There is an old saying that you “can’t go home again” or perhaps it was “can’t go back again”. Maybe it was “don’t go there”. Honestly, does it matter? I mean I go home again all the time. And there are quite a few places I consider home. There’s Newark, NJ, where I grew up. There’s Irving, TX, where I live. I always consider Manhattan to be a home of sorts since I’ve spent so much time there. Anywhere there is family is home to me.
For the 4000+ alumni of Christendom College, the sleepy hamlet of Front Royal will always be, I suppose, a home. And our most recent event saw a “homecoming” for our largest gathering to date.
After leaving Richmond we drove two hours north to Marshall. Matt and Theresa (Bush) Pierce, ’98 had remained at the beach in the Outer Banks but graciously offered their home to us as a place to stay for a few days. The Pierce’s typify everything that I have come to love about Christendom. Here you have a family who really learned and apply the Gospel message of love, like so many other Christendom families. It is more than true to say that one could show up at their house in the middle of the night and would be welcomed with open arms. On a side note, please do not show up at the Pierce’s house in the middle of the night. Just want to cover my bases.
After getting our rest we awoke, packed the car (again) and headed thirty miles west to the main campus. Let’s talk about the campus and not the town for the moment. I don’t consider myself to be of an “older” generation just yet but I still vividly remember the day in 1990 when my parents drove to Christendom with my older sister Barbara, ’95, my younger sister Bridget, and I. Even though Bridget and I would go on to graduate from Seton Hall University much closer to home that day saw the nascence of a family relationship with Christendom College that would witness the education of three siblings – Barbara (now Byers), Mary Ann (now Gaffney) ’93, and Edward, ’95 along with Edward’s wife Eileen (Devlin), ’95 and my wife Karla, ’99.
On that day we didn’t drive up to a campus but rather a glorified CYO camp. The old ski lodge was still called Regina Graham (I believe) and the quad had not quite become the CWOD. The chapel was a small trailer with a makeshift steeple and on the girls’ side of campus were two buildings – Campion and Blessed Margaret. Meals were taken in the Common Room. The campus address was 2101 Shenendoah Shores Rd. I still remember that address from the letters I would write my older siblings.
It seems that every time I come back, though, something new and more beautiful has been erected. Today we turned onto Christendom Drive and my children marveled at the physical plant. See the pictures below for a glimpse of their morning. They even have a large gym now. Interestingly, when we went inside and walked toward the weight room we encountered a group of young men more clad than Afghani women (modesty is important even when sweating) feverishly
practicing chastity lifting massive weights. Somewhat embarrassed, they quietly closed the door in our faces. For the record, they looked to be about 10 years-old.
After a while Karla had some meetings to attend so I took my son Benedict (Rita was tired) for a drive. There are a few things we like to do, father and son, when we need some get-away time. We like to visit shrines and churches as a family; but the previously mentioned engineering marvels (the lighthouses of the world) are up there. Then there’s Dunkin’ Donuts. I grew up with them and they’re not really in Texas so we always try to grab a donut and coffee. Finally, we really dig visiting kitschy tourist traps. In this case, the shlockier, the better.
Some of you might remember a bizarre sight when driving back and forth to Winchester on 522/340 called “Dinosaurland!” So do I. And never having actually gone inside I decided we just had to check it out. I’m still not sure after our excursion how the lady behind the counter felt the moral superiority to charge me $11 to see what I saw. Apparently she does not know that defrauding the working man is a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance. To sum it up, Dino-land is a small park dotted with not-to-scale papier-mache reproductions of what people imagined dinosaurs to look like in the 1950’s. You know what would have made the park better? I knew you would so I prepared a mental list as I walked through.
- Not paying admission
- A water attraction
- A bar
- If dinosaurs had actually existed
- Walter Janaro’s playlist set to techno and run on a loop piped through speakers in the ground
And that was that.
Day 11/Event #6 – The Homecoming Stop!
After some final meetings on campus where I happily heard from many people of how much they enjoyed this blog (thank you so much!) despite the fact that I have captioned a few pictures incorrectly… And on that; let’s just say that I use a database of alums to gather information. So, for instance, when I search for “O’Herron” it’s not really my fault that 55 entries show up and I may have had a few drinks. We set out for The Mint House, a lovely homestead recently purchased by Josh Peterson, ’01, and Ben McMahon. Mint House sits just outside of Front Royal in the town of Strasburg. Our hosts for the evening were Nancy (Lee) Bauer, ‘ , and her husband Guy. Their kids, especially their son Greg, were a huge help in setting up tables, laying out tee shirts, and grilling.
Mary Alice Rice and I are clearly BFF’s.
We were expecting somewhere around 400 guests and the weather could not have been more perfect. I set out to light the larger of the two grills by incinerating a whole mess of lump charcoal. Thanks to my vast knowledge of the TV show Modern Marvels I know exactly where this stuff comes from and how best to use it. I laid a large quantity of burgers on the grill but didn’t really have time to tend to them. After I had flipped the first round I was relieved of my duties by a contingent of current Christendom students. For the record they looked to be about 12 years-old. Their help was much appreciated even if they did, by contrast, make me look older than my 29 years of age. Actually my 38 years of age did that all on its own.
So many people showed up so quickly that to talk about each encounter would not be just. Let me tell you just a few. Perhaps the funniest moment of the night came when I, talking with Karla and Nancy (and Nancy’s sister Sue, ’99), glanced a few feet away to lock eyes with a familiar face. The woman belonging to that face stared intently at me. I could tell she was correcting my mental grammar in her mind. It was, of course, Mary Alice Rice. She straightened her posture. “Tim Hester!” she shouted at me as her face widened to the biggest grin. I felt like I was connecting with a long-lost friend. She approached and we chatted like best of friends which is odd because we’re not; but we obviously know each other well enough to fake it. I use the word delightful a lot but in her case and for this moment it truly applied.
Tom McFadden, ’90 and I had a great talk about contemporary education. Sam Phillips, ’08, and I shared stories of our families and backgrounds. Front Royal Councilman Jake Meza, ’05, granted me an exclusive interview
and even made a campaign pitch to the crowd. Tonight of all nights I really got a sense that I was getting to know all of you and hope was welling inside that I would come to know so many more. And when Karla picked up the mic to address the gathering I know that all of you could feel a growing bond of kinship as well.
Once again, toss in a few burgers and a keg or two and the party’s already been made.
Hours after sunset we packed up and headed out. We remarked to each other how wonderfully our children were holding up. They’re 8 and 6. “Honey, these two have been awesome. They’re really making me proud the way they – wait, what’s going on back there?!” “I do believe they are melting down as the kids say,” replied Karla. Turns out even these two have their limits.