This appeared as part of the Spring 2024 issue of IUP Magazine.

By Michael P. Lambert II ’68, M’69

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
—John Keats

Every autumn, my mind turns to the days when I was a young man attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).

In my four years there, the magical time for me was always the fall and the start of a new semester.

The autumn evenings turned chilly, the days grew shorter, and there was a sense of inevitability about the end of all things.

But until the brutal winter cold and deep snows had reared their unwelcome presence, autumn was a time of guileless joy for me, a time when everything was still possible in spite of what lay ahead.

My formative years in Indiana hold a cherished place in my imagination.

The sounds of September and October still resonate for me, sounds like the impatient tree frogs, the taunting call of the whip-poor-will, and the barn owl’s questioning.

There were sounds of the IUP Marching Band practicing next to the Miller Stadium, and the sound of gentle breezes caressing dead leaves. I would hear the pianos being played by music students, with the sound drifting out of the open windows of John Sutton Hall as I walked across the Oak Grove.

When I walked through the woods on a sunny autumn Saturday near our family’s former getaway cabin, called Camp Bess, about three miles from Yellow Creek State Park on Simons Rock Road, I would hear the boom of shotgun blasts of the grouse hunters, the rustling of the dying corn stalks, and the gurgling of Little Yellow Creek.  

In the cabin, a fireplace with seasoned oak crackled. And I can still hear Patti Page sing “Allegheny Moon” on the radio.

I worked my way through college at a grocery store called Foodland on Route 119, and one day the manager let me take home a dozen LP vinyl records of what turned out to be many of the major jazz musicians of the ’50s.

He said to me, “No one is likely to buy these albums. They’ve been in the rack for six months without a single record sold. You may take them home.”

Of all the famous jazz artists in my windfall Foodland collection, including Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dave Brubeck, I loved the album Ahmad Jamal Trio Live at the Pershing in 1958.

I still listen to this amazing album today. His New York Times obituary stated, “… Jamal’s measured, spare piano style was an inspiration to generations of jazz musicians. …”

And when certain autumnal smells come back to me, I’m instantly transported back in time.

The smells I love to recall include my mother’s freshly baked bread and my father’s 1920s-era baked bean and roasted ham recipe that he inherited from my namesake, his father, Michael P.  Lambert I.

I recall the smell of decaying but courageous leaves. I call them courageous because after a resplendent summer of life, they decide to let go of the branch that had nurtured them to float to an uncertain fate that awaits them on the earth below.

I can still smell the Hoppe’s No. 9 gun cleaning fluid that my father employed to swab out both the barrels of his shotgun after hunting pheasants.

I can still recall how I would polish the brass buckles and badges for my IUP ROTC uniform.  My bedroom on the third floor of our home on Locust Street at Wayne Avenue was filled with the inimitable metallic smell of Brasso polish, an unmistakable odor that followed me around in the many Army barracks and Orderly Rooms I knew in my military service.  

And I remember the smell of my English professor’s pipe tobacco, called Cherry Blend. Was ever there a more pleasant but forbidden scent than this tobacco? I wish there were a device in my study that would fill the room with that wonderful smell!

And like most young college men in the late ’60s, I over-used the cloying cologne English Leather. Our fraternity house parties reeked of the stuff. What were we thinking?

Then there were the wondrous seasonal sights to behold: the Harvest Moon in September, the sugar maples and oak trees dressed bedecked in gold and red, and, on the lawn, the early morning quotidian frosts that soon melted.

The other sights I loved in autumn included walking across the IUP Oak Grove and kicking up leaves, looking at row after row of books in Stabley Library, and standing on the steps of the now-demolished Leonard Hall, home of my beloved English Department, watching the small knots of students walking to their next class. No one had a cell phone then, of course. The students actually engaged in face-to-face conversations.

How quaint.

I am sure my advancing years have softened my memories of autumns in the 1960s in Indiana.

But I am not about to change them at this late date.

They are worth holding onto, at least for the time I have left, when, like the brave autumn leaves, I will decide to let go and drift to earth to my unknown future.

About Michael P. Lambert

A native of Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michael Lambert is the son of the late William F. Lambert Sr. and Josephine Rising Lambert. He served as the executive director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission from 1992 to 2013. He was named DEAC executive director emeritus in 2013. A 1968 graduate of IUP, he was named an IUP Distinguished Alumnus in 1998. He holds two master’s degrees and two honorary doctoral degrees in humane letters, was a fellow of the Royal Society of Art in London, earned the Army Commendation Medal, and received the European Association for Distance Learning’s “Roll of Honour” for his lifetime contributions to the distance education field.