This morning, University of Rochester Spokesperson Sara Miller kindly offered me a Meliora Weekend Media pass. At my first stop in the big tent on the Quadrangle, I chanced across UR’s President Joel Seligman.
We talked about President Bill Clinton’s speech five years ago at Meliora Weekend. President Seligman recalled asking Clinton who were his ten favorites authors. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was first. Using President Seligman’s commentary, I wrote a short memory piece about his experience.
I told Seligman about my next Media Pass mission. As reunion weekends are invariably tinged with romance, tracking down happy ending stories was the plan. Maybe something about love lost and found at Meliora Weekends past and present.
This evening I went to the all reunion classes dinner at the Gorgen Athletic Center. About 45 minutes later — unexpected to me — President Seligman arrived. I showed him the picture just taken at Fauver Stadium. And told the story.
Earlier, I met several people at the class of ’76 table. I explained the mission to Annie. She and the others said I had to meet Jenny Berke ’76 and Steve Duskin ’76 who were on their way from the hotel.
Although a little sheepish at all the attention, Jenny and Steve also agreed they fit the picture of a happy ending reunion story.
Jenny and Steve live in Philadelphia. About five years ago, Jenny was helping organize her 35th reunion by sending out questionnaires to other alums in the area. Steve was one of only two people to respond.
Jenny and Steve started to email and talk a bit. They discovered much in common. Both had been divorced and both were attorneys. Steve liked zumba, hiking and West Coast swing dancing. So did Jenny, a lot. Steve also said he liked football, which was ok too.
Actually in college, Steve and Jenny had barely been acquaintances. Anyway, back then Steve was too young for Jenny. She dated guys at least two years older than herself.
A little before the reunion, they did go on a friendly hike in Valley Forge National Park. Soon after they went to the reunion separately. But as the weekend progressed, there was indeed a tinge of romance in the air. Turns out Steve wasn’t too young for Jenny after all.
When they got back to Philly, the relationship bloomed. Today Steve and Jenny live together and are engaged to be married. They both agreed that — even though they didn’t know each other — going to the same college meant shared experiences and memories. They’ve also discovered having many UR friends in common. Both agreed that had they dated in college, none of this would have come to be.About 20 minutes after I showed President Seligman Jenny and Steve’s picture, the speakers began. I was hanging out with Alyssa Dalrymple from the Communications Office and people from ’96 at the table where you dressed up in amusing costumes. Admittedly our focus on the speakers had waned.
Suddenly, I heard my name in the background. Seligman was telling Jenny and Steve’s story. About a picture and a 35th reunion and how they were now an item and getting married. And something about the magic of reunions. The crowd lit up in pleasure. And I had thought — wrongly — President Seligman had only been politely nodding, half attentive. Nice improv, S Man.
And now the whole world knows, smiling.
Afterwards I looked for a couple more stories. Allen ’68 wished he could add one. But he’s taken the same girl to reunions for almost 50 years.
Back in ’68, Allen’s friend Dave, captain of the football team, arranged a blind date for Allen with Joyce ’70. They went to a dance social at DKE.
In 1969, they were married. So all of Allen and Joyce’s Meliora Weekends have been about love found.
Annie ’76 added a sweet anecdote. In her freshman year — on a clear skied autumn evening not unlike tonight — Annie and her beau strolled the campus, ending up at the chapel near the Genesee River.
And down by the river’s edge, Annie had her first kiss.
POSTSCRIPT: At the risk of indulgence, below is my own reunion poem. The Brown Alumni Magazine did consider publishing it. But the editor thought it was too long for the magazine and was really more like three poems in one.
For thirty years he imagined telling the story to great effect over wine at tables for two.
Slyly he recounted how he had taken a Brown girl inside Sayles Hall.
Coaxing her upward,
Climbing a ladder to a musty, nearly dark alcove, sweater breached and bra unhinged.
Suggesting the math classrooms downstairs would be more amenable to their purposes.
The fall, the nail, the glass, the blood. The air cast, the sixteen stitches.
No doubt the gay organist who used the alcove placed a curse.
Because later he would take a RISD girl to the scene of the crime.
This time the organist was booming fugues from the Phantom of the Opera.
Chastened, he offered she go down first.
The fall, the nail, the glass, the blood. The air cast, the seventeen stitches.
Needless to say, the wound was fatal to our budding romance.
He always ended, squinting, that one Campus Dance he planned to take a woman
Back to the second floor of Sayles Hall when on the steps below the window at midnight
The Jabberwocks sang Ever True to Brown.
There and then he would propose.
Who knows, it might be a stranger he had just met. An old love back for Reunion Weekend.
It might be you. Curses don’t last forever.
In the afternoon before the Dance, those not wanting to overpay for their liquor
Tape bottles of Tanqueray and Old Bombay underneath their assigned tables.
By 10:30, the bottles empty and the revelers back in line paying double prices.
The clear skies above Providence keeping its celestial promise for an evening.
Ever the same twelve thousand people Under the Elms.
Rows of Japanese lanterns making the Green look like a colonial outpost.
The Big Band announcing that happy days are here again.
Dancers dancing as if it were 1955 or 1965 or 1975 or 1985.
Kisses melting time.
Said to be comfortable in his bachelorhood, they had met at the University track one June day.
She was young. Improbably young. Only 28.
They had made love in a Narragansett beach house as the Beavertail Lighthouse
Sent continual beacons of light through the window whose rhythm matched their own.
Somehow he sweet talked her into the Reunion and Dance.
She found his old story clichéd and obvious.
And she was from Manhattan and to her it was just another crowded affair.
And it might rain. And they would have to stay in dorms.
Fifteen minutes before the Jabberwocks were to begin, he went into Sayles alone.
Seeing her in the crowd, tipsily flirting with a circle
Of Class of ‘65ers, he beckoned.
Smiling, laughing, waving back, she returned to the conversation
With a man wearing a hat shaped like the head of a Brown bear
That made him look like a fool.
Later back in the Wriston Quad dorm she admitted
She had more fun than expected. The old guys were a hoot when drunk.
Was that him waving? It was dark and hard to see.
Too bad her train left so soon and she couldn’t stay the whole weekend.