Sophomore Soar

What a difference a year makes

Last year’s initial college drop off for our elder daughter was tough

Not because of our elder flying the nest. I’ve never read Grown & Flown. Not planning on starting

It was tough because of Covid

Stupid Rona

Hate her

Last year, it was a drop off at the private dorms where I lived 31 years ago

Last year, it was masks and foreboding

Drop off 2020 – not that great

Last year, it was “Where You Heading Carolina?”which was a shaming social media account busting students gathering in groups of more than four and heading out to act like, well, people their own age

Last year, it was uncertainty and dark clouds hovering

Last year, it was graduate from high school and then three days later head to Chapel Hill

Well, this year, it was literally rainbows, unicorns, smiles from ear to ear, joy, joy, and more joy

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel


May be that is the benefit of being a sophomore and knowing a good group of people and having a sorority house in which to live in which friends of mine and my daughter’s have also lived. More on that later

May be it was that despite Delta variants and Covid protocols and unprecedented times and admonitions to “stay safe”, life does and will go on and on and on

Thanks be to God

This year’s drop off had a wonderful sense of opportunity and joy

The two weeks before, we began packing, assembling, putting together, organizing, check listing

The week before, we began to amass goods and furniture and items in the dining room

Three days before we had a family farewell supper at a restaurant

Two days before, we had a going away supper with dear pals

The day before, we loaded my car and our elder’s car with everything but hanging clothes and our spend the night clothes

The day of, we were out of our driveway and on the interstate by 8:30 a.m.

We had to be in Chapel Hill in time for a Zoom call at 3:00 p.m. for rush training

It’s a big deal

Trust me

We love Chapel Hill

We don’t love the ride

It’s really dull

I95 to I40

The only good thing about it is that we may stop for food at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q


There are two that we love

One in Lumberton – Exit 22 on I95 in North Carolina

One in Clayton/Fuquay-Varina – Exit 312 on I40 in North Carolina

Well, it was early, but we stopped at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

There weren’t many people there

Even though the county seat of Robeson County is only 22 miles from South Carolina, it’s another world

I love their Eastern NC bbq, the fried chicken, the hush puppies, the slaw, the potato salad, the skinny french fries

But, what I really love is the people watching

“Y’all drive careful gettin’ home. We’s fixin’ to have a pour down”

That was the advice from one of the ladies who worked at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

A pour down

I’ve never heard that term, but it’s mine now

This was also the same lady who said, “Lemme put this tray down right chere, and I’ll hep you with that in a sec”

I love North Carolina

After that repast, we rolled straight on into Chapel Hill

First stop, the Carolina Inn

Early check in requested and granted

We adore that place

Our daughters beat us there by a few minutes. I watched with pride as the elder spoke to the parking attendant, took her parking ticket, and drove over to the self parking lot

Such pride

We took all of our things to check in and Dylan welcomed us. I know him as Dyls at this point

Old pals

“Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. O’Kelley. See y’all will be here in September and November, too”

Our elder child texted her friends “They know my parents at the Inn. So on brand”

She was full of joy to be in town

We threw our things in our room and headed to Student Stores on campus to pick up some loot for a neighbor who is also a Tar Heel. He has to indoctrinate his children

Much to our chagrin, masks are still required in all UNC owned buildings, so it was masks for all of us


Then a little walk through campus on the way to Franklin Street

The Old Well, South Building, Tourists

Back to the Inn for our elder who had to jump on her Zoom

We wandered around Franklin Street seeking two items of UNC clothing, both of which we found

It was great to see people on the street

So different from last year

Then, back to the Inn for my wife and younger daughter

I stopped in at the Ackland Museum of Art, which is free and open to the public. Mask required. They have been closed for months and months for renovations and rona. It’s UNC’s art museum. Mr. Ackland wanted his fellow Tar Heels to have access to fine art. He did a great job even if the museum is greatly reduced due to staffing concerns during these, wait for it, unprecedented times

I did get to see Cleopatra and The Peasant by Delacroix. I wrote a paper about that painting for an art history class

Then, I met everyone back at the Inn

We heard Dyls telling another couple at the front desk that there were going to be two weddings that night

I told them they could crash both

I also advised that D.J. Joe Bunn would be working one of them

And, come on, free drinks!

