Building Memories

For faculty kids, the brick and mortar of a college campus becomes an unlikely playground.

illustration of children pushing children in office chairs down hallway

Burrowes Building in the late 1970s and early ’80s was an amusement park for a child’s imagination. For adults, it might have raised architectural questions about inelegant additions and split-level floors. But from the eyes of 8- and 10-year-olds, Burrowes was ripe with possibilities.

My father was on the faculty in the French department, which was housed in Burrowes. My sister, Abigail ’93 H&HD, her best friend, Callie, and I would accompany him there on many Saturday afternoons so he could do his work and we could entertain ourselves. This was a time of hands-off parenting, when children were encouraged to “go play.” So, while he sat at his desk, poring over homework and lessons, we had free rein of the building. Usually, we’d start in the room with the vending machines. We scrounged for forgotten dimes, nickels, and­—best of all—quarters in the change returns of the candy and soda machines and payphone. When that failed, it was time to get on the floor under the machines. These efforts usually paid off, yielding enough for a 25-cent Milky Way or bag of M&Ms, which we would sort and divvy out.

When the change had been spent, other opportunities awaited. These included studying the people in the captivating painted scenes on the walls of the building entryway. Later, I found out this was “Day of the Harvest (Harvest Song)” by John Thomas Biggers ’48, ’48 MEd, ’54 DEd Edu, a mural he painted as an undergraduate to show the importance of learning. From there, it was upward. One of the building’s elevators was old-fashioned, with a metal door that had to be pushed and pulled to open or close, giving it an air of intrigue.

My father’s office was on the south side of the fourth floor in a building addition from the 1960s. His office adjoined a space that was a combination of graduate student room and supply closet. Like the scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High when students breathe in the scent of the handouts, we could inhale the mimeograph fumes after running off copies of material for our secret club, the Cool Cat Company.

The room had a radio that received programs in other languages. It seemed like something out of a spy movie, making crackling noises as we turned the dial from one station to the next, hearing but not understanding what was being said. From there, we could lie down on the couch in the women’s room or push each other up and down the hallway in the office chairs.

A major renovation to Burrowes was completed in 2016. While those murals still adorn the walls, I doubt the mimeograph machine is there, and the quirky elevator probably already had been replaced. But I still look at the building fondly and like to think of it as one of the places I learned the importance of being resourceful, open-minded and curious, useful qualities to have in life.

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU.