Events conspired in an interesting way this morning to all but force me to tour my old school, Northwestern. Granted, I had decided to take my laptop to downtown Evanston, to a Starbucks about where I remember the old movie theater once stood on Sherman Avenue. But I didn’t plan on my laptop not being charged. So I stowed it in the trunk of the rental car and took a quick walk.
Downtown Evanston has almost no stores or restaurants I remember, save the Burger King. And many buildings have been added to the campus since I graduated; some of these “new” ones are now ivy-covered. But my dorm, Shephard, looked the same, and the two classroom buildings central to my life are the same, too, although Fiske Hall is now the McCormick Journalism Center. It was also in Fiske that I first took a course with Stuart Kaminsky and read one of his Toby Peters mysteries.
At Fiske, I tried to visit the classroom where I had been tortured through various journalism courses, but it was locked. Ah, the memories. The professor who commented on my weight every time he saw me, the professors who told us that we’d never find jobs, even if everyone in journalism died overnight, the broken-down old man whose claim to fame was that he had presided over the closing of one of Chicago’s great newspapers . . . good times. I had exactly ONE journalism professor that I really liked, Sallie Gaines, who taught the lab section of the copy-editing class and actually invited her students to her home. Years later, the lecture instructor for the copy-editing class, a class so cruel that the midterm grades were curved up even though no one got higher than an 80, met one of my bosses at a convention. According to my boss, the guy said: “I remember Laura because she was very smart and girls who looked like that usually weren’t.” Hmmm. I think he must have been thinking of someone else because my performance in that class was not distinguished and I was just a plumpish 20-year-old who lived my life at the intersection of bad hair and worse clothes.
I left Fiske and walked over to University Hall, where I was often happiest. It was here that I studied with J. Lyndon Shanley, who taught me poetry and Chaucer and treated me like a daughter. It was here that I found real encouragement for my writing in the short story courses taught by Meredith Steinbach.
Back in the car, I headed past the apartment that five of us shared, in various configurations, for two years. Of all the things that I expected to stand the test of time, Hanan’s Fine Foods was the real surprise, the one I didn’t expect to find. Hoos Drugstore is gone, the old diner is gone, but Hanan’s, a tiny grocery, remains on Maple Avenue. We bought pita bread there and toasted it, filling it with a concoction of mozzarella, ricotta and pepperoni.
In going back to a beloved place, much changed by time, what were the surprising survivors and what seeming stalwarts had disappeared?