The picture here from my Facebook friend The Idealist brought back some rather pleasant memories. In the past and to a much lesser degree even today I have often sat out on a starry night and talked to myself about life. These were often times where I was approaching meltdown due to having so many people around me. One of the main purposes was to be alone with my thoughts so, no, there was no one with me.
Many of those 2am nights were while I was attending college at Purdue University. It seems I was never along except for these times. I shared a room with Bob for four years and even though I really liked him I needed my alone time. So, about once a month you could find me at 2am along the railroad track out by the airport looking at the sky and dreaming about life. I often played a game where I tried to imagine what I would be doing 20, 30, or even 40 years in the future. On a tangent note, there just doesn’t seem to be as many stars in the sky as there were during those years. 🙂
I just realized that I have not given a truly autobiographical post in quite some time so here goes. This one is about my college years and particularly how I earned a major portion of the money needed to pay for my education.
When I was in college now fifty years ago one of the things that almost everyone, or at least those in the dormitories, complained about is how bad the food in the cafeteria is. Its kind of like hospital food I guess. You are not supposed to like it. But, as usual, I take a different stand. Without cafeteria food I would not have gotten a diploma from Purdue University. An so the story begins.
My first trip to Purdue in 1965 was a week before that year’s classes were to begin. In those days we had orientation programs to prepare us for college life. That trip to the campus was in the back seat of one of my high school friends new convertible. He was not going to college but instead intended to work in his father’s gas station. Being a new minted high school graduate in the 1960s with a new car meant that he went FAST wherever he drove. This seventy mile jaunt was in the back seat of the convertible going 100 mph down a state road with me clinging to all my worldly possessions contained in a cardboard box and a small suitcase. But, I am getting off topic here so back to the subject of food.
When I first stepped foot on campus I had enough to pay my first semester’s room and board and tuition and a little more. I had no idea how I was going to pay for the rest of the year let along the rest of my college days. Living in the cheapest dorm on campus meant that I ate all my meals at the Fowler House Dining Room. I thought the food was pretty good but heard so many comment about how bad it was! Compared to my cooking it was better. I did most of the cooking for Dad, my brother and me in my high school years. Being on a limited budget and the fact that Dad only like his meat and potatoes I wasn’t subjected to much of a variety of foods.
Anyway, I soon discovered that the cafeteria used students as the majority of the labor needed to put out about 7,000 meals a week. I was a shy guy back then and held off for a few weeks before I applied for a job there. Within a few months or so I was working about 40 hours per week at 90 cents an hour. I would continue in that mode for the five years I was there. But I did eventually become the head waiter which was the highest student position and that paid almost $2 per hour. But it was enough, along with my summer jobs to barely get me through those years.
For the first time in my life I made many friends working in that dormitory cafeteria. When I last visited there in 2015 the building housing the cafeteria was still there but repurposed into a child development center. The dormitory buildings had been torn down and replaced in the 1970s and even that replacement building was torn down an replaced in 2010 or so.
My college years were a hard time for me but also some of my most joyous years of my life thanks to the relationships I had in the cafeteria.
I spent a very enlightening part of my life between the years 1965 and 1970. Those were the years I was at Purdue University supposedly learning how to be an engineer. It was there that I was first exposed to the diversity of life. I met people who were very different from me. For the most part those experiences made me a better person. On this post I want to concentrate on a few of those I encountered during those years.
My first dormitory room-mate was a high school classmate. He got married at the end of the first semester and was replaced by Knute. Knute was a Norwegian and spoke broken english. He worked his way over to the U.S. from Oslo Norway on a freighter and that was impressive to me. I later learned that his father owned the freight lines but that only slightly stained the story. 🙂 Knute loved to party, I never actually saw him study much. He came over with a half-dozen or so buddies. They exposed me to people from other countries for the first time. After that final semester of 1965 Knute went over to live with his friends in a rented house. I don’t know if he ever graduated or just partied his way through college. Six of one half-dozen of the other I imagine.
