The homeland calls the kid

During the frantic back-to-school season, one alumna recalls her time at the University of Saskatchewan.

Remember the time the Hutterites brought me home from that party? So says my sister on the way to a family dinner. My Calgary family's eyes pop open. This is how we Saskatchewan girls roll. She, and I, and our dad have a million of these conversational gems. Often said amongst ourselves with accompanying nods of understanding but generating bewildered looks for those less prairie inclined. 

I recount this to my son as we embark on a prairie roadie to Saskatoon. He is starting school at the University of Saskatchewan in six short days. He moves into residence tomorrow. This is my school and I'm thrilled. And I'm sad. And I'm anxious. And I'm amazed that we are here already. But mostly I'm thrilled. Net thrilled. Light on the net. 

On the way I tell him a million stories about growing up in a small town on the prairies. Maybe I should do some editing but he is sixth generation Saskatchewanian. We had a relative who testified at the trial of Louis Riel for Pete's sake. He needs to know how things work in this part of the world.

We drive through brilliant blue skies and yellow fields awaiting combines. I see cars parked in approaches and think about the conversations in the local co-ops. Done harvest? Purt 'near.

I hope my boy learns to love this place as I do. He's grown up in the inner city, spent some years at private school, lived in a bubble of privilege but I hope he's absorbed some prairie pragmatism. Pitch in. Pay your bills. Be good to your neighbours. Don't be a jackass (or worse, a horse's ass). Pretension will get you some major side eye at a party—to say nothing of what will happen if you arrive empty handed or, God forbid, refuse to share your beer.

Saskatoon has grown up since I lived here. We tuck into the swishy James Hotel. A suite on a high floor affords of a view of sparkling Saskatchewan River and a side of university vista. Still though, those prairie people. Sophisticated hotel, salt of the earth service. I'm feeling good about this. Maybe my people will take care of this kid.

We’re at the university bright and early. This beautiful place. For me it was love at first sight and it is one that endures. Established early in the 20th century, the University of Saskatchewan boasts gorgeous gothic Greystone buildings surrounding a central bowl. It’s exactly what you would want and expect a university campus to look like. Every corner evokes a memory, every hallway an echo of laughter and shenanigans. Do the kids still have as much fun as we did? I know the 20,000 students here are receiving an excellent education. I hope they are building lifelong memories and friendships as well. My son's dorm is in the old law school. As we move his belongs up to his room, we can feel grooves in the stone steps left by generations of students who've gone before.

He's sucked in to campus life immediately. The dorm is full of small town Saskatchewan kids and a fair few from Calgary. There are events planned starting this very day. I manage to explain the recipe for Yuk-a-flux (a university tradition known only to students in universities Winnipeg and west—and definitely not recommended) before becoming an aged impediment to his social life. The momentous emotional moment I expected and feared doesn’t happen. He’s happy and excited to be here. It rubs off on me. I leave feeling a little weepy but mostly excited. Net excited. I also know I’ll be back in a week for my class reunion. So there’s that. 

A short week later I’m back and can hardly wait to check in with the kid. He’s busy with welcome week, erm, activities, but I tempt him with a plate of perogies at the Cathedral Social Hall. It’s all good. He loves the university and his residence. Despite the perogies, he’s eager to get back to an students’ meeting for ever more engineering antics. This night and on previous visits, the Saskatoonians we encounter, almost to a person, seem equally excited to hear he’s new to the city and new to the university. He gets a verbal clap on the back and welcome from almost everyone he encounters. I see him beam a little each time. He feels at home. I knew my people would come through.

My reunion kicks off with a Huskies football game. I kidded the boy that he won’t see me if I see him first. Most likely, it will be the other way around. In fact, this adventure comes full circle (literally) as I watch the blur of my toga-clad son pass by in the traditional first-years’ half-time run around the track. In the reunion party tent, we cheer for him wildly and put to good use the megaphones provided by the alumni organizers. The reunion is a riot. I feel 18 again. I can’t help but think about my son, tucked in among the residence crowd. I hope the people he's sitting with now, who helped tie his toga and paint his face green will become the treasured friends that he sits with at his future reunions.

I see the boy once more before I leave. We’ve both had a great weekend. A final wander around campus is filled with reminiscence for me and anticipation for him. I win some kind of bad mom award by recounting the story of how, in my day, engineering students kidnapped an agro, painted him gold and placed him in their trophy case with a mickey and a case of beer. I am certain that doesn’t happen anymore. My kiddo loves it and we share a good laugh. I leave knowing we’ll miss our boy in Calgary but also that he’s where he belongs. Now as long as he doesn’t actually make the Yuk-a-flux.

Deidre Horn (BComm'87) resides in Calgary.

This piece originally appeared on the blog Toque & Canoe.

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