I was with her for 3 years - once as a freshman, and the following 2 years I worked for her as an RA. The last year was particularly challenging for me as a student and Mama Cox isn't exactly someone I felt I could confide in or go to for help. So I carried the weight of the year - and my freshmen - alone. At the end of the year, I needed out of the freshmen dorm, and decided to apply for an RA position at the apartment dorm for Senior year. I was disappointed not to get the job. Mama Cox came and talked to me while I was working the front desk and asked how the interview had gone and if I had gotten the job. I told her no and was surprised that she cared so much. But that wasn't it at all. She sat down and told me she had "been meaning to talk to me". She had been unhappy with my performance as an RA and had given that report to the dorm mother before I ever made it to the interview. I had lost the job before I had even interviewed. I was hurt and upset and rather angry, since I had put FAR more effort into being an RA than I had the previous year. I had worked FAR harder for those girls than she would ever know. As angry as I was, I let it go. I applied at the only dorm left I could think to go - Kendall, a Sophomore/Junior dorm. I was scheduled for an interview after I finished working the desk one morning, so I was dressed up. Mama Cox walked into the lobby MINUTES before I was to leave for the interview. She told me I looked nice and asked why I was dressed up. I told her that I had an interview. Mistake. She asked where at and I gave her the honest answer. I will never forget her response. "Hm. Stephanie didn't call and tell me that." All I could think was "GOOD!" Maybe I had a fighting chance. I walk over to the dorm and meet Stephanie, who was a young, wonderfully pleasant woman. Nice change. First thing out of her mouth in the interview was, "Mama Cox called me with her concerns......." I nearly broke down in tears. There was nothing I could do. This woman set out to sabotage me and without this job, I had no hope of returning to Harding. However, being the amazing, awesome woman she is, Stephanie told me what was said and asked for my side of the story. Something that neither Mama Cox or the first lady I had interviewed before had done. I had the job before I left that interview. And as a follow-up note...Stephanie was very pleased with my work as an RA the following semester.
All that to say, I left Harding with very strong negative feelings towards Mama Cox. I am not an angry person and I don't hold grudges, but this was one thing that stuck with me for years and years. I don't know why it was the one thing I couldn't let go of. In hindsight, I think it was just all bad timing. I was in the depths of major depression (and nobody knew it - not even me). I was running in circles trying to make everything perfect and the harder I tried, the worse I failed. I just couldn't make things right. Not in my relationships, not academically, not emotionally. But I was trying so hard. I had been unravelling all year, and that was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. I suppose she ended up being my emotional dumping ground for the entire year's issues. So all of my animosity was concentrated on her. So I had to see Mama Cox. I HAD to see her again and forgive her and really just get past everything that afflicted me that last year. I couldn't have done it alone. I'm so glad I had friends with me.
We made our way across campus, contemplating why nobody knew who she was. EVERYBODY knew Mama Cox "back in the day". Leigh suggested maybe she had "mellowed out". We all laughed. We went into the boys' lobby (A change! Girls were not allowed in the boys' lobby 10 years ago). We glanced around a quick second and then headed to the front desk, to torment yet ANOTHER poor college student.
"Is Mama Cox in?"
"Yes. Would you like me to call her for you?"
"Yes please! She's not sleeping is she?"
*picks up the phone*
"Can I get your names?"
Me: "NO." (I must admit, I was feeling the urge to be terribly sassy with Mama Cox at this point, with the imminent reunion about to take place)
Kristi and Leigh: *Laughter*
Kristi: Tell her it's a "blast from her past".
Leigh: "Former RA's".
Poor confused college boy on phone: "Uh, yes. Mrs. Cox? There are some ladies out here to see you. *pause* Yes, there is a lot of giggling. *pause* No, they won't tell me their names. Former RA's, I think? *pause* Ok. Thank you."
"She'll be out in a minute."
"Did you wake her up?"
"Are you in trouble?"
"We asked all over campus, trying to find her. Nobody has heard of her! Has she mellowed out?"
At this point the college boy shakes his head And mouths "nooooooo", which made us just erupt in laughter, right before Mama Cox's apartment door opened.
And there we were. Face to face. She looked exactly the same, with a bit more gray. Good, even. She scanned our smiling faces, trying to place us.
