Home of the Cheese

by Abbye Meyer | 5/28/02 5:00am

It took me two years to find it, hidden away on the corner of West and Maple. It took me two years of aimless searching, dissatisfaction and complaining to walk up the stairs and onto the porch of Dartmouth's best little secret: Foley House. Listed as just another affinity house (with "cooperative living" as its theme), Foley can be easily missed, overlooked or ignored. But it may be the best thing at Dartmouth.

I moved in my junior year, and though I had never even met seven of my nine new housemates, within weeks I knew their schedules, kitchen habits and problems. I was shocked to discover a place in Hanover where cheese was consumed at a rate that rivaled Wisconsin's, where each person was so different that no norm could be found and where there was always an interesting conversation to be had.

I found that family last year, and I found a radically different family this year. Still, each one has become a part of this Foley House tradition, a long line of students who have looked for something more, something else or something different from college.

In my five terms at Foley, the house has been nerdy and intellectual. It's lazy and usually is eating cheese in the kitchen. It's outdoorsy and environmentally conscious. Parts of it are athletic. It's a little bitter and sarcastic. It has an ambiguous sexuality. It sometimes belongs to Greek houses. It's socially active and politically aware. It has parties, but sometimes it just wants to go to bed early.

Foley, it seems, reshapes itself every term; it has very few constants, and it loses and gains residents as quickly as any college housing system. But it maintains a tradition of tolerance, curiosity and a family-like atmosphere that's created and continued by nightly home-cooked dinners.

Sometimes I think of my Dartmouth life in two parts: Before Foley and After Foley. They've merged and mixed, and their differences aren't always clear, but since moving in, my outlook has changed. Knowing Foley is like knowing home; I don't always like walking in, I hate doing my chores, and sometimes I just don't feel like being cooperative. But having a real home each night somehow makes each day a little easier and a little better.

Recently, I've walked into Food Court and Topside only to find myself overwhelmed by memory, straddling the past and the present. Nothing, perhaps, can send me back into the world of first-year misery and disappointment like those steps into Thayer. I'm hit with images of my former self skulking up the stairs, exhausted from complaining and hating, and I can't help but compare them to the acceptance, amusement and routine that I feel today.

Foley may not deserve so much credit, but I thank its presence in my life for taking away that trapped-in-a-bubble-while-aimless-and-lost feeling that I think Dartmouth can sometimes cause. I thank Foley for providing me with enough comfort to let me finally appreciate the amazing friends and experiences I had without it. I thank Foley and its residents for making college seem like real life again and for making places like Thayer not so depressing anymore.

Appropriately enough, I walked into Topside a few days ago only to find two Foleyites, one present and one former. We wandered through the aisles, looking for snacks and just spending some time talking about nothing.

"Now these are the best Goldfish," I told them, pointing to the excellent Flavor Blasted variety.

"Are they white?" one of the Foleyites asked. "Are they made with white cheddar?"

"You're a cheese racist," I told her. She had made the comment just to spite me. She knew my Wisconsin pride, knew I liked my cheese orange. She knew I liked to wear my cheesehead high. (I've come a long way, and I've changed a lot in the past four years, but I vow never to accept that damn white cheddar.)

"It's better cheese, Abbye," she told me, sounding exasperated. "Orange cheese is disgusting."

"Haven't we had this conversation before?" I asked. In the middle of Topside, completely engrossed in such excruciating details, we had become Jerry, George and Elaine; I knew the routine.

"You think?"

"I think we have," I said.

"Yeah, maybe we have."

Of course we'd had the conversation before. Not only had I been having the conversation for four years, but after so many afternoons of sitting around in the Foley kitchen, we had probably discussed cheese more frequently than we'd eaten it. We knew each other so well that we couldn't help but say the same things over and over. I mean, there are only so many things to be said.

Eventually, the two Foleyites and I bought our snacks, including some orange Goldfish crackers, and headed downstairs. We took a detour into Food Court for some frozen yogurt, ran into my best friend from freshman fall -- one of the wonderful remnants of the Before-Foley world -- and sat around for awhile.

With a family, I knew even Food Court could be as comfortable as a kitchen. I was perfectly content, would have been thrilled to stay in college forever, when someone mentioned a movie, someone else a meeting, and I remembered my illegally parked car. We stood up, walked outside and each headed off in a different direction; it was getting late, and we were busy. We each had someplace to go.