If anyone had told me two years earlier that I’d be moving to a boarding school for boys, I would have laughed.
I’d been living on Ponce de Leon Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Atlanta, the biggest city in the South.
At the time, there were already over a million people in Atlanta. I loved the fast pace of speeding cars and rushing people. Ambulances whizzing by with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Riding the bus from my square green house down Peachtree Street and Auburn Avenue was an adventure.
The driver slowing, shifting the grinding gears. Every morning, I watched an old man who had hand tremors, his fingers moving in jerks and starts like a couple furiously arguing in American Sign Language. And I’d look past him out the window from stately church buildings to the Regency Hyatt House on my way to Georgia State College.
“You’ll either love it or hate it,” my sister had told me before the move. And from the beginning, driving past the wooden sign that said, “CHRISTCHURCH SCHOOL FOR BOYS,” I was hooked.
The place suited me. I clung to it contentedly, lovingly and at times in exasperation through the trials of mass teenaged angst that drove others away. I even grew fond of the foul, stink of seaweed and dead crabs that was always in the air.
I never regretted swapping the sprawling Georgia city for a 125-acre campus that overlooked Virginia’s Rappahannock River. Living at a boarding school isn’t like life anywhere else.
I loved the boys from the start. It didn’t take long to know each one’s likes and dislikes, his hometown, the name of the girl he left behind, and sometimes his secrets.
I’d traded my urban lifestyle for sailing, crabbing, horseback riding, teaching and coaching River Pak, a water oriented Outward Bound sport. The boys called me “Coach” but gave me Mother’s Day cards.
A few years later, reality set in. It turned out the progressive thinking headmaster and his wife were ahead of the times. There was pressure from local folks who weren’t ready for us to cruise through Middlesex County in the school’s bus picking up black children and teaching them to swim in the Christchurch School pool.
They weren’t pleased that the school was integrated with two teenagers from The Gambia or that some of our boys had long hair.
I knew it was time to go, but I didn’t have a plan. So, I followed Yogi Berra’s suggestion. “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” I moved to a tiny brick house in Auburn trying out a new life, going from 180 teenaged boys to 16,000 university students.
Leaving Christchurch School was hard, and for a long time a simple sound or scent would take me back for a moment. But, I adjusted. And somewhere along the way, I found out that you really can go home again.
Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.