The youngest of the Karmel kids goes off to college

An open apology to University of New England President James D. Herbert – I swear I wasn’t trying to hit you with the car! More on this later.

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The end of the summer usually means one thing…college students are returning to school. For first-timers…those oh so young freshmen…who just seem to be getting younger every year…it’s a huge event. With Lauren going off to school, all of those feelings came rushing back to me.

Forty five years ago, I ventured down to the very end of I-95 and onto US 1 to the University of Miami – Sun Tan U – palm trees, flip flops, warm temperatures. The University of Miami Hurricanes!

And on the extreme other end, to the north on I-95 and US 1, is the University of New England – pine trees, black bears, and frigged winter temperatures. The University of New England Nor’easters!

The weather, the culture, are on two opposite ends of the spectrum. So, too, were the emotions of leaving your child at school to finally fend for themselves.

Yes…I am going to make it about ME just for a short story…or two.

It’s all about the U!

My entire family accompanied me down to Miami to move me on campus. They all stayed directly across the street at the Howard Johnson’s. Well really not “stayed.” You see…the first day I had moved in to my dorm room and got everything set up, set up to satisfy my OCD.

I heard a ruckus from out in the lobby (my room was on the first floor) and I went out to see what was going on. I was shocked to see one of the biggest human beings I had ever seen in my life literally holding a vending machine over his head and he was shaking it. A VENDING MACHINE! The Resident Assistant (RA) assigned to the floor approached this massive human being and asked what was wrong. “It won’t give me my ice cream!”

The RA told him that he would get him his money back. It was a lousy quarter…25 cents! But the big guy wouldn’t have it and just kept shaking the machine above his head and finally slammed it hard to the ground. Ice cream sandwiches, one by one, came out of the machine. The guy handed sandwiches out to people who had congregated and, then, suddenly there was a sound like a slot machine that had just paid off. The big guy was grabbing, and pocketing, the quarters that were quickly coming from the machine and when he was done, he walked off with the quarters bulging from his pockets and an ice cream sandwich in his mouth.

I went straight to the house phone in the lobby (yes…HOUSE PHONE) and called the Howard Johnson’s. When my father picked up the phone, I said, “Dad, please, you can’t leave me here. There is a human gorilla in this place who lifts vending machines over his head. I am BEGGING you, come and get me.”

In the background I heard my mother say, “Eddie, what’s the matter?” To which my father very calmly responded, “It’s Alan. He said there is a human gorilla there lifting a vending machine and he wants us to come and get him.” My mom, with such motherly instinct, like a mother bear protecting her cub, “Eddie…hang up the phone…we’re checking out!” They checked out. They left me there.

Of course I was homesick at the very beginning of my first semester. My first phone bill including direct calling from my dorm phone and collect calls to my parents’ phone was over $800. That’s right…$800. (Long distance calls…remember those?)

One night around 11 p.m. I was on the phone with my father. I heard my mother ask, “Eddie, what’s he saying?” He said, “Nothing.” Mom asked with just a hint of annoyance, “What’s he doing, listening to you breathe?” “I guess so,” he said. Then I heard him say, “Sandra no…Sandra…” I could hear her say, “Eddie…give me the God damned phone!” Then…there was nothing. “Hello? Dad? Helloooooo?”

Okay…so she grabbed the phone and hung it up. The next day I called home and I got, “The number you have dialed – 201-254-6088 – is no longer a working number, please check the number and dial again.” Huh? I must have made a mistake. So I dialed again (and this was an old ROTARY phone!) and, again, “The number you have dialed – 201-254-6088 – is no longer a working number, please check the number and dial again.”

There must be something wrong with my parents’ phone. So I called my friend Glenn from a few houses away and asked that he tell my parents that I am trying to reach them. He told me he would go to the house and call me back in about 10 minutes. I sat on my bed and waited…and waited…and waited. So after 30 minutes or so, I assumed he couldn’t just be sitting there at my parents’ house consuming the Yankee Doodles, and I called him back. “Alan, please don’t involve me. All I can tell you is…don’t call there.” And he hung up on me.

