With all the pain and suffering in the world, it’s been difficult to focus the past two weeks. Lately l feel more comfort in looking in rearview instead of looking forward. Maybe that’s why I’ve decided to share highlights from my recent 2023 Cornell Homecoming. Last month, I went back in time to my college days to see what it was like to be on campus again. It had been 40+ years since I set foot on my old Ivy League stomping grounds. My boyfriend E, who joined me, was excited for his first visit to Ithaca, NY.
Speaking of rearview, before my mom passed a decade ago she gave me a pile of letters that I had handwritten to her during my years at Cornell. The letters from my four years in college provide an interesting backstory. There were no cellphones, no social media and no texting back then.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, I think I’ll intersperse a few paragraphs from the letters into this post. Perhaps my tales will help you reflect on your own youthful college days.
Looking at the present, remembering the past
“Look at the size of this place,” said E as we drove between the tall arch entrance and around the different Quads. We passed the Arts & Sciences Quad where I studied Freshman English. We drove by Barton Hall where I slogged through many final exams. Ugh, I remember the jitters I had during sophomore year sitting in Barton Hall at a long table with an 100 question Biology test to complete. The test was so long and so hard. Would I pass or would I fail? Thankfully I passed!
We drove along the edges of Libe Slope, the big hill I climbed from my freshman dorm which linked West to Central campus. It was as steep as ever. I remember the snowy days when the ground would freeze and I’d have to almost skate sideways to make it to the top. Sometimes students would borrow trays from Willard Straight cafeteria and slide down the hill. How did I survive all those cold winters?
Some things change, others stay the same
When I entered Cornell in Fall 1975, the ratio of women to men was about 1:3. In U-Hall #4, I think there were three floors of men to one of women. According to recent stats, today there are more female (54%) than male (46%) undergraduates. Wow-o-wow the demographics have changed. Plus first year students no longer live on West campus. I recently read they’ve been moved to the North. While we saw new housing under construction, I bet there still aren’t enough on-campus options for all who desire. I wonder if securing a good lottery number is as much a bargaining chip for housing as it was in my day.
Out on the farm
Instead of staying in downtown Ithaca, E and I stayed in the country about 15 minutes from Cornell in a comfy AirBnb 2-bedroom retreat on a farm. The grounds were vast and there were chickens on the roam. The owners offered us “fresh hatched eggs” if we wanted to cook a homemade breakfast. On Saturday, I had hoped to take E to The Pancake House on North campus that used to have a lookout over the gorge. Sadly there was no more Pancake House. Instead we went to Milkstand near town. The pancakes were okay but not as good as The Pancake House cakes I remember.
Big Red Fan Festival and homecoming football
Donning our newly purchased Cornell red and white caps, E and I headed up hill towards Schoellkopf Field. We parked near the Cornell Dairy (thankfully its ice cream continues to get rave reviews forty years later) and walked around the Agriculture School Quad. There was so much construction with signs saying “coming in 2024 and 2025.” I didn’t even recognize the Vet School with all the new buildings.
And I didn’t remember there being a Cornell Botanical Gardens during the 70s either. Or maybe there was and I never knew it because I was always studying in Mann or Olin library and didn’t ever have time to stop and smell the Garden’s roses.
Big Red Fan Festival was in full-gear at Crescent parking lot. For Homecoming each School set up a tent with games and trivia to welcome alumni, students and guests. Before Cornell Football vs. Colgate I grabbed some red and white pompoms to show my school spirit for the Big Red athletes.
“I was an usher at Cornell football games,” I told E. “We didn’t have a very good team back then. Wonder how they are now?”
“Well I guess they’re not much better 40 years later,” I said to E when in the 4th quarter Colgate defeated Big Red 35-25. We enjoyed the game despite the loss. “Where can you get entertainment like this for $12,” I said. “Between the football game, Big Red Marching Band, the cheerleading squad, and the Cornell dancers, it was a great way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon.”
OMG side note, these coeds dress very differently than my generation did. It was rather warm and the outfits reflected the weather with cut-off Cornell tees, bralettes and very short shorts. “I didn’t see any of those styles at the Cornell store when we were shopping for caps and sweats,” I said to E. “That skimpy attire was likely custom designed, if you know what I mean!”
New Orleans-style dining
Shortcut to Saturday evening, which included dinner reservations at Maxie’s Supper Club & Oyster Bar in downtown Ithaca. My son D and friend S had raved about its New Orleans-style menu. The restaurant opened in 1999 and I graduated in 1979 — that’s a 20 year span so we figured it must be good if it’s been in business that long.
Indeed the food was delicious. We ordered Fried Green Tomatoes for our appetizer, E had Cajun-seared Ahi Tuna and I selected the Branzino special topped with shrimp and crab sauce with maple glazed green beans. Portions are huge at Maxie’s. E and I could have shared one entree and it would have been sufficient.
Sunday send-off at the Ithaca Farmers Market
The weekend flew by and I really wanted to go to Ithaca Farmers Market. It actually opened for business on Saturdays in 1973 and moved five times before settling in its current location. I don’t think Farmer’s Markets were as trendy back then and I really don’t remember it being “an Ithaca tradition” like it is today.
The Ithaca Farmers Market is located in a covered pavilion right on Cayuga Lake. The community gathering place has over 130 vendors who sell at one or all of the four market days. It’s a fabulous Market, attracting well over 5,000 people a day, and well worth a stop when visiting the Finger Lakes region. Per the Market website: “Visitors can shop for fresh, local produce, or choose a handcrafted gift. They can listen to music while savoring a wide variety of international foods, and sitting at the picnic tables along the waterfront.”
The fresh produce was in abundance — I bought young ginger and golden beets. There were some good coffee vendors and yummy baked goods including handcrafted breads and pastries. I also took a liking to a wood carver and bought a wood cutting board to give as a housewarming gift.
A pleasant ride home through the hills of New York and Pennsylvania
It had been a relaxing weekend and we both agreed that we would visit again sometime. There is so much to see and do at Cornell, in Ithaca and the surrounding Finger Lakes area. The best part this time around is that I am no longer a poor, hardworking student hoping to make it through my senior year. Now I am far on the other side and part of a different kind of seniorhood — able to reflect on a successful 40+ year career (coupled with parenthood) with a bundle of wisdom all made possible by my earlier Cornell journey four decades ago.