I always used to love the summer. Not just the lack of school, or the late sunsets, or the neighborhood pool finally being open; these things were great, sure, but it was also the feeling that my hometown had when the dorms weren’t quite so full of students. For those precious few months, in the eyes of a young boy, Chapel Hill belonged only to my friends and me.
Counter space at Sutton’s was much more available, making it that much easier to stop in and grab an orangeade to beat the heat. We could walk around Chapel Hill Sportswear and browse at our leisure, something we couldn’t do as readily when school was in. The Rathskeller was much quieter without undergrads, and on some evenings it would be dead enough that we could request a table in my favorite part of the restaurant (the cave, for anyone wondering). Even the absence of sports didn’t make me blink; I was too busy playing games of my own to register that there wasn’t a game on the TV.
If you never had the good fortune to get to spend a summer in Chapel Hill, I’m sorry to say that you missed out. The trees on the quad provide more than enough shade to sit and relax when the air grows still on a summer afternoon, weighted down by the heat it’s carrying. The old buildings around campus loom in the summer haze, cool and dark and beautiful. It’s a wonderful place for an imaginative young boy to pass the summer months, and as I’ve grown older I’ve found myself often returning to these trees and this space to remind myself of just how magical it was—and still is.
It’s a unique kind of quiet, one that can really only be found in a place accustomed to lots of noise. When even the summer breeze has to take a break on account of the heat, a hush falls over the campus that can only be experienced for a few short weeks of long, hot days. This feeling is special, I’m convinced; a deep breath of the earth and every creature living on it, when it’s too hot to do anything but stop and take stock.
Chapel Hill always felt uniquely mine in the summertime, a feeling that didn’t seem to carry over as much when I was sharing with thousands of out-of-town folks. If you were a student here, though, for however many years and however long ago, I’d wager that this place felt like it was yours then, too. If you’ve spent past weekends singing Hark the Sound with tens of thousands of your closest friends from the bleachers of Kenan Stadium, well, Chapel Hill likely felt like it was yours for those fall Saturdays, as well. Even if you only had the chance to stop by for a weekend here and there, maybe visiting friends or simply limited by physical distance, I hope that you got to grab a little bit of that feeling too.
If you have any kind of connection to this University, or this town, I’d be willing to bet that at some point you’ve felt like it was yours, just like I did every summer. The best part? We would all be right.