In 1911, the University of Missouri’s football coach Chester Brewer invited alumni to “come home” to Columbia for the first ever Homecoming celebration — like, first Homecoming anywhere ever — and game against Kansas University. I’m sure that he didn’t realize what he was starting, but the tradition carried on to high schools and colleges alike, and the party escalated from “Go Tigers!” to “Go Tigers, Greeklife house decs, tailgating, parades and skit competitions!”
As a student at Mizzou, Homecoming meant little more than getting a new t-shirt, spending a whole month not seeing my fraternity and sorority friends because the were constantly prepping for the celebration, cheering at a football game where we had better win because it’s our homecoming dammit, navigating around a parade that would block traffic when I really needed to get to the Vox office downtown and (in senior year) the chance to see Imagine Dragons live before they hit the top of the charts.
And that was about it. After high school homecomings had come with a dress-up dance and subsequent drama, college homecomings where the fanciest you dressed was for one of the Twainer’s photo shoots (I failed every time) seemed less critical.
Then I graduated.
When my freshman year roommate, good friend and Queen of Mizzou Katie Artemas said she was going down to Columbia for homecoming weekend, I jumped on the plan. There were people I wanted to see, places I wanted to go in town that I missed. The actual event of “Homecoming” was secondary. I didn’t even have tickets to the game against South Carolina.
We got down to campus around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, just in time to meet up with friends and walk Greektown’s house decorations. I met my friend Danielle (you know, the lucky lady who interviewed JGL and hoped not to pee or pass out?) at the alumni center — a fitting spot, really — and walked with her into the melee of pomp boards, cardboard mascots and makeshift scaffolding to see the skits put on by the Greek houses.
As we headed down Tiger Avenue in a throng of families and students, she said something that set the tone for the entire weekend. “I didn’t understand what was so important about homecoming until this year,” she said. “But with you and Katie coming back, now I get it.”
The same went for me, as well. As a student attending and living at Mizzou, homecoming wasn’t all that important. Maybe that’s because most of my friends who graduated before me stayed for grad school, so I had them around during my senior year and didn’t need a specific weekend for them to visit. But now that I was an alumna living up in Chicago and missing the crap out of the columns (rather, the people who sat on the columns) homecoming meant being able to return to what was once the norm. I don’t expect I’ll feel the same way next year when all those grad students and current seniors are, like me, out of Columbia — but for this last weekend, I was returning to the people and places that had been my life just half a year earlier.
Everyone knows that I love movies and music, which makes movie music a hybrid of awesomeness. So, in the week I spent brainstorming this post and waiting for everyone to post pictures for my site’s benefit (thanks, and sorry for being a moocher, Katie and Dani), I decided that this weekend was ripe for a Hollywood-style soundtrack. The track listing is as follows:
1. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” by Bon Jovi
Do I really need to explain this one? Clearly you can go home — even if it means a seven-hour drive prolonged by Route 55 being shut down to one lane and the only entertainment being a series of school buses labeled “Latino Express” and the Pittsfield community radio station announcing that one of its resident families was hitting the Bahamas for an anniversary. I may not have “been all around this world” since leaving, but it sure felt wonderful getting tackled by Kathryn Jankowski into the Phi Mu sand volleyball court upon our meeting.
2. “The Love Club” by Lorde
Friday night was house decs, as I’ve said, and a reunion with Dani after her Brussels adventures. We also met up with a group I have now dubbed “The Love Club,” after Lorde’s song of the same title. Hannah roomed across the hall from me in Twain, and through her and her later roommate Christina, I met Dan, Zach, Ryan and (this weekend) Ryan’s girlfriend Maggie. The lyrics describe the experience of being “part of the Love Club, everything will glow for you….there’s something about hanging out with the wicked kids.” These “wicked kids” are actually some of the craziest, most loving people I have ever met, and I was fortunate to find them albeit toward the end of my college career.
3. “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners
To be fair, “Come On Eileen” is the theme to every time I’m in Columbia, based solely on its sing-along popularity at Piano Bar and danceable quality at Roxy’s. But this weekend it came at the especially perfect time, right when enough Angry Orchard had kicked in and the crowd needed an uplifting song after Mary and the Giant had finished covering Radiohead’s “Creep.”
