When I think of the Toomer’s Corner photographs I’ve seen in recent months — brown and bare, weeping and sad — my heart breaks. The intersection where the famous Oaks stand is one of history and pride. The trees shield two beautiful cement eagles standing in attention, waiting to welcome all who enter the Loveliest Village on the Plains. Just past the Oaks’ breadth of cover lies the university seal, and just beyond the seal stands Samford Hall. Behind these landmarks sits a beautiful campus, marked with cobblestone sidewalks and ornate buildings. The trees are the first open arms a stranger meets as they walk onto campus, but they’re hardly the last.
I know the trees are barren, but I haven’t seen them with my own eyes. Truth be told, I’ve avoided them, knowing the emotions that would be sure to follow. My memories of College and Magnolia aren’t those of withering and dying trees. If I close my eyes tight enough, I can still see the leaves stretching overhead to shield the sun. When I allow myself to go back in time, memories of walking to class under the protection of their overarching branches flood my mind. Those trees are one of my first memories of Auburn. As a young girl, I remember my father lifting me high above him to throw a roll of toilet paper in the air. A generation later, I remember my youngest nephew smiling as he struggled to throw a roll high enough to catch a branch. He still tells people about rolling the trees.
I feel my breath catch in my throat when I realize my children won’t share the same memory.
My Auburn roots run deep, just like the Oaks that proudly stand. Roots that crawl under the soil and cement to bind a family together. The Oaks embody something bigger than leaves and branches, bigger than soil and roots. Everything about those trees is symbolic, from their name to their tradition, to their history.
I remember pausing to breathe in the smell as I walked past those trees for the first time as a student. Many years later, I can still remember exactly how I felt in that moment. A lifelong dream, fulfilled. It was surreal, and when I call the memory back, it still is. That corner of Auburn is my very favorite place on campus, and I suspect it will always be.
Those Oaks have stood watch over proposals and weddings. They’ve witnessed first steps and first kisses and graduates sharing a final farewell. To know those moments are lost to future generations is breathtaking. I wonder what will stand at the corner when I take my future children for their first Auburn visit. Yes, they are only trees. Just a tangle of bark and branches, of leaves and roots. But to me, they are symbolic of something I hoped for my entire life. They are part of my dream and part of my story. They are the roots of my family, and I’m heartsick for what once was.
Thank you for the memories, Toomer’s Corner. May we not have to wait long to make new ones.