Monday, June 20, 2011

Traveling to Tilton

Recently I attended the Alumni Weekend at my alma mater, Tilton School in Tilton, New Hampshire. When I attended Tilton in the 1960’s, it was a traditional boys prep school. Think of Hogwarts without the magic. Imagine “Goodbye Mr. Chips” New England style. We even had our own “Mr. Chips” a beloved master, and later headmaster, named John MacMorran, affectionately known as Mr. Mac.

It was a time of required chapel and formal dinners. Blazers and ties were the dinner attire, and tables were set with white tablecloths and cloth napkins. We learned table etiquette from the masters and wives, who sat with us and prompted us to engage in proper conversation.

2011 is not my reunion year, and so there was only one other member of my class in attendance for the weekend. I did not know him during my school years, and I did not meet him this time around. Apart from a meeting in the chapel and a meal under a tent, I spent most of my short time on campus wandering the campus buildings in the rain.

There were new buildings, of course, and the old buildings had been updated over the years. But I was surprised at how much was familiar. I was startled at how quickly the old feelings came back and how powerfully memories of my teen years returned.

The smells of the classroom building, the familiar sound of climbing the old stairwells, the arrangement of the furniture in the lobby, all brought back long-forgotten feelings. I felt like a character in a science-fiction movie who suddenly finds himself transported through time. If I looked in a mirror I thought I might see a fifteen year old with a bad haircut and acne staring back at me.

I missed the multi-media presentation on the schedule entitled “A Walk Down Memory Lane,” but I had my own personal walk. Even though it is summer, I could envision the front walk covered with snow. I could feel the weight of my tweed sport coat and long scarf with school colors.

I could hear the steam escaping from the old radiators and see the frost coating the single-paned windows. As I opened the door to my old dorm room, I half expected to see my old roommate sitting at his desk and listening to classical music on his record player.

I passed the door where I had sat on the floor of a master’s apartment while the Poetry Club analyzed T.S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I could taste the tea and remember the sound of Mr. Mac’s voice as we played cribbage in his bachelor apartment, a one-on-one habit that undoubtedly would be forbidden in our scandal-phobic society today.

I could picture the World War I vets sitting on the front porch of the New Hampshire Veterans Home as I walked past. I remember a trip to hear Satchmo play his horn at Plymouth State College and a trip to Franklin to see the new film, “Dr. Zhivago.” I remember the loneliness of being separated from my family, the kindness of the faculty, the thrill of being intellectually challenged by the academic material.

I remember a chapel sermon by the school’s chaplain about the spiritual impact of his military service in Korea. I even remember the title after all these years: “The Razor’s Edge” (undoubtedly borrowed from Maugham.) I remember visits to the chapel by Franciscan friars recruiting brothers for the monastic life.

I remember classes on Philosophy of Religion and Ethics taught by the chaplain. (Would a school offer such classes today?) I wonder now how much those religious discussions influenced my later decision to enter Christian ministry.

I was on campus for only a few hours on a Saturday. This busy pastor had to continue on to Concord that afternoon to visit a parishioner in the hospital, and then back to Sandwich to prepare for worship the next morning. But in those four hours I traveled over forty years.

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