4. “Fancy” by Drake
For a while there, Danielle’s favorite comeback was, “You fancy, huh?” (I can only assume partly because of this song). Saturday morning dawned, and Dani and I got ready to hit the tailgate trail by pulling on every possible black-and-gold accessory over our already black-and-gold attire. Scarf? Check. Eyeliner? Check. Sunglasses? Check. We fancy, yeah.
“Fancy” is another way to describe the Twain tailgate, too. The Davison and Jankowski families always put together a great spread for gameday, and I am always so appreciative of how much they get in spirit. Also, in accordance with tradition since 2009, we had a cake for fellow Twainer Andrew’s birthday.
5. “Barlights” by Fun.
Some of the most memorable parts of the weekend came in the small moments. As we walked from Ryan’s apartment to the District on Saturday afternoon, I had Fun.’s “Barlights” stuck in my head. There was something so perfect about that walk down University Avenue. Ryan, Dan and Zach were passing a plastic football they had gotten at the parade between them, risking life and limb to keep it in their possession. Hannah, Christina and I walked in the center of the flight pattern, dodging once in a while and watching as bad passes sent each one of them careening into parked cars or running into the middle of the street. The weather was warm with a good breeze; our laughter as crisp as the autumn leaves beneath our feet. And all the while, I sang in my head: “I don’t need to be reminded that this is how it was,” like Nate Ruess himself was telling me to remember this moment forever because like those “barlights blinking in time,” all the details of that moment contributed to how much I felt alive.*
*If that sounds overly poetic, I apologize. I am a writer, after all.
In Up, Russell makes the astute observation that “That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” Walking to a bar might sound jejune compared to the emotions running during the game, but to me it was one of the most special parts of the weekend. Coming home doesn’t have to be filled with constant excitement. In fact, the normal monotony is what makes it feel like you never left.
6. “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M
Unwilling and unable to shell out $80 for a ticket to Faurot Field, I watched the game at Big XII (not Campus Bar and Grill, as Buzzfeed’s Dan Oshinsky thankfully recognized in his article) with Dan, Hannah and Maggie. A heartbreaking loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks — hark, oh dirty puns! — resulted in this moment afterward when game-goers and bar-sitters alike reconvened to cry together and listen to Zach play R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts” on his phone.
It wouldn’t hurt for long, however, when Dan and I hit Roxy’s for one last hurrah (despite the music being strange and the dancefloor a little more somber after the Tiger’s depressing loss). The next morning brought brunch with Keenan and Amanda (le mie amiche dei corsi d’italiano — my friends from Italian classes) at the Heidelberg and a meetup at Flatbranch with the Twainers before Katie and I had to leave for our real homes in Chicago.
7. “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
This one closes the list for a few reasons. The first is that when Katie, her roommate Hannah and I were driving back to Chicago, we hit the same one-lane snag on 55 as we did going down. Like clockwork, Hannah hit the brake and the radio started playing this — naturally, Katie and I started dying with both frustration and recognition of the irony.
But the idea of being “stuck in the middle” applies to more than just bumper-to-bumper traffic, specifically that no longer am I stuck in the middle with any of these people. Katie and I weren’t involved in the same things beyond living together for nine months and attending J-School classes in the beginning of our college careers. But something that Mizzou gave us — gave me and all my friends, really — was the foundation for resilient-as-the-columns friendships. That’s what homecoming was all about this year. It wasn’t a return to the campus itself, but a visitation to the foundation of the friendships I made during and have kept since my time at MU.
So I’ll say this to all those about to leave college in December or May: homecoming might not seem like a big deal now, but wait until you’re five months after graduating and living a state away. Wait until you realize that the only time you can really call your old college town “home” is for one weekend in October, where you dig all your spirit wear out of the basement, find an air mattress or couch to crash on and hear your voice crack a few times while belting out the school song. Wait until homecoming is officially the time to return to the place that taught you things you never imagined you didn’t know and to the people who taught you how to laugh at yourself and be a stronger person.
Wait until you realize that you not only can, but also want, to go home again.