By Charlotte Ley
It is a simple concept, bring together past residents of the International House and have them meet and talk with current residents for a communal meal. Invite one of the more prominent members of our community and ask them to speak. Nothing more, really, than a dinner party. The results of this elementary enterprise are, however, absolutely fantastic.
Suddenly, the House became alive with different generations of residents. In the Hall of History, former residents, now guests to the House, met current residents, the new hosts of the building. Listening to the conversations, it was easy to believe that the building was a living breathing beingsomething that grew and changed with each new year's influx of residents. At the reception, former residents, some who lived here in the 1940's, pointed out the changes in the rooms and commented on the places where significant events occurred.
They told how the intricate ceilings of the Great Hall and the Auditorium had been covered with ceiling panels when they had lived here. It was not until the 1960's that the dingy squares were removed and the beautiful carvings restored. They wondered at the changes in styles, how one generation's gem could be anothers shame, and confided that it was their contributions with donations in the sixties that had righted that wrong. It was clear that although they had ceased to reside in the building and no longer knew the people who lived in the rooms above, the residents of '38 felt connected to them.
As the stories unfolded, one heard again and again that the building had been the setting and backdrop for some of the most important events in their lives. One fellow in his seventies, his eyes twinkling, confided to me the story of how he fell in love with his wife. He watched her as he told the story. She flitted from group to group, adding details to stories, and capturing friends on film. He said that they had met and become friends here, but that it was only when he had moved out that he had fallen for her. He came over to the House one evening to pick up his date, and he saw his old friend. "She was coming down the staircase from the women's side of the building, they had us separated on different floors then, you know, and she was wearing this suit, a nice fitted suit that they wore in those days, with a hat and gloves, and I stood there and watched her come towards me, and I just knew."
During the evening new residents both absorbed history lessons and contributed stories of their own. When asked what I was planning on doing with my life, I replied frankly, and said that I no longer knew. At that point I had begun to question whether or not I still wanted to become a lawyer, my long-held goal, or if I should pursue my studies in history, or maybe something entirely different. My guest for the evening, Bonnie McPherson Killip (IH 1949), responded by telling stories of her experiences as a teacher in Spain, France, and the Netherlands, explaining as she went along that the most important decisions in life needed to be based on ones feelings. "Do what you need to feel invigorated and alive. As long as you are not bored and are interested in what is happening around you, you will be happy." She assured me that the hesitation and indecision I felt facing this crossroads would soon dissipate, and also offered to tell me about her husband's experiences as a lawyer.
When the evening closed, a feeling of closeness pervaded. There was a connection between former strangers. There seemed to be a thread which joined us, one based on common experience and perspectives. The dinner party had created an intertwining network of new and old friends. It brought us together and made us a community.
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