THE OLD MAN AND ME CHAPTER 11a Hiram College Freshman Year Part 1
Once we had responded to Hiram College’s Letter of Acceptance, more detailed information began to arrive. There was a fee schedule, a list of classes to which I had already been assigned (a Freshman Seminar with a paper at the end, English as selected based on SAT verbal scores and a History class), and a list of available classes from which I could choose the two or three additional first semester classes I was allowed. In addition, I had to report, with a parent, for an all-day orientation in August, and a final round of class selection. It seemed that some classes were traditionally overbooked and alternatives were required.
Having survived final exams, complete with a blown V-8 engine, a two-stage graduation and the senior class trip to Washington DC, I climbed into the passenger seat of the Old Man’s two-tone (bronze and robin’s-egg blue) ’59 Chevy coupe and he and I took the twelve-mile trek to Hiram for Freshman Orientation. At the southeast corner of town State Route 82, the route on which we arrived, crossed State Route 306, a north-south route from near Lake Erie to an unknown end near the Ohio River and West Virginia. Over this intersection proudly swung the village traffic light, the advent of which had, I was later told, provoked much debate and a student protest a few years earlier.
Hiram College and the Village of Hiram were pretty much coterminous, and their interests intersected much as did their physical border; which is to say they agreed… except where they disagreed. In this instance, College and Village authorities agreed, the intersection had become too busy and dangerous to continue as an all-way stop. Citizens and students formed an uneasy coalition to stand against the light and squarely on the side of tradition. The authorities and accident statistics won. Both roads were State Roads, and if the Village wouldn’t mount the light, the State would, at more than twice the price, and back-charge the Village. The Village mounted the light.
Beneath the light, in the absolute center of the intersection, stood a hulking great student swinging his arms rapidly, and pointing each vehicle to a destination. As the Old Man pulled the Chevy up to him the large young man called out, “Where to, Sir?”
“Orientation,” the Old Man answered.
Without further ado, the guide stepped back, swung his right arm in a full circle, and snapped his left arm into a straight line pointing downhill. Second drive on the left, Sir, and follow the guide’s instructions.”
The Old Man moved forward, and minutes later we were parked in a gravel lot, and facing a steep climb up weather-beaten steps to the Auditorium. Clutching a campus map given to me by a parking guide, I turned to the Old Man, “C’mon, Dad… it can’t be that bad.”
He laughed. “You’ll learn, Son,” he said. “You’ll learn.” He turned to the steps and began to climb. I followed, and at the top, we were both a bit blown. But we were on level ground, and it was but a couple of hundred feet to stroll to the Auditorium. We walked over and the Old Man showed the student at the door our envelope full of papers. She selected one and pointed us toward our seat section.
It turned out that I didn’t need to stand in line to adjust any classes. I did make one change, but we took care of it in the Auditorium. I took an English test and was jumped to Honors English - a Literature course rather than a grammar course - which was not filled.
Seniors were assigned to small groups of parent/student pairs as campus guides, and we spent a couple of hours trekking from building to building. We had been pre-assigned dorms, and everyone in our group was assigned to three dorms along a road that rose steeply from the main street, and eventually died in the maze of a “modern" curvilinear subdivision, home primarily to professors, deans and lesser teaching staff. Two of the dorms, modern brick structures one of which was called Henry House, and the other of which is nameless in my memory, housed women students. The third was a Century House called Bowler Hall, and it housed male students, including me. The front of the building, although fairly wide, gave the appearance of an oversized Victorian house, complete with Verandah, portico columns and porch swing. Inside, a hallway ran from the entrance to the rear of the building, with rooms opening off each side (I do not remember how many). The space for first two rooms on each side of the hall on the ground floor were taken up on one side by the Housemother’s apartment, and on the other side by a large sitting room with a piano.
My room, it turned out, was to be the first actual dorm room on the left on the ground floor. There was a three-step climb from the entrance elevation to the elevation of the dorm hallway. The second story was a repeat of the first, except that the dorm rooms and hallway extended to the front of the building. There were two stairways leading to the second story, at the top of each was a landing with the hallway to the left. There was also a door to a dark and musty storage area to the right from the front stairway landing. This was sort of an attic above the Housemother’s apartment, although not connected to it.
The structure was all wood and well seasoned wood at that (after all, Century House means a structure built at least a hundred years before the date of the recognition of its age), meaning that it was an absolute fire-trap. The first thing the Old Mandid when we entered the room was test the window. Much to his (and my) surprise, it glided upward nearly effortlessly. The student guiding us said he had lived in Bowler Hall, and rummaged for a moment on the desk nearest the window. “Ah-HA!,” exclaimed he, holding up a small slab of something translucent. He pointed to it. “Paraffin wax,” he grinned. Turning to the window, he rubbed it briskly on the grooves in the casing. He pulled the window down and latched the top. “Wouldn’t want to have to break it and climb out through broken glass in a fire,” he said cheerfully, heading for the door.
On the way home, the Old Man stopped in Mantua and bought two good-sized fire extinguishers.
Three or four weeks later the Old Man, my kid brother Giles, a neighbor we called Nick (he didn’t like his given name) and I horsed a small desk, a bed, box spring and mattress, too many clothes (dress shirt, pants and a tie, with a sports jacket, were required wear for dinner every night but Saturday), various needs and wants, and two oversized fire extinguishers into the room to which I’d been assigned. A bed came with the room, but the mattress was trenched down the middle, and when I sat on it, the whole thing moved in several directions at once.
Mother and my sister Lyndella had stayed home. No one had a television, a telephone or a computer in his room. Some had radios, small transistor battery powered devices, somewhat bulkier AC powered clock radios or “studio” radios, large, AC powered dinosaurs of the early electronic age with glowing vacuum tubes instead of transistors and a tube replacement chart pasted to the back of the case that showed various brand designations of equivalent tubes for each original tube. None of those would remain by the time I graduated, seven years later.
My roommate had already moved in and was elsewhere. Once my side of the room was set up, we stood around awkwardly for a few minutes, until I pointed out that twelve miles wasn’t very far, and that, as the only freshman on campus with a car (I had a job, without which I would have been unable to accept the school’s invitation to matriculate there) I should have no trouble seeing them pretty regularly. The Old Man said to wait, and he took off at a jog. When he returned but a few minutes later, he was slightly out of breath, but wearing a downright evil grin. He handed me a grocery bag and four five dollar bills. "You’ll have whatever you make at the grocery plus five bucks a week from me for spending money. You can stop by the house at the end of the month to collect another four fivers. Besides that, I’ll give you three cartons of Camel cigarettes a month and you can quit lying to me about smoking." He handed me the bag.
“Thanks,” I muttered, taken completely off guard.
He stuck out his hand. “Do yourself proud,” he said. He and Giles collected Nick and left me standing there, a paper bag full of cigarettes in one hand and twenty dollars in the other. There was a knock on the door.
A medium sized young man with buzz-cut hair was standing there. “D’you play poker?”
I thought about it for a minute. I only had twenty dollars. What if I lost it? On the other hand, how much good was twenty dollars gonna do me anyway?
“Sure.” I followed him up the stairs to the attic over the Housemother’s apartment. Three young men were already seated.
“Found another sucker,” said my guide as we sat up to the table.
“Pursey,” the man dealing said. “Deuces, jokers and one-eyed Jacks wild.”
Two hours later it was time to dress for dinner. I folded my two hundred and thirty dollars and stuffed it into a pants pocket. College was gonna be more fun than I’d thought.