When I went away to college, a generation ago, I took a steamer trunk to hold my clothes and a shopping bag for miscellaneous items such as an alarm clock, an umbrella, a radio, and a tennis racket. I remember my father teasing me about "taking all that stuff to school," and my arguing that these were all "absolute necessities," though I suppose it was a bit much, especially since I was also toting a typewriter, an extra coat, and a huge stuffed animal to which I was not particularly devoted but which was definitely de rigueur in a girl's dorm room in that era.
A generation later, when our son John went off to college, things were a bit different. John took a shopping bag to hold his clothes (his entire wardrobe consisting of two pairs of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, and twelve sweat bands) and a U-Haul for his miscellaneous items: refrigerator, recliner, hot plate, sunlamp, television set, full component stereo system, typewriter, tape recorder, ten-speed bike, and numerous boxes of records and books, some of which were expensive college texts that he had managed to purchase secondhand during the summer.
"You can't take all that stuff to school!" I admonished John, with much less humor than my father had shown me twenty-five years before.
To my surprise, John agreed.
"You're right," he said. "I'll never be able to store all this stuff in my dorm room. I'll have to sacrifice something."
And he did. He gave up the textbooks.
Like dutiful parents, we accompanied John to the state university in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he had been assigned a room in Abel Hall. There is an excellent branch of Nebraska University in our own Omaha, but of course John was not about to go there; that would mean living at home for four more years! John wasn't too happy about our "tagging along" ("You didn't take me to kindergarten; why should you take me to college?"), but like all college alums, I was afflicted with "back-to- school fever" and was determined to spend at least a few hours reveling in the nostalgia which would surely be aroused by the familiar aura of a college dorm.
I was first aware of just how drastically things had changed when