Living on Mr. Jefferson’s lawn

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Last winter The Wife took me on a walking tour of her alma mater, the University of Virginia. After an hour tour of the grounds, we wondered to the center of the university.

It was a great expanse of grass that is reverently referred to as “The Lawn.” Standing on the lawn between a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the right side and George Washington on the left, she paused to reflect about her time spent at the school Mr. Jefferson built.

To be sure, I don’t remember her ever being so happy. She explained the significance of the long buildings of cabins that flanked the two men’s statues and the man who designed and built the university.

Mr. Jefferson was not only the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, but at age 76, when most of us would be sitting back in rocking chairs enjoying life, he spent all of his fortune to found the University of Virginia.

When I heard this, I asked two questions. “I didn’t know the university was lost,” and, “Why do you keep calling him Mr. Jefferson?”

Both comments received a teacher look from The Wife. Then she answered, “One speaks of Mr. Jefferson as if he is in the other room.”

I didn’t dare ask her why one must speak of Mr. Jefferson that way, but decided instead to ask what I thought was another logical question. “Why is it such a great honor to live on ‘The Lawn’?” I was mistaken.

It seems Mr. Jefferson was also a wiz when it came to building things, but he hated waste. For example, he built a serpentine wall that snakes its way behind a row of building just off the lawn. The wall is only one brick thick, truly a marvel of master masonry. Any more bricks than one thick would be a waste. The wall still stands today.

He also built the single-story dorms with only one room. More would be a waste. Yes, that means no bathrooms. Only the brightest of seniors are chosen by secret ballots to live in the dorms. Just how, I don’t know. The Wife wouldn’t say. It’s a secret.

What’s not a secret is that it is still considered a true honor to live in the small single-room dorms that Mr. Jefferson built so long ago.

Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, I was never considered to be the brightest student at Mount Olive Elementary School. Even so, I still lived on “The Lawn” and I didn’t have to travel anywhere near Virginia. I just had to walk next-door to Neighbor Thomas’s backyard.

During the summers, my three brothers and I set up our tents. We spent almost every night catching lightning bugs in jars, flinging flaming roasted marshmallows at each other and trying not to fall asleep in our tents for fear being eaten by the nearby swamp monster.

And if you’re wondering, like the dorms Mr. Jefferson built, accommodations while living on Thomas’s lawn were also just one room with no facilities.

That’s where the jar of lightning bugs came in. It was a long dark walk to the closest bathroom.

There is a saying around our house that is quite simple, kinda like me. It goes, “If I haven’t heard about it or don’t already know about it, then it can’t possibly be true or exist.”

It’s similar logic to closing your eyes in hopes the action will abate any attack by a swamp monster in a dark tent or sticking one’s head in the sand. Monsters will still attack even if their victim has his eyes closed. And the only thing accomplished by sticking one’s head in the sand is of course the filling of one’s ears with sand.

Before our little trip, I had never heard that living on Mr. Jefferson’s lawn was so prestigious. Even though I didn’t know about it, it’s still as true today as it was the first day the University of Virginia opened.

That’s okay; The Wife never knew that living in Mr. Thomas’s backyard was so much fun. Swamp monster and all.

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