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I come back from the Collegedale-Chattanooga area with that sense of nostalgia.

As the character Don Draper in Mad Men described the word, it’s both delicate but potent. 

In Greek, Draper said in the show, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. “It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

The only difference is there was no pain or wound — just the memory of a young man heading far away from his home of Murfreesboro to get an education, learning to become independent and learning a city that I dearly treasure.

I went there to meet my friend Richard from California, who I met in Collegedale although he lived in the Sussex County, Virginia community of Yale — which is not that far from Murfreesboro.

We have been friends ever since and are pictured in the lead photo in front of Talge Hall — the men's dorm.

The SAU campus and a photo of the organ at the Collegedale SDA Church

I decided to make the trek to Tennessee to visit him as he was escorting friends from California — one of the couples who has a daughter who attends Southern Adeventist University in Collegedale.

My freshman year I was lost at first and only knew a couple of people and not very well. They had their own lives at college and didn’t really have time for me.

So I learned to make my own friends, some of who I still have contact with today.

When I was allowed to have a car on campus I learned the ins and outs of Chattanooga — from the Tivoli Theater to the Pickle Barrel restaurant and many places in between such as the Hunter Museum and some of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hangouts, where I also took some classes.

As a student I made the trip from Murfreesboro to Collegedale going down a winding single-lane road, which has now been made a four-lane road. Absent then were businesses such as Tractor Supply and others.

Gone now are the seedy “massage parlors” you passed as you made your way to SAU.

The longest-standing industry there remains McKee Baking, a Seventh-day Adentist corporation best known for its Little Debbie brand, a mainstay in Collegedale which has employed students for years and also endowed our college library called McKee Library.

As I waited at a redlight, one of many Little Debbie trucks could be seen coming out of the expansive plant.

Some things at SAU haven’t changed. 

I decided to attend the Friday night worship service at the Collegedale church and smiled to myself as I saw the students, worship cards in hand to prove they met their mandatory chapel attendances — one of several we were expected to attend.

I told a student inside the church taking the cards I didn’t have to give him one any longer. He smiled and welcomed me back to campus.

Earlier Friday I visited campus and marveled at the changes — a new nursing building, a new student life center which houses the campus shop and many other new buildings that weren’t there when I attended.

The dorms have been refurbished since I attended, making the front desk where I once worked unrecognizable.

The dress code has since changed. We weren’t allowed to wear jeans to class until my sophomore year. Now the kids can wear shorts. It’s funny how things change at arguably the most conservative school in the SDA college system.

I shook my head at these changes, not really in a disapproving way, but thinking to myself why we weren’t allowed back then. Bob Dylan was correct — the times they are a changing even at school where deans were rumored to patrol movie theaters to catch “wayward” students.

A stone's throw away from the campus is the VW plant, almost a city in itself, which obviously wasn’t there when I was a student, a factory that employs 3,800 people.

The Doss gravesite at the Chattanooga National Cemetery

Two of the biggest highlights of my trip was visiting the grave of Desmond Doss at the Chattanooga National Cemetery and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

Doss is the subject of the movie Hacksaw Ridge and is one of the icons in SDA history. Just as you learn that Little Debbie is an SDA corporation, you know the story of Doss early on. 

I visited the railroad museum twice — once Friday and then on Saturday when our group took a train ride to Missionary Ridge, a more historical tour than scenic one.

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

We got off at the still-working turntable and the shop where many of the engines and cars are being refurbished. A Pullman car on the grounds was used in the Marilyn Monroe film Some Like it Hot.

I was amazed at the changes in Chattanooga. It was always a busy city but has become even more so — home to the Tennessee Aquarium, a beautiful river walk and even more than I have the time and space to write about.

My last visit was in the late 90s and I was long overdue for a trip to a place which helped me gain self-confidence, helped me to become more independent and shaped my love of the South.

I have always missed the area since leaving and while that sense of nostalgia has never left it remains strong since returning — Lance Martin