You Can’t Have Rainbows without a Little Rain

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photo by Marvin Palmore ’82

It’s raining, so it must be New Haven.

I approached the Elm City from the east along the shore hugging I-95. I had just spent a rare evening in Providence following a lengthy interview with a primary source. This was a much less travelled route for me as I usually visited my Alma Mater via New York City or Hartford. In a sense, then, the intensifying rain was reassuring.

It doesn’t always rain in New Haven, but girl you know it oughta. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it rained. Think all that rain might have put a damper on things? It rained so hard on Thursday my pants didn’t dry until Sunday. Fortunately, years of Boy Scout leader training did not go to waste. I had packed a spare pair.

I hadn’t planned on going to my 35th reunion by way of Rhode Island, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity when it presented itself. The additional one hour and forty four minutes of travel time seemed like a small cost. Because it came up at the last minute, however, I failed to account for other costs. For example, whenever I visit New Haven I try to meet with the advisor of my senior project, Pierre Demarque, Munson Professor Emeritus Astronomy. In my haste I forgot to forewarn him of my impending arrival. Fortunately I remembered just before leaving Providence and emailed him, asking if he might be in his office that afternoon.

J.W. Gibbs Laboratories, a building reminiscent of what those in the 1950s imagined the Space Age future to be, housed the Yale Astronomy Department. That’s where I had all my astronomy classes. That’s where I had to go when doing research papers. That’s where I would regularly meet with Professor Demarque. Inconveniently located on Science Hill (for students living in Davenport College), but conveniently located for those parking in the Pierson-Sage garage (where I intended to park), I figured it’d be easy to see my undergraduate mentor.

On the other hand, I didn’t know how easy it would be for me to find a spot in Pierson-Sage garage. I was arriving early on the first day when most of the University employees would still be working. As it turned out, I quickly found a spot near the exit. The proximity to the door meant proximity to the shuttle outside the door. That also meant I didn’t have to walk too far with my duffle bag. (Hint: When a one-city stop suddenly turns into a two-city tour, your duffle bag takes on more weight; thus, the desire to walk only short distances with it.)

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait for the shuttle. Nor did I have to wait in the shuttle. As soon as I boarded, we took off for Pierson College and a weekend of… what? One never knows. Would it represent a convention of rampant Anti-Trumpism? Would it be a non-stop gripe session about yet another faux pas our esteemed university somehow seems to find itself embroiled in with increasing regularity? Or would it be the stereotypical old geezer effort to strip off the guilt of the accumulated sins of the past 35 years and return to a time past when the sins we could still recall no longer carry any tinge of guilt.

Just to make it clear, there were at least a few of us who fell into this last category. The few. The not-so-proud. The CTO. We weren’t there to boldly boast of a broad and variegated curriculum vitae. Nor were we there to lament not possessing a broad and variegated curriculum vitae worth boldly boasting of. We had only one mission. It was the same mission we had 35 years ago. The same mission we have had ever since. We sought to reach a state of productive irresponsibility, and bring along as many willing classmates as were willing to think outside the box (or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, “to think outside the tent”).

The shuttle’s sole passenger, I felt the grin grow on my face as my mind planned, plotted, and wondered if Commander would show up on time. With this Back to the Future nostalgia brimming, I turned my head up, wondering if my professor was in his office on the third floor of Gibbs Lab. I looked and couldn’t believe what I saw. Where my home for four years once stood was a large hole, mounds of dirt, and heavy construction equipment. It was gone. All gone. My building gone. My astronomy department gone. my professor’s office gone. Did that mean my degree in astronomy was also gone? In that moment I considered the very real possibility that, in perhaps an ultimate bow to some form of political correctness, I, too, had been flushed down a memory hole. Maybe this “reunion” I had been encouraged to attend was really a trap to rid the world of irreverent silliness.

The remainder of the ride failed to fully remove all the remnants of schizophrenia. Once off the bus, the walk down the long Pierson entryway taunted me. To my right sat Davenport College, its huge windows revealing a dining hall which produced so many memories. Forbidden fruit. So close, yet so far.

Through the third and final gate, I stepped into an empty tent-covered courtyard. I was alone. It was raining. You can imagine how it feels. I got a room in a wing that didn’t exist when I did, and quietly rearranged my things there. Within minutes, right on time, Commander called. He had parked on York Street on the front perimeter of Pierson College and needed help carrying the swag he brought. He asked me to bring a tarp since it was raining.

“A tarp? For a college reunion?” you ask. Rest assured (q.v., earlier comment on Boy Scout leader training). I had a suitable tarp (right next to the emergency light, extra twine, and omnipresent first aid kit) and we brought everything into my suite. Within moments there was a familiar “snap” of a cap coming off a Molson bottle and decorations soon adorned the common room of my weekend living space. The temporary headquarters of the CTO now christened, we ventured out to stake our greater claim.

We didn’t know how we’d be received. Fortunately, the first of our classmates we encountered happened to be allies from 35 years earlier. Commander brought a bagful of pins and stickers. The mystique of “CTO” had apparently grown, and demand for the pins far exceeded the actual supply. Unfortunately, sometime Friday night, we ran out of those pins. Sadly, a few deserved folks who didn’t arrive until Saturday couldn’t get them.

Pin or no pin, the spirit, however, once evoked, sustained its own momentum. Whether inspired by the CTO or its equivalent from other residential colleges, there is an innate will that compels us to return to the place that forged our character. Watching the hugs, the smiles, and the lively conversations throughout the weekend brought home this very human reality.

As the rain cleared we noticed a rainbow arcing in the eastern sky. When viewed from the proper vantage, its end dipped into our reunion tent. Where better to find life’s pot of gold than beneath that canvas, where friends, friendships, and treasured memories teem with eternal delight?

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