Leigh finally burst out with "Do you remember us?"
She definitely recognized us, but couldn't remember names or years at that point. She eyed me hard and I wondered what she remembered. "Susan, right?" Nope. Maybe she didn't remember as much as I thought. I couldn't tell. We put her out of her misery and told her our names and how we were all connected. Leigh had worked for Mama Cox as well. Kristi was just one of the troublemakers in the dorm with me for 2 years! :)
She continued to try to place us and asked us what we were up to these days. We all laughed as we explained we were all Harding drop-outs who became full-time mothers.
We watched her start to relax and we went over and hugged her one by one. She invited us into her apartment, a place where students were never invited. Huge honor. It was 11pm at this point and I was hoping to not stay too long. I wasn't sure how all my feelings about the past would resurface, and I feared things that might be brought up or mentioned. I just needed to face all my failures at Harding and this was a HUGE part of that.
But we were lead to the living room to sit. I knew we would be there a while. I was tense and trying not to show it. Leigh was most excited to see Mama Cox. She relates well to her style of "parenting" and appreciated the toughness that others despised so much. Kristi was there along for the ride. Leigh led most of the conversation, which I was thankful for. Leigh poked fun that she's "lost her edge" since we couldn't find her. I mean, if students didn't know who she was, she most have lost her meanness! She assured us she was as mean and feisty as ever and recounted a recent story of making a sassy-mouthed boy repent. We listened as she told us some of the shenanigans of the boys, but she was MUCH happier working in a boys' dorm than in the girls'. We covered some of our memories of living in the dorm with Mama Cox. I watched her very carefully to see what she remembered. She told Leigh she was a big troublemaker. Leigh is a major rule-follower. If she thought Leigh was a troublemaker, what did that make me? The girl she was so unhappy with? She looked at me and said, 'And Charity....you could always tell when she was up to something because of that little laugh" What? Not entirely sure. I professed my innocence and insisted I was an angel, which made everyone laugh and roll their eyes. *smirk* Jogging Mama Cox's memory was not high on my list of things to do, but Kristi and Leigh continued to bring up event after event. And Mama Cox did remember some of them. I chimed in occasionally to be social, but never with a new memory, unless I was asked. So after laughing about all of OUR shenanigans, Mama Cox had one question. What was your favorite memory of Harding? Without a beat I said, 'Leaving'. The shock on everyone's faces and the nervous laughter told me that may not have been the best thing to say. I KNEW I couldn't make it through the night without saying something smart! I laughed and quickly followed up with "Just kidding." And I really was. I did have good memories of Harding. But the 3 of us had spent a lot of time recalling that LAST year which nearly killed us all. The proposed question had Leigh saying "Hmmm..." and rubbing her chin and Kristi stunned in silence at the same time I answered. After everything quieted down from my initial answer, I turned to the girls and said, "So? What IS your favorite memory?" And the truth is and nobody could come up with anything. We were all recalling people we had loved and conversation quickly turned to updates on everyone we had loved and where they were now. We were sad to hear of deaths and dementia, and joyous to hear of continued work, and re-marriages. I had my eye on the clock. I knew we were going to be there until curfew, but I was slowly starting to relax. It wasn't so bad after all.
In an effort to leave things on a positive note, I reminded my friends once again that we never gave Mama Cox an answer to her question. My honest answer? The girls sitting next to me. Harding is nothing without the friends you make. It was a mutual feeling. And while we couldn't pinpoint a "favorite memory", we could list many things that made us smile or that were significant to us, like the various annual chapels. "Muffin Chapel" "Camaraderie Chapel" "Dr. Burk's accent" "Singing Just As I Am with Jimmy Allen for all eternity" "The Grumpy Old Men" All the things that made Harding, Harding.
By that time, it was curfew time. Time for us to head out. It was a difficult and uncomfortable 2 hours for me, but it was well worth it. Was I able to get past everything? Yes. The whole Harding experience/reunion was already exactly what I needed. Our only regret? We didn't bring the camera with us because it was dark and we didn't anticipate taking any pictures and we didn't want to carry around a camera all over the place if we weren't going to use it. So I don't have a picture of us with Mama Cox, though I wish I did. I suppose we could have headed over to get one the next day, but it just wouldn't have been the same.