Over near the corner of Sixth and Fairmont streets NW, near the vendor selling T-shirts with a black Bart Simpson saying, "Rasta-Dude Bart Marley," stood members of the Howard University classes of '58, '59 and '60 remembering how things once were.
"Look there," said Earl Flanagan, Class of '59. He pointed to the business school, which had a homecoming welcome booth for the Howard graduates who have returned to their 123-year-old alma mater this weekend. "The atrium is as big now as the school was back then."
They laughed. They knew what he meant.
The group of six, some of whom have seen each other every two or three years since they graduated, spent the hours before yesterday's homecoming football game reminiscing. A sight here, a person there would trigger an observation. And, as the protocol of reminiscing seems to dictate, one person, then another would jump in with added detail, building up an anthology of oral histories that all seemed to culminate in laughter.
"Back in 1958, we were standing on the same corner," said Jeanne Parnell, Class of '58. More laughter.
"Yeah, but the line wasn't as long then," threw in Antonio DeGrasse ('60), pointing to some of the 30,000 people who were filing into Greene Memorial Stadium for yesterday's game with North Carolina A&T.
"I went back to the dorm where I stayed," Parnell said to no one in particular, all eyes in the group searching the crowd for old friends. "And the girl let me in the room where I stayed. And she had a telephone. A refrigerator. A TV set."
"We had one phone in the hallway for everyone to use," Parnell continued. "And I saw men walking around."
The common denominator for them was the Howard campus, which they have shared with such notable graduates as Roberta Flack, Vernon E. Jordan, L. Douglas Wilder, David N. Dinkins and Andrew Young.
"I like it here," said DeGrasse, who was enjoying his first homecoming celebration. "It's beautiful. Nice. Black folks in charge."
And by the looks of the alumni, standing and waving and laughing as people strode into the stadium, they returned to campus to be reunited with memories as well as friends. And like the friends, the memories trickled by slowly at first, then came in a torrent.
"All the old buildings are gone," said Faye Anderson Walker. "I miss them. All the wide open spaces."
"That used to be a pastime," DeGrasse said. "Sitting down on the grass and talking." A few sighs.
"It was more rural than urban," Parnell said.
"Now it's much more vital," Walker added, several shaking their heads in agreement.
"And look at them," said Parnell, pointing to students milling about. "They look like they're much more individualistic, with different hairdos. We didn't step out of line." Laughter.
"We couldn't even smoke," Walker said. More laughter.
"You all couldn't even wear pants," DeGrasse said to the women.
"That's right," Parnell said, memory refreshed. Then, looking back at the students with feigned anger: "These kids are getting away with murder."
And the group howled with laughter.