I had what I perhaps egotistically imagine was a somewhat unusual college experience, in that I went to the school where my father had been a professor (and eventually chairman of the history department -- I remember family friend Bill and my father joking once that though he loathed being Chair, at least it would get him an obituary in the New York Times) until his death a year and a half before I arrived on campus, a ridiculously angsty and constantly clothed in black teenager.
Barnard College is a small school and is, as one professor said at the memorial service the school had for my father (in the long-gone Lower Level McIntosh, for those of you who remember that ill-planned student center), in many ways one gigantic, convoluted, complicated family. This may have been a little more true for me than for most students.
Some of the professors who had been particular friends of my father's kinda sorta took me under their wing a little bit during my years on campus. There were three in particular with whom my family had been close, though a whole plethora with whom I still exchange smiles as we pass each other on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue or College Walk.
One of these three would sometimes take me out for coffee (my idea) and orange juice (his idea) and affectionately lecture me on going out in the winter with wet hair (I was usually coughing and sneezing and sniffling back in those days) and finally bought me a fancy new hair dryer (which I sometimes remembered to use until the summer I shaved all my hair off for the first time, but which I kept for many years after that) to keep the colds away.
One of these three asked me to babysit his kids up in the suburbs once or twice and always made (and continues to make) a point of asking after my mother, my brother, my self.
One of these three, our beloved Santa Clause Gone Bad (or at least ironic), canceled at least one recitation on the eve of Thanksgiving when he knew my mother was in town, and found me not too long ago on Facebook where he now helps keep me honest and grounded rather than all caught up in things like the strangeness that is the roll-call of video-contributors for Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project.*
My mother, even sixteen years after leaving New York for the wild wild west of her birth, continues to make an annual pilgrimage back east. We don't always manage to see the Professors (I have a half-formed suspicion that she, like me, worries just the littlest bit that we will bore them or somehow not fit into their intellectual worlds without the mediation of my father, her husband), but thanks largely to my-former-professor-turned-FB-buddy, plans were made for last Thursday and Mom and I were treated to a delicious lunch in the brand new faculty dining room in the Diana Center.
It's an odd and endearing tradition, this lunching with the Professors, and one that I hold very close to my heart. Sometimes a bit awkward, sometimes a bit sad, often enough funny and and always interesting, but more than all these things. These were my father's friends and colleagues and it means a lot to have them still a part of our lives rather than disappearing into the ether, as it would have been so easy for them to do. For that continuity, and for their years of kindness, I am grateful.
*Contributors now include everyone from the usual celebrity suspects to heartfelt common-folk to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Speaker Pelosi. It makes you wonder where the Republican voices are in all of this, and why they don't want to publicly encourage LGBT kids to not kill themselves in response to bullying