Now what? So I try to quell my anxiety and I wait until I know my father is at work the next morning. I call his booth on the trading floor and Johnny picks up the phone. “John…where’s my dad?” “He’s in the pit Alan, the bell is about to ring and we are going to have a really busy opening,” he said. “I don’t care…GET MY FATHER!” My father was frantic because the markets had been busy but I didn’t care. “Alan…I know…your mother changed the phone number and I am not allowed to give it to you for a month. Don’t call the house. Just call me here. I have to go…call me after the close.” And that was that. My mother changed the phone number because she didn’t want me listening to my father breathe. SHE CHANGED THE PHONE NUMBER!

Now…it is NOT about the U, it is really about U-N-E…and Lauren!

These wonderful memories were playing over and over again in my head as we traveled on the same I-95 in the other direction…and seeing so many cars on the highway filled with so much CRAP – heading to whatever school was along the way – that would probably never be used once unloaded at the dorm.

Erin and Lauren packed in for the trip.

Listening to Erin and Lauren banter, cackle, and even argue, is so enjoyable for Melissa. The five-year age difference gives Erin more experience, and you can tell how loving and protective she is over her baby sister. They are two different personalities, but they compliment each other perfectly.

What should have been a 5 ½ hour ride turned into a 7 ½ hour trip to the Airbnb outside of Biddeford in nearby Sacco. It was a truly quaint little place with an older feel to it…decorated with antiques and plenty of space.

We spent the evening getting a quiet dinner at Sea Salt Lobster and, of course, I had to get my first lobster roll of the weekend. There were four selections on the menu…each with a lot of “stuff” on the lobster roll. I just wanted it “naked” and I will put some cocktail sauce on it. The first bite set the tone…a piece of shell. Not a great first impression. And the rest of the crew wasn’t exactly loving their meals either.

We went back to the Airbnb and the best part of the day? Listening to Erin and Lauren talking to each other in the bedroom. I completely understand why Melissa enjoys it so much. There is something so special about that.

Lauren and Erin with sisterly banter.

The next morning we went to the Golden Rooster for breakfast. The place is great with some really cool décor. I, again, had to get lobster and so I got a lobster omelet. Again, I had to ask for the extra “stuff” to be eliminated. I wanted, again, cocktail sauce. They were out of cocktail sauce. So I ended up eating naked lobster with some wet eggs. I wasn’t thrilled. Neither was anyone else. But we weren’t there for lobster.

Lobster for breakfast.

I have to say that the move in process was great. We were first welcomed by students with signs along the road yelling and screaming. Then a welcoming committee outside the sports administration building where Lauren had to go and sign in. And they had photo ops inside as well. Then it was a short drive across the way to the quad where the dormitories are to unload.

Move in day!

Again, apologies to the President! I was only following directions from security and I was distracted by Stormin’ Norman! President Herbert is very involved. He even has his own Instagram page and has a LOT of followers. He was welcoming families to the dorms and posing for pictures with everyone. He is VERY accessible. I tried to grab him for a pic after we unloaded but was too late. I got Stormin’ Norman, though!

President James D. Herbert celebrating the arrival of new students.

Thankfully we had gotten there early and there wasn’t a huge influx at the time. We were welcomed by security pointing us in the right direction. Students who were there to help answer any questions. And members of the male and female athletics teams to help put all of your crap from the car into huge bins and lug them into the dorm and up the stairs – Lauren is on the second floor.

Alan with Stormin’ Norman!

Lauren was there before her two roommates and was able to get herself set up and situated with the help of Erin and Melissa. I could feel the anxiety, the tension, the emotions building. I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. There really was so much to observe. While things are so different, they aren’t THAT much different as I watched parents moving their babies into their very first dorm rooms.

Melissa, Lauren, and Erin

After getting Lauren settled, she took us on a quick tour of the campus and we ate at the dining hall, bought out the bookstore, and took some obligatory pictures in front of the beautiful beach area. It really is a scenic and quaint campus.

We made a quick last minute run to Walmart for some snacks to leave with Lauren. I mean, how much more could we have fit in the car? When we got back, it was an absolute madhouse. Too many people working to get into too small of a space.

Someone down the hall with obvious essentials.

It was time to say good-bye. It was time for Lauren to finally fly on her own. Multiple hugs and even more tears.

That’s her baby.

Melissa could hardly contain herself…”That’s my baby.”

Even Erin said, “I can’t believe we’re just going to leave her here?”

Opposites…I turned the car around before we got a mile away from the campus…and Melissa will not be changing her phone number.

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