Imagine a sudden reprieve from duties and deadlines.
At Hollins University in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, sometime in the fall, far enough into fall that some academic pressure has built up, bells toll.
They ring out around midnight, and they mean that classes will be canceled the next day.
Students and faculty don silly outfits and climb Tinker Mountain together. At the top, they have a picnic and amuse each other with skits and songs and jokes. Decades later, I remember singing, “There’s no novels like modern novels,” to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to our ever-playful creative writing professor, Richard Dillard. We spiced it up with attempted Rockette-style legwork.
One of the male MFA students dressed up as Ethel Merman and really belted it out.
When I was there, the anticipation and the false alarms were half the joy of Tinker Day. Since the traditional summit picnic was fried chicken and Tinker Cake, people would have nighttime olfactory hallucinations: “I smell it! They’re cooking chicken and baking cake—it’s Tinker Day!”
But those were never accurate.
Only the tintinnabulation of the bells told the real story. When they rang, all our cares fell away, for one night and one day. I don’t think I knew anyone who stayed behind and worked. Even the most driven joined the day of reprieve.
A Serious Persian
Hollins attracted some hard workers. One thin, serious girl was from Iran, and I remember her bent over her desk in the classroom, recording lectures and taking notes at the same time. She taped lectures because she felt her English was not good enough for her to capture everything. She transcribed those recordings.
My work-study job was English tutor to international students. I was her tutor, and when I visited her little dorm room, she always offered me something, like tea, or fruit, or cookies. Once she served me an orange with the peel scored and peeled back so that the orange looked like a flower.
She said she was so grateful that her family wanted to send me rugs and jewelry. I declined, of course, and said it was my privilege to help her.
It ended when she came to my on-campus house, named Rose Hill, surrounded by climbing roses, and found a professor’s son in the kitchen. She had nothing more to do with me. Her modesty was affronted. But even that very serious person dressed up and climbed the mountain on Tinker Day.
I’ve often wondered what the rest of her life was like, because of the path her country took. I would love it if I had the chance to find out.
Hollins is a women’s college, still, originally founded in the 19th century on the premise that young ladies could benefit from the same education as that afforded young gentlemen. Not a common idea at that time. It may still attract some very serious international students. In any case, it attracts wonderful young women and extraordinary faculty.
A Hollins alumna recruited me to the school by saying that it was such a wonderful, caring, beautiful place that she hoped to go there in the afterlife. Now, that is a big honking compliment.
I think she had a good point. I hope some corner of my paradise has a Hollins in it.
And when I get my annual message that it’s Tinker Day, I smile.