Lawn decorations on sorority row. Tailgate tents on the quad. Grills smoking. Families and friends gathering. A parade through campus. Band playing.
All these things contributed to a festive atmosphere when I went to the University of Alabama this past weekend for Homecoming. It had been a long time…10 or 11 years…since I had traveled there for Homecoming, but I was so happy I went this year!
When I was in college, we got dates to every football game, so it was always fun, but the Homecoming game every year was more exciting…more festivities, more excitement, more parties. It never occurred to me then that “Homecoming” was actually a time to welcome back alumni. I just thought of it as the football team was coming back for a home game after an away game. Thinking of “alumni” was just not on my radar. And with good reason…I was young and self-centered, just like most young people.
The fact that Homecoming is really for alumni hit me after I had a child. Taking her to the Homecoming football game in 2011 was the perfect opportunity to showcase my alma mater to her. And as anyone who has ever visited the University of Alabama knows, it is a beautiful place…worthy of showing off. My daughter was just seven years old at the time, but she loved football…not much choice in my family…you either love football, or you’ll be miserable during football season, because watching football is what we do. So when she was seven, my daughter and I went with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, who was nine years old at the time.
I remember we made our way around sorority row soon after arriving. The lawn decorations are impressive every year, and little girls love them, so we made sure ours got to see all of them that day. The lawn decorations are a lot different than when I was in college. Back when I was in school, the lawn decorations were as tall as the house! We had to climb on scaffolding to “pomp” tissue paper into giant chicken wire structures to show our spirit for Homecoming week…outside with music blasting till wee hours of the morning…boys helping us till wee hours of the morning. It was great fun in the 1980s, but now, it seems they do most of the “pomping” indoors, and the much smaller structures are placed on the lawn afterward. No more scaffolding…kind of a shame, because it sure was fun!
That Homecoming in 2011, we walked over to the quad and visited friends who were tailgating. We ate lunch in the alumni tent, and we ran into lots of people we knew from our college days. That is what Homecoming is about…visiting your alma mater to see people and visit with college friends you don’t see on a regular basis.
And this year, we did exactly that…spent time with friends we haven’t spent much time with over the last few years. I even managed to spend a little time with a friend I had not seen in 20+ years…one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. In fact, she is the very friend who told me after a bad breakup in my late 20s, “Just think! You get to fall in love again!” I reminded her of that when I saw her, and I told her how much hope it gave me after that breakup. Now, it’s what I have told my 19-yr-old daughter to say to her friends after they go through bad breakups. Because really…there’s nothing like that “falling in love” feeling.
We ended our Homecoming visit with a little tailgate time with a friend who had folding chairs that rock in her tailgate area. Not gonna lie…it was fun catching up with her, and it was hard to get up from those rocking chairs when it was time to leave! There’s something extra relaxing about a rocking chair…and I could have drifted off to sleep right there. But we needed to get moving, so I had to get up.
We didn’t stay for the game. We were spending the night at Angela’s house in Montgomery, and because we had a 90 minute drive ahead of us, we opted out of the game. We drove home on the winding road from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, reliving the moments of the day…doing what we call “Post Game Wrapup” of our day. And while we talked about the fun of the day, we reminisced about college too. We had lots of good times at the University of Alabama back in the 1980s. That’s when Angela and I became friends, and we each remember different funny things that happened, so we laughed a lot on the drive.
We barely got to spend any time with our daughters, both of whom are students there. We saw her daughter for about an hour, and literally saw mine for a total of about five minutes! But I was happy…if she’s not clinging to me, she’s happy. I drove back up the next day to spend Sunday night in a hotel, so we had more time to visit. Then o came home Monday night.
It was a successful Homecoming. Yes, the team won the football game, and that’s definitely necessary for a successful Homecoming, but it was mostly successful because we got to see people we care about…people with whom we shared fun experiences in college.
And that’s what Homecoming is about.