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February 9, 2010

(written yesterday evening in transit)

I’m on the plane 17 hours early, trying to get home ahead of a snowstorm that looked as if it could have delayed my planned return by a couple of days. I’ve only been gone for 3 days but it feels like a week, and I mean that in a good way. There is a lot to say, and I think I will break it up into smaller pieces. That way I can bore you a little at a time instead of all at once.

Friday morning I flew to Hartford where Peppy Pilot Girl and her three beautiful children met me at the airport. Peppy and were friends in college, where we met in the Glee Club and Chamber Singers when I joined in our junior year. I haven’t seen Peppy in 13 years. I last saw her at her wedding, which was held in the pretty Catholic church next to our college campus and at the hotel on the edge of town.

My plane was early enough that we were able to spend a few hours at her beautiful turn-of-the-century house, where here children provided us with all kinds of entertainment. At one point, I found myself sitting in an enormous comfy armchair in a sunny window with a girl on each knee and a cat on my shoulder. It was a lovely afternoon.

After saying a brief hello and goodbye to Peppy’s husband when he got home from work, Peppy and I headed out sans kids to the town where we went to college. It felt a little like a pilgrimage. Although she lives nearby, she doesn’t get there often and I hadn’t been there since her wedding.

I used to know that road from Hartford so well. I took ownership of it. Seeing all the familiar buildings (and some new ones) – the blue and gold dome, the basketball hall of fame (now a gym, as a new and fancier hall of fame was built right next door), the white steeples of New England churches and the smokestacks of the factories along the river – was like seeing old friends. From the very first time I came here, I felt like I was coming home. It still feels that way.

Peppy and I drove into town and we started cataloging the things that were the same and different and remembering things. There was the restaurant where my parents took me after graduation. There’s where that Chinese restaurant used to be. There’s a store that used to be my bank and a bank that used to be a store. I checked into the hotel just early enough that we were able to have a drink in the tavern downstairs. The hotel was built in the early 20th century. The man who built it had had a relative who’d owned a tavern in the 18th century in a town not far away. When the younger man opened his hotel, he had his ancestor’s tavern moved to the site, so the hotel bar has more atmosphere than you’d generally expect.

After drinks and promises to see each other the next day, Peppy dropped me at the Indian restaurant where all the conference speakers were meeting for dinner with our host and former teacher. It was one of the first restaurants I went to in this town and it was, I think, the first place I ever tried Indian food. My roommate freshman year was from Mumbai (although we called it Bombay then) and she had taken me and a couple of our other friends there. She ordered for me and I thought it was some of the most amazing food I’d ever eaten. I’m still a huge fan.

I was the last to arrive and sat at the end of the table with some younger alums. We did not talk shop, but talked a lot about coming back and about our collective nervousness about speaking in front of our former professors. After dinner, I found my friend M, who graduated a year behind me and with whom I had a lot of classes, and we prowled around the one Main Street shop that was open that late, looking for souvenirs for our kids (she was successful; I was not) and remember what it used to look like. I collapsed into bed afterwards, exhausted after a couple of nights of next-to-no sleep. Alas, that was not the night to catch up. A car alarm outside my window woke me up at 2 a.m. and kept me up for several hours.

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