By Kim Bristol Adams (Engl’91)
It started with a phone call from an old friend. Not even an old Forever Buff friend. An old work friend who had moved to Oregon a decade ago, but we still keep in touch. “My son,” he said (who, gulp, was not even born when we first met) “is looking at colleges and I was wondering if you’d show us around CU.”
Of course I was happy to. I didn’t give it a second thought until the day before they were to arrive. By then I started to stew a bit about what campus information I could possibly convey well to an insightful tour. We started on Pearl Street (at what used to be Tom’s Tavern, which closed in early 2009 and is now SALT the bistro – no greasy burgers anymore), drove by my various old apartments (if walls could talk), and parked on the Hill (Espresso Roma is still there!) before walking down to campus.
It was early August and the campus was quiet — resting and anticipating the imminent arrival of the students the following week.
They had brought along another dad and son who also wanted a tour. Both young men were likely to be Forever Buffs in a short 12 months. While they lagged behind, football, fitness center and food in the dorms being their guy talk, I lost myself in a sense of place so overwhelming I could almost see and hear the CU of my time.
I was day dreaming about friends and classmates of the late ‘80s. Big haired girls, faux-hippie haired boys. L.L. Bean backpacks and Blucher shoes. High school prep meets Boulder bohemian. Kids set loose for the first time to test the waters of life away from family and home.
As we meandered around the campus, so different yet so much the same, I tried to put into words this feeling, this sense of place, for these young men – so full of bluster and promise. I couldn’t. It all came out sounding like anything anybody would say fondly about their college town.
In Boulder, so many of those moments were packed into such a short span of time. Maybe it’s meant to work that way. You cram them in while you’re still young enough to keep them pure and untainted.
Freshman year, I lived in Farrand Hall. I don’t remember many of the days but the moments, they are with me permanently. Those lived not just on the campus, but in the Boulder outdoors. Farrand Field, Chautauqua , the Flatirons and Flagstaff Mountain.
My first and last ride on the back of a motorcycle, racing up Flagstaff. Freezing cold and exhilarated.
The north tower room in Farrand was where we had many freshman-style parties. Several of us piled on an old couch. The huge French doors flung open to the bright, crystalline air. The Flatirons as our whole view and our whole world. We spent afternoons on that couch, talking, the group Boston blaring from huge speakers around us.
I remember also the early spring day we burst from our overheated dorm for Frisbee and frolic on Farrand Field (see photo just below). The ground cold and soggy. The sun just a whisper of what it would become when spring arrived for real. White winter skin, finally free of the snow though, ready for a change of seasons.
I believe there are times we recognize that a life-changing moment is taking place. The world shifts and you sit up and take notice. But most of the time, I think, we don’t know it. How could we? When the soul-shifting is happening we are in it, not wondering if we’ll think about it again in the near, or far flung, future. These impressions – permanent chunks of our being – can take time, maybe a lifetime, to realize.
Since graduating from CU in 1991, I have proudly — if cautiously — made my way in the world armed with my English degree. I knew a specialty in creative writing wouldn’t get me far in the work world so, with no real plan, my senior year I applied and was accepted for an internship at Fiction Collective Two , a small, author-run publishing house with an office at CU. There I learned about editor’s red marks and printer bluelines. I ran errands. I read disturbing manuscripts from the slush pile. And later, I became one of four editors of the creative writing undergraduate magazine Walkabout.
With this barely sufficient resume, I set out and landed my first job as a marketing assistant. My dad breathed a huge sigh of relief. He never thought I’d find a decent job.
My work and life journey, so far, has included moves to interesting places – but always I have come back to Colorado. I was born in Germany, and my parents journeyed to Colorado for the first time when I was just 1 year old – and my dad freshly wounded in the Vietnam War. They had to choose a town that had a certain level of military hospital after his intense recuperation at Walter Reed. In 1969, Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora, just east of Denver, was one of the best in the country for his kinds of injuries. And so our love affair with Colorado began.
While still in college, my family moved to France—a job-related move for my folks that my brother and I thought we’d capitalize upon by going along—then we returned to Colorado. After I graduated from CU, I moved to the East Coast, back to Colorado, my company’s Sydney, Australia, office and, eventually, back to Colorado.
RFC Corporate Finance is an investment banking firm headquartered in Sydney and was the foundation of my Australian journey and where I met my husband. I quickly learned that this amazing country is far more than Vegemite, crocodiles and kangaroos.
The first time I flew into Sydney, in the early dawn, the pink sunlight sun was shining on The Heads – two massive cliffs that protect the entrance to Sydney Harbor. I had that fleeting sense of a memory etching itself. As I looked out the airplane window, I knew that soul-shifting was taking place. Right that minute. I was right. My life’s course abruptly changed direction.
When I returned to Colorado, Aussie husband in tow, I had to find a job. The thought of starting from scratch was a little daunting. Armed with my English degree, I found one!
For its first two decades, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was still “that little lab in the hills.” We were the smallest of the national laboratory complex. You know the big ones: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore. Twelve years later I am still here. While corporate communications is not really what I dreamed of on those clear, mountain days in Boulder, I have realized it’s the best job in the world for me. To tell the story of an organization that’s changing the world in terms of renewable and efficient energy is not just a job. It’s my calling.
At the end of our tour with the future, frisky Buffs – like big, playful puppies they loped around campus – my friend promised me a CU t-shirt. I felt like one of the soon-to-be students, full of promise and ready to reap the generosity of a visiting parent. We perused the now high-end offerings at the CU Bookstore in the UMC.
At the checkout, a lovely undergrad rang up our purchases. My friend called me over to show me the cashier’s name tag. She, too, was an English major! I thought she’d be happy to hear that I parlayed my major into a satisfying career. And had proved my dad wrong. English majors could end up in great careers (and not just as a prelude to law school).
The undergrad looked at me kind of funny and said, kindly, “I plan to do something creative with my degree.” It was a knife to my heart. Me? A corporate sellout?
A little abashed, and a lot tired from the long day walking in the hot sun, we gathered our t-shirts and other gear, and headed back to The Hill. We strolled past Hellems, and again those ghost students of 1986 were around me, chattering and laughing.
As they say: you don’t remember days, you remember moments.
The moments. Permanent.
I don’t hold it against her, the young English-major cashier, the knife to my corporate-communications-but-still-creative-writer’s heart. I’m not sure she realized that her work toward her English degree was only a small part of what was imprinting on her young, glowing soul.
Or, maybe she knew it all too well.
Kimberly Bristol Adams (Engl’91) lives in Lakewood, Colo., with her husband, 8-year-old twins, two chocolate labs and a variety of cats. She is the managing editor of Continuum Magazine and has done corporate communications at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., for the past 12 years. See her guest blog about her work at NREL and a bit about the nature of the scientific search.