The Leaning Cow

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College for better future in VA Hospital

May 21st, 2015 ·No Comments

The buildings are long and built of red brick, with rows of windows lined up like soldiers. I’m talking about the earlier days of Veteran’s Administration hospitals. I’ve just spent 20 minutes looking for a picture postcard of one that I picked up at an antique store; I thought I’d posted it here because on the back was a note from a father to young daughter, telling her this was where he was. It touched me. Obviously, I tucked it away somewhere; so it is where a lot of personal history winds up, stuck between pages, in the back of drawers, folded inside old envelopes.

When you drive by these old buildings, and people seldom do anymore – or if the do, they are unaware of it – you general see an expanse of lawn and a big brick building from another era. But that is just a part of it. The old VA hospitals of the early 20th century were campuses of such buildings, complete with their own chapels and power plants and barracks type residence halls for employees and fancy homes for the commander and a couple of colonels. And like at almost every other government base, there were duplex houses for the lesser officers and doctors. I’ve lived in that type of housing, newer – built in the 50’s and 70’s, but still a duplex. One building with two mirrored floorplans.

These campuses have winding roads, almost lanes that cross the area the way park roads run. In most areas, they have been repaved, but there are places where the bricks remain. You have to look into your imagination for the other reminders of what was once here. On the grassy areas, you can see the ghosts of men in old-fashioned wheelchairs, nurses in longish white uniforms with caps, fellows on crutches out for a bit of fresh air, blinded men sitting with their faces to the sun.

Oh, and often, there is a large quiet stretch of crosses, row on row, just as the poem says.

I went on a short tour of one of these old places in Danville, Illinois. It is now a community college, where people can get a head start on an education or catch-up on one that they missed for various reasons. They, probably, for the most part, are not what you think of when it comes to college students – especially if you are older. My father once looked at the the people walking along the paths at IU and said, “Why, they are just babies.” Most of us back then were. Fresh-faced and younger than we knew. Sporting high school diplomas and enrolling in traditional classes of Western Civ and English Composition, having no real idea of a major.

A lot of the students at this VA complex – turned community college are there to improve their chance at getting a productive job and establishing a stable lifestyle.

My cousin is a teacher there, has been for a long time. She won awards and has a dedicated legion of former students. I kind of see her like the buildings themselves, brick upon brick to make something big.

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