The Oberlin Stories Project

On Oberlin family history

Julia Maier ’12

“If I stare carefully at the ceiling of the turret and employ my imagination, I can see the mural mosaic that was painted while my father lived in the room.”

Two women seated in a room with several windows

At Oberlin, I have found happiness in a combination of history and home. My family’s history is convoluted and takes place across many continents; my grandfathers grew up in Germany and China so that today there isn’t a home or family to return to. However, Oberlin is one location where many generations of my family have lived and flourished, a place where my family has roots and history.

My grandfather came to Oberlin in 1946. My father and his two brothers attended Oberlin in the 1970s. My aunt and second cousin also went to Oberlin. When I was young, I was not completely aware that Oberlin was a school and I thought of it instead as a place where many people in my family spent time and learned to cook huge pots of rice and live in tiny rooms.

I announced at a very young age (after reading and rereading Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine) that I would be attending college in Maine, not Ohio. As a southern California native, Maine seemed incredibly exotic to me. I imagined my older, collegiate self surrounded by snowy peaks and baby sea animals. I wanted to dig for clams and ride in motorboats. Twelve years later, however, during the fall of my senior year of high school, I found myself walking onto the nighttime Oberlin campus with my parents. We entered the bright first floor of Mudd and I watched two girls run towards each other, embrace, and almost fall to the ground giggling. I could tell how much these two students adored each other. I knew that I wanted a college where students formed intensely loving friendships.

I wandered into Azariah’s Cafe and saw students drawing huge pictures of fall leaves with colored pencils and labeling them in Spanish. I walked past Tank with my parents and I wondered who lived in the turret room and wondered if maybe someday I could live there. I knew almost immediately that Oberlin was my college. Upon closer inspection of a United States map, I learned, to my surprise, that Oberlin is not located in the very middle of the country and that the campus is not in the middle of a cornfield.

In the fall of 2008, as a first-year, I moved into Keep Co-op. That year, I may have slept on the same mattress as my Aunt Liz when she lived in Keep thirty years ago. This year, I am living in Tank Co-op’s magical third floor turret room, which is the room my father lived in when he was a member of Tank in 1971! On the walls of my room I put up photographs taken by my father of himself and his friends, some of the faces I have grown up knowing because they are still close. These young bearded men look much the same as co-opers today! I can tell from the photos that the physical structure of the room has changed a little bit, but its beauty remains. If I stare carefully at the ceiling of the turret and employ my imagination, I can see the mural mosaic that was painted while my father lived in the room. The lock, which my father claims he used to pick with a paper clip, is still finicky and locks in the opposite direction of every other lock in the world.

On move-in day in August, I strung Christmas lights around the walls so that the whole turret would glow at night. There is no sight lovelier, especially after a long night of studying, than crossing Pleasant Street and seeing the turret beckoning me home. My roommate Hannah and I joke about being princesses in our tall tower and growing our hair really long.

Sitting in the turret is like going to a movie that stars Oberlin and its residents. I know when most of our neighbors arrive home and which mode of transportation they prefer (most like bikes). We revel in the beauty of our room: hosting tea parties, movie nights, sticking our heads out the windows calling to our friends entering and exiting the building. We throw spontaneous dance parties, spend long mornings lounging on pillows, write epically long research papers, and once organized a huge surprise birthday party for our friend that included fifty balloons and a performance by the all-male a capella group, the Obertones.

Sometimes I lie on my back, stare out the eight windows, and wonder if anyone in my family ever lay down in this exact spot and watched the Ohio sky.