A Box of Memories

In this, the 57th year since Thomas V. DiBacco ’59 graduated from Rollins, he’s in the midst of making some big decisions.

(Illustration by Victor Davila) (Illustration by Victor Davila)

First, after the passing of my wife, Mallie Z. Rowe ’62, I decided to sell our house in Palm Beach, Florida. I gave all the house furnishings and Mallie’s clothing to charities, handed over my professional library of more than 5,000 books to a local university, and donated three boxes of the history text I co-authored to a Catholic school our children attended. I even gave away my two Honda vehicles.

Perhaps the biggest decision I made was to return to northern Virginia where I began my career as a professor in 1965 at American University in Washington, D.C. I have a small, one-bedroom apartment overlooking woods, and about the only possessions I now hold are a 13-year-old Maltese and a few boxes of memorabilia, mostly from my 55-year marriage to Mallie.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve gone through most of the photos of our children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends who have punctuated our lives. But I saved the box that covers the Rollins years for last.

For me, it was a four-year chronology. For Mallie, it was only one because she was a freshman, who quite thankfully for me, chose marriage over a full-college experience. After the children were out of the house, Mallie went on to earn a BA, MA, and PhD.

My first impression from the box’s contents is that the two of us were always celebrating something. Our first meeting in the Beanery one early morning. Getting to really know each other on the stage of the Annie Russell Theatre. Our first date. Singing together in the chapel choir. Mallie accepting my fraternity pin and then celebrating that significant moment sometimes weekly, depending, of course, on my meager finances that only occasionally could pay for flowers and dinner. And I had completely forgotten that we had different names at Rollins. She was M.Z. I was Tommy.

We were exact opposites. She dressed in exquisite clothing; mine was a sort of contemporary austere. She remembered so much about her friends and roommate and the good times they shared. She somehow could name every student in her classes. As a history student, I concentrated on remembering dates and battle statistics. She was a hymn-singing Baptist certain she was saved and would enter the Pearly Gates. I was a mea culpa Catholic certain that, at a minimum, I would spend some hard time in purgatory. She wrote me love notes. I bought cards instead. Once she even sent me a telegram expressing her love when I was in Ohio visiting my sister.

A voice major, she received great reviews in the local press for her lead role in the one-act Puccini opera, Sister Angelica. On the same billing in another one-act play, George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion, my role as Caesar elicited simply a listing, not an appraisal.

Even after we left Rollins and married, we hoped to recreate that special Rollins environment for our children. Our daughter went to Rollins, but for only a year. After living in the Washington metropolitan area for years, Debbie loved the anonymity of college learning, thriving in big classes where few had the courage to stand up and be heard.

No college or university would have a Fiesta celebration or a Fox Day or a president who knew student names and mingle as a chef or waiter. No other college would send out grade reports that were personal and big as Hudson napkins, with each professor filling out a detailed evaluation sheet in addition to a final grade. Few would have classes around an oval table that could seat only a dozen students. And how many would have a Shakespeareana festival each year in which two lovers could sit, hold hands, and revel in the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet?

I’ve made one other decision. I’m not going to give away this box of Rollins memories.

Thomas V. DiBacco, recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1983, is professor emeritus at American University and author of four books and numerous articles in newspapers and magazines. Editor’s note: DiBacco originally sent this essay to Rollins magazine in July 2015.