Walking like an Egyptian on Bascom Hill
It’s interesting how a stroll up and down a hill can take one’s thoughts on a quick journey from Bascom Hill, to Canterbury, to rural Illinois and back again.
I taught a mini course on blogging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison the past two Wednesday evenings. This took me to a building in the very heart of campus (the Education building on Bascom Hill).
UW-Madison is my alma mater and even though I now only live about 7 miles away from campus, I rarely have opportunities to stroll up Bascom Hill and walk on campus.
I felt a sense of rootedness and relief as I strolled up the hill. The past several months I’ve visited several college campuses with my oldest daughter and it was nice to be back on a campus that felt like home.
As I approached the Education building I recalled one of the English classes I took in that building 24 or so years ago. English 215. This was the class where you had to memorize the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and recite it before the class – in Middle English. “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…”
This is a rite of passage for English majors. Whenever I meet someone who also majored in English the Prologue is inevitably mentioned at some point. Quite often the other person can still recite it. I remember the time a friend drove us to Logan Airport in Boston and he recited the Prologue with much delight while navigating through rush hour traffic.
I, however, can only remember small snatches of the Prologue, which is something of a relief to me.
Don’t misunderstand. If I was doing it all over again, I’d still major in English, even with the dreaded recitation of the Prologue, although this time I would choose the Creative Writing track rather than the Literature track.
This would mean a few less literature courses and a few more writing courses. To graduate college knowing how to tell a story in addition to knowing how to analyze one would be a pretty awesome thing, I think.
Anyway, back when I took that class, the Education building was stuffy and old, old, old. Creaky wood floors. Dusty staircases. It no doubt looked much like it did when it was built in 1900.
When I stepped foot inside it last Wednesday evening, I was taken aback at how thoroughly it has been remodeled.
The wood floors look new and no longer creak. There’s a huge lounge and a cafe. All the classrooms are modern with state of the art projectors and, of course, WiFi. The woodwork along the staircases is jaw-dropping and I’m so glad to see it restored in that way.
After class it was dark as I walked down Bascom Hill. The capitol building was lit up in the distance and it took me by surprise and looked spectacular. The capitol wasn’t lit up like this at night back in my day:
I then recalled how I have a photo of me and 3 other friends on Bascom Hill, taken in May 1987, and I wondered if this was the first time I had been on Bascom Hill at night since that evening 23 years ago.
A statue of Abraham Lincoln is at the top of Bascom Hill. Sitting on Abe’s lap is something of a rite of passage on campus. I’m the one in the white sweatshirt on Abe’s lap. I note with alarm that I’m wearing electric blue shorts but, hey, it was the 1980s, so I’ll cut myself some slack:
The way the two young ladies at the foot of the statue are posing will, of course, immediately bring to mind the #1 hit song in 1986, Walk Like An Egyptian, even if you had thought you had long forgotten that song.
Many memories come to mind when looking at this photo, but perhaps the most vivid one occurred a little more than a year after this photo was taken.
Shelly, the young lady in the yellow shorts, was a bridesmaid in my wedding. She drove me and my other two bridesmaids to my wedding at a country church in rural Illinois. We had spent the night before at my grandmother’s house – one last slumber party. The next day we whizzed through the flat countryside in her blue Mercury Sable on the way to the wedding. Thanks to all our chatter we became hopelessly lost for a time.
Also, this was unfamiliar territory for me, as I had only visited this church one time before.
He’s considered something of a saint in the family lore and has always been described as a quiet, gentle man who was pious and liked to read. Even though I had never met the man it seemed fitting, somehow, to be married at the same altar where he was married.
Such reflections were far from my mind as we panicked and tried to find our way to the church. Eventually we did and the first person to greet me was, of all people, the Australian boyfriend of my South African penpal. He had hitchhiked his way across part of the US to make it to the wedding. His presence was unexpected and it was fun to meet him.
A reporter from a Lutheran publication was there to take a photo of me and my grandmother and do a little write up of this “historic ceremony.”
It’s just as well my face is hard to see in this photo, as I had been crying beforehand, due to some sentimental things my future brother-in-law told me that made me cry.
That’s my grandmother’s handwriting at the top of the article and it warms my heart to see it again. I still have the many letters we exchanged.
At any rate, as I walked down Bascom Hill last night after class, I made sure to do a little Walk Like An Egyptian move, as a nod to Abraham Lincoln’s lap, saintly great great grandfathers, forced recitations, rural weddings, and friends past and present.
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