Ed: Sydney Chaney Thomas is a Moraga-based writer and businesswoman with three books to her name, all currently available on Amazon. She is also co-founder of a sustainable sailing apparel company called Ocean SF, and operates a nonprofit that works to reduce plastic waste called the The Trident Project.
Sydney teaches entrepreneurial marketing at UC Berkeley in their International Diploma Program and, in addition to this column, she writes a popular lifestyle blog, which can be found at sydneychaneythomas.com.
Transition, Work & Motherhood
April 3, 2019
There are things that you want, but can’t imagine ever having. So, I didn’t even ask. It was never a suggestion.
Even though, I thought Oregon State University was the quintessential college experience and I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world, it didn’t even come up when my older daughter applied to colleges two years ago. It was her choice from the start and she wanted to be in Los Angeles. This decision was too crucial for me to weigh in with my opinion. The time for that had passed.
When I found out my younger daughter had applied to Oregon State, she told me not to get my hopes up. Then months later, she asked to go there. She had been there before of course. We had stopped there on a road trip when she was a little girl, but that was long ago.
From my very first moment on campus as a student I felt at home. I had never in my life felt more at home than I did walking among the beautiful brick buildings and the manicured lawns as the leaves changed color. I adored walking in the rain through the quad in winter and slipping on the wet leaves. In spring the hydrangeas were ten feet high and the pink and white rhododendrons were as big as small buildings covered in hundreds of flowers the size of saucers.
In the afternoon, I would fall asleep on the sofas in the Memorial Union living room, while a violin quartet played on.
I fell in love with my sorority sisters who became my family. I would sit in the moonlight on the third floor sun porch with my dear friend Maureen talking for hours. I lived in a room called the Zoo with nine other girls. My big sis Sue took me under her wing; taking me everywhere, introducing me to everyone including the formidable monster cookie, always available at the Superette check out. It had 2,000 calories and cost $1.00.
My off hours of freshman year were spent sitting on the fire escape smoking clove cigarettes with my sisters watching the frat boys walk by, then a whirlwind of parties, house dances and trips to Lake Shasta ensued.
The classes I took caught my mind on fire. I discovered an interest in statistics, economics, and politics. I loved my quirky International Relations professor. He was shy, and brilliant. He had a slight stutter and would twitch while he talked. I sat in the front row and hung on his every word. He filled my mind with so many ideas of the outside world that I went to school in London to see it for myself. Once there, I could see that everything he said was true. I went to Dachau in Munich, I went to Ancient Rome, I went to the Parthenon in Athens, and I went to Vienna. In London, I studied in the Tate Gallery cafe on Sunday afternoons. I became obsessed with the Elgin Marbles in the National Gallery.
Back in Corvallis, at twenty one, I had my first love affair. The object of my affection was from Santa Barbara. He made me breakfast and blow dried my hair. He was one of the sweetest people I have ever known.
I graduated in four years, but that campus gave me roots to fly. A few years later, I joined my sorority sisters in San Francisco. We worked, got married, and raised our children together. Their children were like cousins to my kids.
My daughter and I attended the Admitted Student Orientation. We flew into Portland and stayed with my college friend Jim. I met him on my very first day on the OSU campus. He was behind the bar in the BETA house basement changing the mixed music tape. He had brown hair and brown eyes and wore blue and white checkered VAN tennis shoes.
Jim has been a fixture in my life and that of my children. He is also the person who called me every day after I lost my mother. One of my many blessings; a true and loyal life-long friend and confidant.
When we pulled into Corvallis the air was thick with fog. Rain sprinkled the windshield as we drove through campus. I watched her face at the stop lights. She looked calm and at ease. We checked into our hotel and then went to have burgers just off campus.
Orientation started at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. We woke, bundled up, and walked together past Gill Coliseum. My mind flooded with memories of football games, basketball games and college graduation. I knew better than to say much. We walked silently.
I’ve left many things behind only to come back and find them worse than I remember, our farm house for one. The orchards are now untended and the pond choked with weeds. The house and barn condemned. But, Oregon State is much improved. World class on many levels.
We walked the familiar campus with our tour guide. The sun came from behind the clouds and warmed the frosty landscape. We had lunch in Weatherford Hall.
The couches were the same in the M.U., but the book store was gone, the tables by the vending machines where I would study into the night were also gone, but much of it was exactly the same. I took my daughter down a back staircase that exited on the street behind. We walked down the same sidewalks and crossed the same courtyards that I walked when I was her age and she was just an idea in my distant future. Because she looks so much like me it was surreal.
Now, my daughter will be attending OSU in the fall.
There’s been few moments in my life where news came with the coalescing sound of clinking crystal glasses and church bells ringing in the distance. This was one of them.
Love and blessings to all.