“Double 21” isn’t so bad.
I spent the weekend in Evanston and Chicago for homecoming weekend at Northwestern University, my alma mater.
I saw many dear old friends, including two of my roommates (the smartest, best women I have ever known), and even though my beloved Wildcats lost in a heartbreaker to the Ohio State Buckeyes, it wasn’t all bad.
I went to NU in the early 90s; losing in a heartbreaker is nothing new for alum from those years.
I do wonder what those college boys on the porch of the house we rented junior and senior years thought of two women calling to them from Sherman Avenue. “Hey, we used to live there, 20 years ago, is it still in good shape?”
They were polite, as good Midwestern boys are wont to be, telling us the first floor was still in good shape, but the basement, where my bedroom was, was “scary. No one goes down there.”
If they thought we were weird “old ladies,” they kept it to themselves, though a little bit of surprise crept into their voices when they replied, “20 years ago?!”
It was the same sound I heard in the voice of my roommate’s son on the way home in the cab as we went by The Keg, an old off-campus haunt, now closed for serving underaged drinkers.
“What does underage mean?” he asked. So I told him, underage means you have to be 21 years old to go in there and drink adult drinks. But they got in trouble for serving people who were younger than that, which is illegal, so they were closed.
“Wow, mom,” he said, “So you’re double 21.”
He meant in the sweet way a fourth-grader says something that means it is beginning to dawn on him that his parents used to be something other than Mom and Dad. And they might have some stories to tell.
It became the catchphrase of the weekend.
When you’re double 21 you need knee bands to run.
When you’re double 21, you can’t eat a dozen Dan’s Cookies every night.
When you are double 21, you have a homemade paleo power smoothie with breakfast, because you know it is going to be a long day and you aren’t in the first 21 years of your life cycle any more.
When you’re double 21, tailgating in the rain is better done under a canopy with retractable side panels than it is done in a sweatshirt and ballcap out in the open.
The first 21 go so much slower than the second 21. Seeing almost all of the old gang was fantastic, and in some ways, it was as if only a little time had gone by. Not 19 years.
But time has gone by. Now there were spouses and kids and stories about work-life balance, the state of public schools and navigating the “mommy wars.”
We are grown-ups now. Doctors and IT specialists and financial researchers and writers, thinking fast on our feet for an appropriate answer to the question, “what was the craziest thing my mom did in college?”
But we are also still the kids in those apartments on Sherman Avenue. Telling tales, calling each other by nicknames with vague origins, remembering what it felt like to walk around campus. And how it felt to be there, in the prime of your life, planning never to go to your hometown again.
The visit was good for my soul, because after your first name becomes “Mom” or “Dad” it can be easy to forget what it was like in the BC -- Before Children -- era. But we need to remember.
Nineteen-year-old me might think the almost double 21 me is a drag, but that’s OK. Nearly double 21 me knows that 19-year-old me had A LOT to learn.
All of the things 19-year-old me did -- good and ill -- brought nearly double 21 me to where I am now.
Walking from Clark Street to Ryan Field on Saturday was good physical and spiritual exercise. And even if a thunderstorm did spur stadium personnel to sound the alarm to seek shelter, weather radar on the iPhone showed this too would pass.
Storms always do. Even big ones.
The key is to be with good people and shelter-in-place with them until it blows over. People with whom you want to make the journey, even if sometimes a few years go by between in-person visits or phone calls.
It did my soul good to be among some of the folks with whom I made the best detours in my journey.
For those who couldn’t make it due to weather or work or what have you, pencil this in: Next year will be the Class of 94’s 20th reunion year.
Be there or be square. There are stories to be told.