My younger daughter was mortified

I have never crashed a wedding

At this point, we were flagging a bit. It was down to the Crossroads Restaurant for a drink and some snacks

And, it being Chapel Hill, for unplanned mini-reunions

I looked at this lady there

She looked at me

Finally, I said who I was

She replied, “Oh my Lord. Hamlin, it’s [So and So]. You know I’m [So and So]’s pal”

I have not seen her or her husband since 1994

She was dropping off her sophomore son

And, I met a dad who was there dropping off his daughter at the same place we would be

Lovely people

Always great to see a Tar Heel or three

We visited and hung out and laughed and talked about people we knew and who was where and what they were doing these days

As we sat on the patio near the front porch and visited with our pals, we noticed two girls on a Zoom not far from us

A few minutes later, our elder sent a text, “Y’all are on the Zoom background of [So and So’s] screen”

It was the daughter of the dad we had just met

“Y’all need to come back here tonight. We’re going to shut it DOWN”

That was going to be a no for me, but I love the idea

Anyway, after our refreshment, we had to go to Target, because one is never fully prepped for drop off

Then, it was finally time that we could go back to the room

We fixed an adult beverage and went to the private courtyard and garden while our children beautified themselves

No one is ever there in the courtyard

View from my private courtyard

Well, usually no one is there. The bride and groom and the wedding photographer of one of the weddings I planned on crashing all showed up. When we offered our congratulations, the groom seemed a bit grumpy

“Guess he forgot about the wedding night,” I said to my bride

“Shhhhh”, she said to me as we walked inside

We went back to the room to collect our people to go back to supper at 6:30

Early birds


Big day ahead

My younger child and I were leading the pack and crossing the lobby when a lady walking across our path stopped, turn, and said, “Hamlin? It’s [So and So]. I’m going to a wedding. Cocktails in the tent then supper in the ballroom.” I introduced her to our younger daughter

“What are y’all doing in town?”

“Moving [Elder Daughter] into the [Same Sorority She Was In] House in the morning.”

In response, the Wedding Guest did her arms in the Greek letters along with a signature move

“She’s going to have the best time. I loved living there. Ok – off to the wedding. Actually, they got married last year at Bald Head. This is just a celebration. I’ve not been out in months”

It was off to supper where another table of girls in another sorority and their parents were sitting

And we had a lovely meal

We all went back to the room instead of shutting down the bar

Everyone was asleep by 10 p.m. after watching the gripping “Thirteen Going on Thirty” starting one Jennifer Garner. I highly recommend it

The next day dawned early

I was up and at it

Took things to the car

Drank coffee fast

Straight to breakfast

Where we saw more girls who would be moving in shortly

And my new best friend fellow sorority dad

“What time did you go to bed?”

“Oh, we shut down the bar at 12:30”

“Just like [So and So] said she would”

“Oh yeh…see y’all in a few”

As soon as breakfast was wolfed down we hopped in our cars and drove to the Greek lettered building on East Franklin Street

And, then, it began

The sweat filled move in of 2021 at the [Greek Letter] [Greek Letter] House

Our poor daughter had never been in despite being a Sister/Brother for almost a year

We sweated, we lifted, we groaned, we moved, we coordinated

We spoke to everyone

Everyone spoke to us

By 10:30 we were finished

A few minutes later, one of the roommates announced she and her mama were pulling into the parking lot

I saw new best friend dad several times

We also saw other parents we knew and met some others

Old home week style

Ensconsed behind those two windows on the 2nd Floor – great view of Franklin St

Our younger daughter and I were the real man power, real woman power, real girl power

Elder daughter and Mama were decorators, bed makers, arrangers

Clammy with sweat we were

The house mother could not have been more lovely. She was ready to greet the girls with smiles and warmth and ready, willing, and able to help

And to take my check for the semester’s room and board

We walked back to Student Stores for an exchange and liquids

Then back through campus

“How about a picture by the Old Well?”

’24, ’94

So, iconic images captured

Of the Old Well, not the old alumnus and current student I mean

We went back to the house for one last check in with roomies before lunch

Trying to find the one restroom allowing men, I got turned around, again, and, got lost in the constant upstairs, downstairs. Through my sweat dried eyes, I turned and came face to face with a shot of Ginny Meeks, one of my oldest friends who lived in the same sorority house some thirty three years ago.

She died in 2017

She and I had a moment of prayer, then I may or may not have kissed the composite photo. I asked that she look out for our daughter and not let her doing anything she wouldn’t have done

And, yes, I kissed the glass

We went out to lunch at a local spot our daughter loves

We were all beyond hot and in need of more liquids

Back to the house to check that half of the occupants of the room were fully unpacked

Then, it was time to go

No tears at all

Just joyful hugs

“See you in a month”

“Parents’ weekend is going to be so much fun”

“We will mail you that stuff tomorrow”

“One last selfie”

“Let me take a picture of y’all”

All Smiles 2021

So much different this year

So much happier

So much joy


It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel

The next day, I awoke to a text advising us that our elder daughter had a wonderful night, went out with a fun group, and hung out with a certain group of boys who live in a similarly Greek lettered establishment not too far away

Ginny was on the job already

6 thoughts on “Sophomore Soar

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