In June 2019, as my older child was attending freshman orientation at Auburn University, I was eating breakfast alone in a hotel restaurant across the street from campus.
I’ll always remember that morning as my “tears in the oatmeal” moment.
I was surrounded by clusters of moms and dads. Maybe there was a singleton in the group, but I couldn’t spy one. While I was thrilled for my child to begin this new journey, I was silently wallowing in widowhood, wistful for what Cooper was missing — dads should be at orientation, too — and for what Steve and I were missing — launching our child into college together . By the time I’d finished my cup of coffee, though, my tears had dried and I was ready for the first parent meeting.
Somehow that college freshman is now a senior, and I finally made it back to Auburn for Parents Weekend — my last chance before he graduates.
As part of the whirlwind weekend, I toured Cooper’s fraternity house. (His bedroom is significantly cleaner than most of the common areas.) He walked me through the buildings where he attends classes. He pointed out where the food trucks park, where he plays Ultimate Frisbee, where the running club meets.
The centerpiece of the weekend was the homecoming game, Auburn vs. Missouri.
I am a proud alum of the University of North Texas, Class of 1993. At that time, the Mean Green wasn’t known for its athletic prowess. Student tickets were free, and even still I attended only one game in four years. I was a commuter student with three part-time jobs, rarely returning to Denton on the weekends.
All that to say, it was thrilling to sit next to Cooper, who has attended as many Auburn games as possible in the past four years.
I watched the school’s eagle take off from the northeast corner of the field, circle the stadium and effortlessly land on the Auburn logo on the 50-yard line. I cheered as the marching band entered. I sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem, both of which made me a little weepy because I’ll never get over the power of tens of thousands of voices singing about unity, democracy and hope.
I didn’t even try to keep up with the thousands of fans shouting cheers before kickoff. Bodda Getta! Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar! War Damn Eagle! Track ’em Tigers, just like beagles!
I kept an eye on the animated mascot Aubie and lost count of how many times he changed costumes. (I do recall that he started as a Ghostbuster, donned a purple cape for the homecoming queen coronation and sported a “free hugs” T-shirt in the fourth quarter.)
In the middle of all those festivities, there was a football game going on. This wasn’t just any game, either, but one that ran into overtime and ended when Missouri fumbled and Auburn recovered the ball in the end zone.
The crowd went wild.
Then we meandered out of the stadium and over to Toomer’s Corner, where the campus collides with downtown Auburn and where a sea offolks were tossing toilet paper rolls into live oak branches to celebrate the 17-14 win.
I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday afternoon.
It’s remarkable to spend time as a tourist in your child’s adopted hometown, to meet his friends, to walk the same route he walks to class, to grab an iced chai latte from his favorite coffee shop, to spend time with his girlfriend and her parents . I was afforded a tiny peek into the world I hear about in snippets over Sunday afternoon phone calls and sporadic texts throughout the week.
We even returned to the same hotel restaurant, the scene of those tears in 2019. But this time I was surrounded by alums, students and parents, all gathered to celebrate the weekend, to relive the past, to make new memories. There were no tears this time — just lots of stories, laughter and appreciation for the journey.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.