Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 19, 2020
Tripping through my office
Upon my recent trip to my campus office, I was surprised I had to use my building key. In the past, the outside doors were open almost
all hours to allow for the comings and goings of the student journalists working on various publications or faculty doing late-night
grading or research.
Inside, it felt a bit eerie walking along dark hallways that suddenly lit up when the light sensors detected my presence.
Those feelings faded when I reached my office door. My name and title plaques greeted me as they have for years, accompanied by the small cork board containing various cartoons and inspirational quotes I had tacked on it.
But entering my office was sort of surreal. Everything was how I'd left it weeks before. For an instant, I imagined my feelings paralleled a bit those of the people who discovered the Pompeii ruins a place "frozen in time" after Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the city in ashes.
Except, there were no ashes. For that matter, the office is not really mine anymore, despite it having so many familiar things in it. Some time ago, I received my emeritus professor certificate, which entitles me to an office on campus. But it is unlikely to be one as roomy as the one I was standing in and have been privileged to call my home-away-from-home for so long.
I've since spent several afternoons in the office sorting through things in the file drawers. My official retirement date was May 16, so I should have been out long ago. But COVID-19 prompted the administration to ask all faculty to vacate their offices in March, right after spring break. I took several boxes and bags of materials home with me at that time. In my March 27 column, "Adapting," I mentioned I was going through them, sorting the contents into keep, shred, recycle and toss piles.
But much more had been left behind.
Yet the time away was good. I can now look at what remains with a more dispassionate eye. Items placed in the "toss" category are now less likely to elicit the intense feelings of loss that may have arisen earlier. Some of them even made me chuckle. Why did I keep copies of checks, hotel-block confirmations and menu selections from events now long past? Did I really need to save rough drafts of student papers from 2008; old advertising insertion orders from a special tourism section published from 1993-2000; or itineraries for campus guests from years ago? There were even a couple of FAXes remember those? from 1992 and to-do lists from projects long completed.
Some bits and pieces have intrinsic historical value photos and documents I collected for the student newspaper's centennial celebration in 1996 and the department's centennial in 2010. Others include promotional materials for the nearly 20 Huck Boyd community-media lectures I organized with photos of Sen. Bob Dole, the late Sen. Paul Simon, Bill Kurtis and other well-known speakers; several boxes of photos of former students and faculty members; biographies of notable alumni; old yearbooks and cameras. These will be in my "donate-to-special-collections" boxes.
There are also personal objects I'll take with me once I find a new home for them. There is a decorative box from Bolivia, a framed butterfly given by a Costa Rican friend, a collection of frog figurines from around the globe, a photo from Niger taken by a former student who was a Peace Corps volunteer there, a poster of New Zealand's Maniototo Province, a collage of photos from our family's 2012 trip to Great Britain, and a large photo taken in Kansas City of husband Art and me during the visit of our friends from Fθves, France. I felt almost as if I could take a world tour without ever leaving the room!
I've received several awards certificates for my column writing and other professional work, too, yet I think my favorite is a doll painted silver. It has a small paper label "Best performance by an acting director." The statuette was given to me after my short fill-in stint running Student Publications in 1988. But I also appreciate a small jack-o-lantern given last October for top faculty Halloween costume my version of Professor Minerva McGonagall from the "Harry Potter" books and movies. A picture labeled "Most Valuable Player" with a photo of me holding a glass of wine has a similar effect. A co-worker gave it to me after she and I had spent hours working on the department's centennial history.
And I could never leave behind drawings and inspirational notes that daughters Mariya and Katie and "adopted" German daughter Nadja gave me over the years.
There is also a small block of limestone I picked up when Denison Hall was demolished. It was the building my late husband Jerome worked in as a graduate student. I need that, but as what a door stop?
Recently, Art caught up with a high school classmate. They hadn't spoken in 55 years and, after sharing their life stories, Neil commented that he hoped their other classmates have been as fortunate as they have been. Sorting through the things that remain in what was once my office generated a sort of trip-through-time this past few weeks. That journey made me realize how fortunate I've been. Like Neil's and Art's, mine has been a great trip!
Left: after much work, there is still much to do and a can of Coke makes the task easier; middle-top: the Halloween costume and acting director awards; middle-bottom: part of the frog collection sitting atop the limestone block from Denison Hall; right: the far-left picture gives a false impression of tidiness, but that is dispelled by what is hidden behind the filing cabinets.