She was seventy-seven years old when she insisted on taking me to visit a college. I don't remember whether I thought I might be embarrassed by having my grandmother accompany me instead of the usual father-and-mother, or in my case, the less traditional but still within-bounds single parent. I'd guess not, because my socially awkward mother was often embarrassing, as on the day I started college and she drove onto the main quad, no cars allowed, and parked in front of a handful of my future dormmates, gawking, pointing.
My grandmother was elegant and couth and marvelous, but seventy-seven years old is not young. I feared the walk up the hill to Swarthmore's admissions office might do her in, but she was as stubborn as they come, and at my concern she waved me off. "I'm fine," she gasped, not fine at all.
I had a good interview at Swarthmore, so good in fact that the admissions director wrote me a personal note afterwards. Or maybe that's just the way of small colleges, however the interview proceeds. I ended up at a far bigger school than Swarthmore. Still, my grandmother was pleased that she'd taken me on that tour, even if I had not ended up attending, or even applying. The place had struck me as too quiet, too serious, even for me, and that's saying something.
On the train ride back to New York from Pennsylvania, she put a hand on my knee and told me how much she loved me. I bit my lip against sudden tears before returning the sentiment. I'd only that day become aware of her as an elderly person, fragile, mortal.
Last night Seventeen gave me and his father a list of tentative college choices that he'd culled from a book. On the list were eight schools, among which was... Swarthmore. Seventeen was unaware that I had included Swarthmore in my own lists, written thirty-one years ago and long since tossed away.
On Friday he'll visit Swarthmore and Haverford with his father. When they climb that steep slope to the admissions office at Swarthmore, I will imagine my grandmother smiling, winking, and reassuring me, "Full circle, Sarah, full circle." That vision, in a time of vast change, is comforting, and I note with surprise that seventeen years absent (yes, she died when my firstborn was just starting to walk), my grandmother is somehow very, very present.