Going back

“Still the magnolias shed their ravishing winds through casement and arch and courtyard. We all breathe in that fearful and beautiful falling, so like desire. The air’s the live warmth of a face near mine. Aching pleasure, the poets say, or pleasing pain.” – Jim Richardson

As surely as Proust’s madeleine, the smell of magnolias on my run today took me back to spring in Princeton. Specifically to house parties weekend. I can remember all four of my house parties weekends, and I think my affection for this annual celebration is partially hereditary: one of my paternal grandparents’ first dates was Princeton houseparties (that grandfather is turning 90, a landmark we’ll celebrate next weekend with the whole Mead family, mostly MIT engineers).

House parties were, all four years (at least in memory) sunny, beautiful weekends with trees bursting with magnolia blossoms and spring fever tangible on campus. The clubs host black tie parties on Friday night, semiformal parties on Saturday night, and all-day lawn parties on Sunday. This is the world’s longest date.

I remember the Dean Dollar Band (ever tried to dance to “Devil Went Down to Georgia”? Enough flat meisterbrau and suddenly it will seem easy), Katherine singing 9 to 5, a stubbed toe and a band-aid and a reference to Sister Golden Hair, swimming in the fountain and arriving soaking wet for Sunday cookouts, photographs in Little Quad before Friday night, the bouquet (“in anticipation”) that Quincy received before one year’s houseparties … and a thousand other fragments of memory that come flooding back in a single wave of nostalgia that threatens to swamp me.

The magnolias themselves – their overblown beauty, short-lived and transient, their almost sickeningly sweet aroma, their all-pervasive assault on your sense – of course stand as an apt metaphor for college itself.

A photograph of senior year lawn parties (Sunday) – this encompasses it all to me, as well as any of the rolls and rolls of photos I have of three of these weekends (freshman year I don’t have photos of as I only went on Sunday).