standing there on University Avenue, madras-plaid-jacket-button-down-shirt-and-khakis clad, alone in the sticky late Summer heat with my two large footlockers that the driver had dragged out of the luggage hold. The Quadrangle and All Saint’s Chapel were at my back, and I had no idea how to get where I needed to be in order to find my dormitory and get settled in my new home for the next four years: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee!
The flight from El Paso to Nashville was eventful enough to leave no memory, at least none after 38 years. However, the search for the bus station, after the taxi from the airport left me off a few blocks away in the old warehouse district near the Ryman Auditorium, was a bit edgy…with the grit and poverty of a pre-boom-town-Nashville starkly evident.
So, here I was! Sewanee…looking like it was transplanted from Oxford England! The smell of the gurgling exhaust from the bus drifted away and was quickly replaced by that wet, musty “deciduous forest smell” that I had never experienced in my life in the deserts of the Southwest! Pine and pinon forests smell different, and the desert after a summer rain storm has the sweetest, freshest smell of anything nature deals out! This was completely different. My first deep breaths of those moist Southern forests had an aged quality, a richness…and a depth…a texture! They say that smells are the most primitive and ancient of our senses, maybe even connected to our strongest memories. One thing for sure, I will never forget that smell of the Cumberland Forest wrapping me in its insidious texture that late afternoon. It is a sensory stimulant I look forward to whenever I visit East of the Mississippi, a memory-experience etched deeply in my mind.
Shaking off the spirit of the moment, I had work to do: find the Registrar’s Office and get directions to my dorm (and hopefully some help with these damn trunks!) John Ransom’s Office (The University Registrar) was, then, in an old stone building topped with a weathered copper-green observatory dome, right in the middle of the “U”-shaped Quadrangle: Carnegie Hall. Yes, even here in the middle of the Middle Tennessee woods, that family had made it’s mark! The secretaries helped get me someone to drive me down to what was called “New College” dormitory, now Trezvant Hall by Lake Finney. It was a long way from the center of campus, and I was glad that I didn’t have to move those trunks myself!
Weeks later, my parents would ship me a ten-speed bike, which became my favorite form of transportation and exercise. According to University rules, freshmen could not have cars. But, I had no misconceptions about this, it was enough that mom and dad could send me to Sewanee without pushing for a car to boot! That bicycle and I spent hours and hours together: between the dorm and classes, of course, but just exploring the immense University Domain was an adventure! That will take up some of the rest of these posts….