In my mind's eye, I can still see the approach so clearly. The exit from I-70, then west from the Cloverdale truck plaza, you pass under the highway to a briefly flat, wooded stretch of state highway, the spot I got pulled over that late night that Princess Di was killed, fully and awesomely and responsibly the designated driver from a night out in Indianapolis (no ticket, they just saw the CO license plate and knew I had to be a schnockered college student). The amalgum of memories driving 265 to Greencastle are alternately bleak, otherworldly, and beautiful. There are the cloudy, depressing, 4pm sunset drives of late February. There are the late summer night drives into the valleys of farm fields, cloaked in darkness and fog, which the descent into felt like driving into whole oblivion. There are the sunny late spring drives past the fields of corn or soybeans or whatever, the fields specked with blossoms and the leaves of trees bursting with that nubile green the likes of which I've never seen before or after.
I can drive into Greencastle in my imagination at any time, every detail crystal clear. I cannot do that with any other place I've lived, or been, ever. Pass the putting green and driving range that I never did visit. Pass the hospital that I unfortunately did (Sarah). Pass the gun shop, the liquor store, the Robe-Ann Park and then take a left into campus. Of all of the places in the world I've been, all of those American and European capitols, Greencastle is one of my favorite places to visit on Google Earth. Each corner of that town holds a memory.
But no description of Greencastle for me can ommit DePauw, my alma mater. It is where I completed my teens, and left behind a big part of my being as a kid. It is where, within the first thirty minutes of arriving as a freshman, I met two of my lifelong best friends. It is where I read Lolita, first acknowledged a propensity towards medieval art, and alternately grew my brain with a fabulous education, then killed brain cells with the best drinking buddies a girl could ever dream to have.
I miss the food, that we went to school in a town where college students could afford to eat out, what with the farm food and the farm food and the barbeque and the farm food, and the best drunken meals to be had in all of the universe (Seriously, what more do you need in life than french fries, covered in garlic salt and then doused in cheese. Okay, when you are DRUNK and it's 1 in the morning. Also, right now, in Greencastle, Indiana, two college students are hooking up for the first time with garlic and cheese breath. I love that thought, it's like a college tradition).
I have so many incredible memories from DePauw, it would be impossible to list them, and I've sat here all night trying to think up the best or the most poignant for this post. I cannot do it. Suffice it to say that the impact my college years had on me are so deep, those years have such a profound effect on what I do and say and think about to this very day. I did not just 'go to college.' I looked forward to college every single day of my life since my oldest sister left to go herself, and I made damn sure I chose the school that would provide me the best and most challenging education, because I'm a nerd like that. The gamble there, of course, was whether the people and the location of the school would be equally worth it. Turned out, I hit the jackpot.
I didn't think so at first. My freshman year, like most freshman years, I had to grow into being in college. Everyone in my class was as smart as me, and for the first time in my life, I actually had to study. And Greencastle. I had a really hard time with Greencastle. The locus of town was three miles away from town, at the Walmart. The banks closed at four. There was this truck that drove through our campus with an enormous gunrack and a confederate flag hanging on the tailgate. The student body as a whole at DePauw are notoriously more conservative than the professors. It was a jarring experience, and I actually experienced more culture shock in the move to Indiana than in my move to Dublin. My friends, Erin, Maria, then later Jaci and Mary and so many others, kept me there. Also, my professors, my honors classes, my art and art history classes, it was all so unique, I knew I would never find it elsewhere.
It took until my senior year, ten years ago right now, to truly fall in love with it. I had been away in Ireland for a year, and I had missed DePauw. I decided to get a job, tending bar. It was there, at The Duck in the Walden Inn (the link there shocked the poo out of me, they've renovated and it's clearly not the beer-soaked, dark and smoky closet I worked in anymore), that I came to know the town and the people unconnected with the university, and then my love came. It was the only time in my life I was able to walk into bars and restaurants in town and people would know me. And there are some outstanding people in that town. I think of them dearly still.
But this isn't coming out right. As a Colorado native, I am used to being blown away by the beauty of my surroundings. It's right there to the west of where I'm sitting right now, these glorious Rocky Mountains. My friend Maria and I, she's from New Mexico originally, had to really reconcile how to live in a place so plain, so flat. But we figured it out: it's hilly, but not mountainous. There are more trees there, and they are so big. There is so much to appreciate about it, but you have to retrain the eye to see it.
It's there, in the fall, the colors painted in the leaves above you, and really, autumn's colors are more vibrant against a clouded sky. It's there in the long drives to the covered bridges, these poetic red, barn structure expanses over what they call creeks but here in Colorado we would call rivers. It's there in the quiet early mornings of February, when the street lights refract in the ice-coated bare branches of trees, clinking like champagne flutes.
To call Greencastle quaint is a disservice. To call it podunk is lazy. It's just so much more than all that. I guess I can say, Greencastle was once my home, and I miss it sometimes. I think that's enough.