Saturday, July 30, 2011

You People Are Parking on My Memories....

          Homecoming is in full swing in the enchanted valley of Young Harris College. I am not going…again.
Why, you ask? Well, the official answer is that I can’t afford the gas plus Kim and the kids return Friday night from Texas and will need me to pick them up. It’s a lie I say to cover up how I really feel. As much as I value and love my time at Young Harris, I also kind of have developed love/hate feeling towards the place.
Young Harris means much to those who have gone there to study whether they got their diploma or not. I got mine a little later than expected because it meant that much to me! At least the parties and womanizing meant a lot to me at the time. I respect others’ feelings toward the institution and love to share with those fellow alumni.
I hope these next words do not sound arrogant but I am just going to say it. I appreciate everyone’s perspective but mine is a bit unique because in addition to going to school at YHC, it was also my home. We moved into a tiny house on Maple Street the summer of 1980. It was so small that my room was actually the basement and I loved it. Eventually we moved to a larger house up on top of the hill that overlooked the campus and the Richardsons called that place home until about seven years ago when Mom retired and moved to Savannah.
Growing up on a campus was pretty sweet. I spent more quarters than I’ll ever admit to in the Little Store playing Ms. Pac-Man and Mario Brothers. I used to go to all the campus events especially all the movies and that is exactly how I discovered Monty Python. By the time I was in high school, I began to make friendships with many of the current students and even got to go on camping trips with the outdoor club my father sponsored, Quantrek.
High school was a rough time for me because I just never could fit in. When you’re as big as me and not playing sports then most folks assume that something is wrong with you. I would much rather be drawing or painting in my room to create something interesting. While these were traits that did not impress my high school colleagues, it helped me get my foot in the door with many college kids and create a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I look back at my time at YHC and shake my head because I had to be so unbearable to be around. For the first time ever, this high school dork felt accepted and was set forth to play and create his own identity. This was where the birth of Baby Rich would come into play but more about him another time. Needless to say, what could go wrong when 18 year old ego catches up with 18 year old attitude?
I graduated and moved on to West Georgia then the adult phase of my life. Young Harris remained a constant in my life. No sooner had I got used to the idea of moving when my baby sister started there and I got to revisit college through Mary.
My father and I did the unheard of and become quite close through the magic of camping trips with Quantrek. We spent a lot of time together and finally began to see the other for the men we were and becoming. I ‘d also like to point out that my friendships with fellow YHCers may became more solidified and would evolve out of just sharing the connection of where we’d gone to school.
Years passed and we all began to grow up. The last time I’d ever see my dad alive was as I was about to pull out of Savannah at Christmas in 1998. We were by the garage and I was teasing him about how much gray was in his beard and how people were going to start calling him, the Big Grey Guy instead of the Big Orange Guy as he was often referred to on campus.  I drove off, not even contemplating that I’d be getting a frantic call from my sister in a few weeks stating that Dad had been rushed to the ER.  We know how this ends so let’s just move on….
I was always impressed at how well my father was remembered by the college. Hell, even Zell Miller showed up for the funeral which made me realize just what an impact Dad had made in his almost 20 years at YHC. The annual was dedicated to him whom I always appreciated and I even attended the Spat banquet that year with Mom and Mary. (There is some serious irony, here) The library hung an amazing picture that captured my Dad to a tee.
We all moved on but what bothered me the most was how some of the faculty chose to move on and be a dick to my mom. It was interesting to see just how much effect having my dad around kept my mom from having issue with the more “petty” of their colleagues. Mom had been administrative assistant to the Dean of Students since 1986 and had worked through about 5 deans that I can remember off the top of my head. The Dean at the time did his best to get my Mom fired because he didn’t like her. Fortunately, the President, Tommy Yow, intervened and moved Mom to a different position where she had no problems. A lot of folks don’t care for Tommy but he made a promise to me at Dad’s funeral to keep an eye on my family and he always lived up to that. For that, Tommy Yow has my respect.
Other incidents began to pop up. Some were quite minor but others got under my skin. The a-hole in charge of campus housing kept trying to push my Mom out of the house so it could be leveled for a parking lot.  Like all things that happen in Young Harris, minor events become bigger and finally Mom decided it was time for a change and decided to retire to our place in Savannah where she is holed up to this day.
It has been to relive some of these moments during this blog. It has made me analyze the love/hate relationship that I have with Young Harris College. It wasn’t just a school for me but also my home where I grew up and began to learn about the guy I’d become and the legacy that I’d leave behind.
I am not naïve enough to realize that all good things must end and move on. It’s just a little hard to sing the praises of my former alma mater when I return to see the house I grew up in has been leveled for a new parking lot, the fraternity that I joined disbanded, and even Quantrek is no more. I have also heard rumblings that Dad’s picture has been removed from the foyer of the library lobby and moved to God only know where. That really stings.
I want to look back at my time at Young Harris with mystically whimsy but unfortunately, I can’t. YHC probably is in my top 3 of influences upon my life and I am grateful for all the awesome things that have come into my life as a result of living/attending there. The people and experiences there have touched and shaped my life to partly make the man that I am today. Unfortunately, there is a negative side to some of this that also has affected me quite a bit. I hope that as I grow older and wiser, I can let some of this go but for right now this is where I stand.
I am softening a little. Recently, I was interviewed for Echoes, the college alumni magazine about some of the traditions from YHC. It was a lot of fun talking about all the crazy ways we used to pass the time up in those mountains, both sober and not.  When the magazine arrived at my home, I was surprised to at how quickly I got pulled back into reading about my home/alma mater. I guess you got to take the good with the bad and try hold on to the good memories.
Still, I am going to take a cue from my good friend and semi-mentor, Susan Scarbrough. Without giving away too much, I suspect Susan had some similar experiences from her YHC days because she always has unique reply to when she gets hit up by the college pledge drives over the phone.
The unknowing student that calls Susan to solicit donations will always get this question, “Is So-and-So still teaching there?”  (Name withheld to prevent individual getting to play the part of martyr)
“Why, Yes, Ms. Scarbrough. I even had that particular teacher last semester!”
Susan dryly replies with,”Well, you won’t get one thin dime of my money so long as that individual is teaching there.” And then she hangs up.
I love that and really wish they’d call me because I might be tempted to steal Susan’s little bit but take out teacher and replace it with “Is my house still a parking lot?”

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