I remember the moment I wrote in Yonder Side’s acknowledgements about the students I get to teach and work with: “[Y]ou are the delight of my daily work in higher education, and there is a punch-proud part of me that belongs flat-out to you.” My laptop and I were tucked akimbo into the fluffed folds of the cushy hand-me-down couch that is typically occupied by the four-footed one-time strays with whom I share living space. They had been attempting a crowd-out upon my computer and me until my cell phone screamed the truly obnoxious Star Wars Tie Fighter fly-by and shoot-‘em-up that signals the arrival of a message, turning their takeover scheme into a terrified claw-crazed panic-vanish.
The message was from a student (to whom I’d loaned a humane live-trap to catch a feral orphaned kitten), explaining that they’d inadvertently ensnared, albeit benevolently, a large mama possum ready for battle. The same student had also just decided to switch their major as a result of the incident, discovering that they had quite the compassionate heart and scientific inclination for wildlife rescue-and-release. But it wasn’t park recreation or veterinary school they’d landed upon. Rather, ER nursing was the particular career-passion discovery. My heart will forever celebrate the impossible and perfect raison d’être of that moment with them.
The soul of Benedictine University at Springfield (BUS) encompasses the knowledge-, growth-, social-justice-, and truth-pursuits inherent in its mission; and the pulse of its heart is inherent in its students who embrace that challenge—students like Nikkie Lynn Prosperini and John J. McCarthy. With many achievements to their credit, including award-winning produced playwright and finalist in this year’s AWP Open Mic Poetry Slam, each is also an officer of the campus’s Literary Club, the entity responsible for the positively splendid sponsorship of Yonder Side’s reading on a beautiful spring evening.
Populated with crown jewels like Nikkie and John, among the campus’s structural treasures is the Brinkerhoff Home, an Italianate Victorian mansion designed by Elijah E. Myers and completed in 1869 as the residence of George and Isabella Brinkerhoff and their six children. The home survives today as administrative and faculty offices as well as event space for the BUS campus.
In the past year, it has hosted writers and poets such as Tyehimba Jess, Roberta Senechal de la Roche, Douglas Blackmon, Peter Ramos, James Loewen, and Adam Braver at events sponsored by Quiddity, housed at and published by the University. In the spirit of sharing the fugitive embrace, these events are always free and open to the public and are festive evenings filled with live music, food, drink, merriment, and the literary arts.
The Yonder Side event sponsored by the Literary Club on campus led me to believe we need to put students in charge of planning and running Quiddity’s events, too. Everything was pitch-perfect—from the portobello puff pastries to the paraffin-lit parlor. Getting to share creative work with colleagues among whom I work and also who I both admire greatly and genuinely enjoy working with is a special blessing indeed—and the blessing was palpable that evening—with credit owing to our students who organized the event from conception to ideal execution.
One thing no one expected to hear after the reading were wails coming from the home’s basement. They started quietly and then became increasingly persistent, hitting their apex at about the time Ryan, one of BUS’s security officers, showed up on his customary campus rounds. More than most of the time when I run into Ryan after business hours in Brinkerhoff, we’ve each just finished frightening the bejeezus out of the other rounding a dark corner as I prepare to finish up late-night tasks and he prepares to finish off whatever is making the late-night noise.
On this particular night, we joined forces to investigate the late night task and noise. Whispers of the home’s various haunts have persisted for decades, but the cries we heard turned out to be the caterwauls of one frightened and emaciated feline, who’d apparently been inadvertently locked in the basement since the last time someone had entered the storage space. The scrawny black cat had been eking out a barely-existence for several weeks by subsisting on the occasional frog or mouse that chanced across the blessedly consistent-wet-spring water-puddled basement floor.
Nikkie named him George, after the Home’s original owner and most popular haunt, and the local no-kill shelter assured his responsibly altered state-of-being, while signs and classifieds assured his stray status, before another jewel of a student, Elizabeth Peura, adopted him lovingly and for all time. Unlike the student whose animal-rescue epiphany revealed their future as an RN, Elizabeth is a pre-vet student. But very much like that student, Elizabeth is a joy and delight to know. Lucky, lucky George.
And lucky, lucky B“US”.