During a trip to my Dad’s this weekend, I ventured into the basement — a catch-all storage area the size of the entire footprint of the house, wherein one might discover any sort of stray memory. He led me down there to hand over his oscilloscope, the story of which I hope will be another blog entry. But a trip to his basement is an encounter with the random, and this entry is about the serendipity shown in the feature image.
There, on top of a stack of other documents that may or may not have been equally unimportant, was a Dean’s List Certificate from my days at Virginia Tech. It caught my eye immediately, and reading it — “This Certificate is Awarded to Daniel P. Bain who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and is hereby named to the Academic Dean’s List In the College of Arts and Sciences For Fall Quarter 1986” — resulted in multiple thoughts at once:
- “I don’t remember Tech sending this to me.”
- “Is it weird for a college to print an official certificate every time any student does this? That seems: 1, wasteful and expensive for an institute that large, and B, kind of non-collegiate. That’s more for high school and lower, isn’t it?”
- “Did Mom and Dad mean to keep this, or did it simply get stuck between more important stuff that they wanted to keep for 31 years?”
- “31 years?!? Shit, I’m old.”
- “If they meant to keep this one, did they keep any others?”
- “How in the world did this happen to end up here, on top of a stack, right where I would see it? Why would Dad have gotten it out from wherever it was after 31 years?”
- “Again with the 31 years?!? Stop reminding me!”
- “There’s a water stain on it; maybe the basement flooded and he left it here to dry it.”
- “Don’t be ridiculous; there’s nothing else here drying. If there was a flood, this certificate would not have been the only document to have gotten wet.”
- “What a cool, improbable set of circumstances if it really had been the only document to get wet in a flood.”
- “Why don’t you ask him how it came to be here? He’s right there in front of you.”
- “Nah, he’s busy trying to show you how to use the oscilloscope. In fact, you should probably start listening to him.”
- “I wonder if he’ll notice if I take a picture of it.”
- “Fall Quarter, 1986. That would have been when I…”
And then a flood did happen. A surge of memories washed over me, erasing those 31 years and warping time, taking me back to that quarter and that year. There was Blacksburg, and football in the snow. Christmas gifts before break, and R.E.M. at William & Mary. Co-parties with our neighbors, and validation from that professor with the squeaky voice. Mostly there was me, facing a decision and an uncertain future, reluctantly embracing the craft that would carry me across the next three decades. Does every moment seem pivotal in our memories, or was that time particularly rife with possibilities for me?
Am I vague-blogging? Maybe. Probably. But I’m not entirely comfortable revealing what I remembered in those moments, nor saying what I set out to say with this post as a result. Suffice it to say that’s about the time I discovered something I like about myself, and nurturing it has made for an amazing 31 years. It’s a shame it took me 31 years to figure that out.
I need to go back to Dad’s soon, to see what other discoveries await me in the basement.