Slipping Back in Time
Slipping Back in Time
It was a gray and dreary day in western New York. The temps hovered in the low sixties. We were up and about early and decided, on the spur of the moment, to drive to Geneseo, N.Y. It was the 50thyear reunion of the class of 1968. I knew several members of the class and thought, what the heck. Let’s see who we run into.
The drive down rural route 77, and across route 20, was restful to the eyes. Thousands of acres of green, rolling hills are interspersed with the dull wheat color of patches of hayfields. Small farms stood as rural outposts amid the green, green visage of growing crops. It was too early for the “knee high by the fourth of July corn,” but you could see the small green stalks emerging already. Most of the hay and corn would be used for silage. This is after all dairy and cattle farm country. Huge metal silos would hold the feed until needed in the depths of winter.
The names of the hamlets and small towns came back slowly to me. Piffard, York and Pavillion were all tiny hamlets where I had worked as a substitute teacher. The experience convinced me that I wasn’t really suited for dealing with the “little monsters.”
I hadn’t much traversed this area in fifty years. I wondered at what these hardy folks did in their off hours. Even the ubiquitous television dishes, promising unlimited programming, would leave me at odds for activity. To each his/her own, I guess. We saw pockets of rural poverty amidst the tiny hamlets. Old rusty trailers and rough looking homes that at least gave shelter to the needy. It must be a tough life so far away from the cities where all of the social support networks were administered.
The roads were filled with pick up trucks. Farmers were at their chores every day, even the weekends. A few very large tractors held up traffic for a time as they plodded down the roadways. Their efforts were reflected in the undulating fields with perfectly straight farrows running for thousands of yards. It gave you a real sense of the bounty of the land and what it could produce with the right effort.
Finally, we arrived at the beautiful campus of the SUNY at Geneseo. In summer, the place is nearly empty. We drove across campus and parked in a staff lot, between the new soccer/ Lacrosse complex and the hockey rink. Sports are now big time at Geneseo. We walked up to the college Union, marveling at how we had managed to walk daily the hilly terrain, all those many years ago. The college union was quiet. We browsed the book store and then enjoyed a delicious star bucks brew. Mary and I had worked here for a year acting as hosts and security personnel. It was a good job for us at the time.
Afterwards, we sat for a time in the courtyard of the union, wondering who these people were that were walking by. Most appeared older and gray-haired like us. Many had added a few pounds of padding. Some of the guys had a little less hair that they had sprouted fifty years ago. Every pair of eyes searched those who passed. “Do I know you?” they wondered. It would be hard for anyone to pair us up with the wide eyed and energetic gamins who first came here in the late 1960’s.
We walked up two sets of steps to the first quadrangle, near Sturges Hall. The entire Quad was torn apart and fenced in with wire. Apparently, this quadrangle and the next upper one, in front of the Erwin Admin building, were under construction. Huge drainage pipes and electrical conduits lay exposed, promising a major overhaul of the infra structure. It didn’t really put the beautiful campus in its best light. Young students ferried their aging alumni up and down the hills in golf carts. I wonder how ancient we appeared in their minds?
We walked up to the Library for a look see. The entire first floor of the building was stripped bare. College plans called for creating student study cubicles here. The book stacks were now on the second floor. A casual chat, with the clerk on duty, was enlightening. The college mainstays of Library Science and Speech & Hearing had been dropped from the curriculum. Psychology and Physics were now the primary academic majors. The College still held onto to educational training, the foundation of the original “Normal School,“ first formed in the 1800’s.
On Main street, we browsed the. Shops noting new additions and smiling at remembered venues for Friday night beers. I had worked as a bar tender at Danny Radesi’s old hotel for a year. There was a world of experience. We sat for a time, at the corner of Center and Main Streets, and watched groups of friends meet and greet each other. The high pitched, explosive laughter, of friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, wafted through the air. It was a timeless ritual that generations of alumni enjoy when retuning here to this rural campus, ensconced on the banks of the Genseee River Valley, some thirty miles south of Rochester New York.
The area of Center Street, around the Idle Hour Tavern, was fenced off. Reunion plans called for a street party here later this afternoon. The Idle Hour, a dive even fifty years ago, still held sway amongst the college students. It has been a cash-cow generating more income than many of the businesses in town. A thousand memories lie for me therein.
One of the Reunion staff had told us that there were 750 alumni signed up to return here this weekend. They must have all been on buses visiting the nearby sites, because we saw few of them. After a time, we walked over to the Big Tree Inn, that venerable Tavern and Inn that had been the center of Geneseo commerce since the late 1880’s. The veranda was sro with lunchers. We walked inside. A kindly hostess seated us in a quiet side room. We ordered and enjoyed some pretty tasty sandwiches and fries, while enjoying the quiet ambiance of a very old Inn. The college now runs the place. They appeared to be doing a credible job. A wedding shower, a small luncheon and the whole reunion crowd were being served without issue.
After lunch, we walked by the Center Street rally location. It was empty, at the two o’clock opening. Perhaps, many of the returnees were already ensconced in a few of the local taverns. We meandered down through the upper quad, near the newer science building. It was still intact, but empty. We walked down to the lower parking lot, enjoying the visage of the Genesee Valley that lay before us. This area really is beautiful. Various groups of different ages were wandering about. We were mindful of our coming 2021 fiftieth reunion of our own 1971 graduating class. We spoke idly of what plans we would make to rally the rascals for a three-day stay. It should be fun.
Mounting up the chariot, ee followed rural route Twenty-A westward, through Cuylerville, Worcester and Warsaw, memories trailing along with us. There are stories here in abundance, all along our route, of the times we had had, way back when. The rolling farm fields and green hills are restful along this route, broken only by the eerie and futuristically beautiful wind generators erected along the ridge lines. Giant 100-foot span wings, in the shape of a Mercedes emblem whoosh around, paying the landowner some eight thousand dollars a year for the privilege. They didn’t detract from the country side, but added a weird futuristic dimension to it.
After a time, the ride ended. We settled into our Amherst castle to watch the PGA, Muirfield Golf Tournament. It had been a restful but tiring day, drifting back into the past.
Joseph Xavier Martin