I was in Tarkio recently for another “work weekend” as some of us from the Tarkio College Alumni Association continue to restore Rankin Hall. The main floor is looking pretty good—better than it did in the early ’70s, I think. We haven’t really done much with the basement or the upper floor yet. Lots to do, very little funding to do it, so it’s “baby steps” and lots of sweat.
One of the rooms in the basement was originally the library, then the cafeteria, and, when I was there from 1968-1972, it was an art studio. Big room—about the size of those old, small town basketball courts—with a nice marble floor. The carpenters in the group have been using it for a workshop. Underneath the piles of sawdust was at least ten years of dust, including nails and screws and plaster, lots of dead crickets and other insects, and a desiccated mouse carcass or two.
My assignment for the day was to clean it up a bit. I spent a good three hours or more sorting through scrap, stacking what might be useful, taking the discards to the dumpster, and sweeping. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that kind of work, but I’ve written before that I “cut my teeth” on janitorial work with my grandfather when I was only five or six. A broom handle fits my hands just fine even though I’d rather not….
Upstairs there were people painting, staining, sorting, wiring, adjusting windows, and a myriad of other odd jobs. We’ve been at this for about two years now, I think, and we’re far from finished. Still two floors to go!
I got to thinking while I was moving dirt around that I spent some of my four years at TC doing the very job I was doing then. Forty-plus years after graduation and I’m right back where I was before. The first time I was doing it to help pay my way through to earn my degree. Now I do it because I did earn that degree (and two more), met some of my best and oldest friends as well as my wife, had a successful career, and basically feel like I owe it to the place.
The older we get, of course, the better the memories are. My alma mater is special to me. The others who keep showing up to put a new face on the old building, and the school, feel the same way. It’s worth it to us to do the work, dream the dream, build something new. It’s good to have those connections. I’m lucky in that I feel this way about several things in my life.
I told my friend Wayne that afternoon, “We should tell people that Tarkio College is so special that you have to have a PhD in order to sweep the floors.” I know I feel that way. Of course, I was told a long time ago that PhD stands for “piled higher and deeper.” The dirt in that basement room certainly was.