A long time ago, as a child of the ’70’s, I first heard the song, “500 miles”. I think it was probably the version popularized by the vocal trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary. For those curious about the history (and the lyrics) this is the link to the information on Wikipedia.
I often think about that song when I think of the first time I really left home. Some years back, I wrote about my first experience at summer camp, the first time away from home, but my first year of college was the first time I lived away from home. I was reminded about this the other day when reading over at https://globetrottinggrandpa.com. Go read what he has to say. I’ve enjoyed the travel photos from around the world, the sight-seeing suggestions, and the occasional haiku. I was also reminded of that first, forlorn experience when I realized the many high-school and college graduates I know that will be leaving the familiar confines of academia.
My family had various college experiences themselves. My dad was a student at Huron College (Huron, SD), and graduated from USD, Vermillion, SD. My mom attended Grace Bible Institute (as it was known at the time) in Omaha, Nebraska, and then later was a student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Two brothers attended Faith Baptist Bible College, and that seemed an obvious place to attend. However, I guess I wanted something different, something a little out of the ordinary.
Because of the influence of the pastor of my home church in Huron, SD, and because I liked the odd little man leading the musical group in their visit to my church, my plans took a different turn. In all seriousness, I believed then, and still do, that God was the one leading me to Denver Baptist Bible College. As it turned out, it was the last opportunity anyone had to attend that school; it closed at the end of my freshman year, merging with Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa.
It had been the tradition in my family that we took the newbie student to college, whereupon my parents sat in on Orientation for the parents (what I did, I don’t remember). I think my parents even attended the second school orientation my eldest brother attended at SDSU, Brookings. I could be wrong on that, but, in any case, Dad and Mom weren’t able, for some reason, to take me to Broomfield, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) for the fall semester of 1985.
I accepted this as just the way it was, and then we prayed, and tried to figure out how I was to move what earthly belongings I had that far way. It was 600 miles, more or less, and even though a quick search on Google maps shows it now to be about a nine-and-a-half hour trip, it was much longer back then. Back then, everything (outside of Montana) was 55 mph. I recall it being about a fourteen hour drive.
The answer to our prayers was a senior student from a church in the nearby town of Tulare, SD. Dear Mary, she was such a gentle soul, and our families were well acquainted. Her car, however, had limited space, so the freedom-granting, ten-speed, Schwinn bicycle I had grown to love riding for the last five years of my youth had to be left behind. I had had plans to ride with the wind in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. That was not to be. Never the less, her trunk had enough room for my garage-sale black and silver Royal manual typewriter, my three-piece pinstripe suit, and blue sport coat, plus my winter coat and a few changes of clothes. I didn’t take a microwave, or so much as a toaster.
Although I had my driver’s license, I don’t recall driving. Mary guided the old car through winding roads and free-spirit interstates along the way, and it was a through-way trip, stopping only for gas and a few snacks. Mary is with the Lord our Savior now, but I recall her pleasant spirit and servant’s heart all through that first year of college.
With any trip, of course, the journey is only part of the equation. Somehow, I survived the first few days of settling in to the student apartments, buying books, freshman orientation and mockery, er, I mean, initiation, and classes. Like many first-time college students, I could not believe the price of college textbooks, though, as I recall, it wasn’t as much of a shock as in later years.
What I especially remember is a sense of utter isolation and abandonment, on the one hand, and at the same time, claustrophobia. Isolation, because here I was in a strange town with confusing signs and new responsibilities but uncertainty as to how to go about the things that needed getting done. And, I suppose I was too timid or stubborn to ask for help right away. Claustrophobia is because after having my own bedroom since I was about ten, I now shared a two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment with five other guys.
I say, if a town is naming streets, the street name shouldn’t change fifteen times as it winds around from north to south, and the street name shouldn’t change just because it crosses another major traffic artery. Another thing? Let’s get a little more creative than using the same street name, but only changing it from Blvd., to Avenue, to Circle, to Place, to Street. Really? Hire an English major.
I did learn to start asking more detailed questions about locations and businesses. That helped me avoid some of the feeling of lostness. One of the benefits of arriving without my own wheels, though, was that in walking everywhere I began to learn more about my classmates, either because we walked the mile, more or less, from class to dorm, or because someone took pity on me and gave me a ride. I began to get a better sense of where one place was in relation to another. This was pre-internet, of course, but somewhere I also discovered local maps in the phone book or at the library.
I had great room-mates; brothers in Christ, and sisters, too, so by God’s grace I made it to Thanksgiving break for the 30-hour straight-through car ride to Iowa to meet my family. No, I couldn’t come home every other weekend like some of my friends from SD, but life was good. The isolation from my own blood relatives was helpful in leaning upon God and upon my church family. Even the isolation, though, wasn’t complete, as I was able to see my cousin and her family once or twice.
I see I’ve gone on long enough for now. Maybe I’ll return to writing about that first year of college. I have mostly good memories, and some ‘funny-at-the-time’ stories. I’ll trot them out and see if anything has changed.