Bob was my room-mate for the final four years. We got along very well. That was very important when you understand that unlike today we shared a 10 x 12 foot room so getting along with your room-mate was critical to your sanity. When we graduated a group of us vowed to get together five-year later on our graduation date but I didn’t make it there for whatever reason. I don’t know if any of them did or not? I lost track of Bob and have been unable to find him in the forty years since. I wished I had done a better job of keeping track of folks from those years. I would be interesting to discover what Bob made of his life and to just reminisce about the good old days at Fowler Courts residence hall and dorm kitchen where we both worked throughout those years.
Another very memorable person during those years was Ginny. I admired her on several different levels. She was the secret love of my life. I did date Ginny once, we went to a campfire/cookout with several friends. One of the main regrets of my life is that I never told her how I felt about her. I was just too shy around women and the emotions I felt for her were very new to me. Ginny also worked in the dormitory cafeteria where I became the head waiter. Ginny was a year or two behind me and when in my senior year it came time to recommend my replacement I chose her. But… there had never been a female head waiter there before and the management just didn’t see that as being the time for one. I often wonder how my life would have changed if I expressed my feelings towards her. Don’t tell my wife but I still think about her now and then.
These three were just a small sampling of the friends I made at Purdue. I will likely talk about others in future posts.
I recently made a ten-hour walking tour of the college I graduated from. I had briefly driven around campus a few time before but never got out of the car. It was fifty years ago this month that I had my first exposure to Purdue University in West Lafayette Indiana. Needless to say that a LOT has changed since that time both to me and the campus I once walked through daily.
When I stepped foot on the campus in the late summer of 1965 I was a skinny naive country boy who had never had a conversation with anyone much different than me. They simply didn’t exist in my world up until that time. I was never challenged to think outside my box that was already built around me. My progression to a guy who “questions everything” was a gradual thing that happened over the years but the five years I spent there was very enlightening.
Now on to the changes in the campus. One of the most astonishing changes was the almost total absence of green space at least compared to when I was a student there. Even the street that I most often used to get from my room at Fowler Courts to the campus is no longer there! Fowler Courts were a bunch of single story quonset hut type buildings that were probably build just after World War II. The shocker came when I found out that the dormitory that replaced my old dorm has also been torn down and is now First Street Towers which are more multi-room apartments than they are like my 10ft x 12ft dorm room that I shared with my buddy Bob.
I must admit that I had hoped to retrace my steps that I traveled so many times but soon found that to be almost impossible. First off things just weren’t where I remembered them and secondly there were a lot of new building blocking my path. Even though my dorm has been replaced twice over the building that housed the cafeteria where I worked 40+ hours per week was still there but repurposed and totally reconfigured into a child development center. But even the building itself brought back some pleasant memories. I still have a hard time convincing myself that fifty years have passed since those days. I can’t understand how that happened.
Click on any picture from my 2015 visit to see a larger slideshow…
Fowler House Dining Room
Elliot Hall of Music where I saw Simon & Garfunkel live!!
The bldg that replaced the bldg that replace my old dorm.
You can’t stop a person if he gets it in his head he can write. – June 11, 1933 Will Rogers
You got me pegged Will! Although I am not an “official” published author in the old sense of the word I do have it in my head that I can write. My teachers over the years, both in high school and college, told me I could write. I certainly enjoy putting the virtual pen to paper as they say. Now that I am older I have more experiences to use as sources so I think maybe I have more depth than I did in my college years.
I got an engineering degree from my alma mater Purdue more than forty years ago. That degree put a serious dent in my literary capabilities as I was taught to always write in the third person. “this was done…. it was envisioned…” You get the idea. It took me a number of years to finally get out of that habit and start writing as an actual person. 🙂
In my retirement years, which spans almost twelve years now, I have honed by literary skills through a number of paths. So I am not to be stopped as you say Will as I have it in my head that I can write.
When I was young I guess I was sometimes a pretty serious guy as I often thought about what the future would be like. I enjoyed sitting out in the dark of night looking at the stars and thinking about what my life would be like “x” years in the future. I would lie down on my back in the grass and look at the stars for hours at a time. One time I thought I was meant to be an astronomer but I learned that looking at stars and really knowing them are two different things. One requires just taking them in and the other requires much much math! That was not at all my favorite subject!
Sometimes I found it absolutely necessary to get away from everyone else to contemplate things. When I was living in a dorm at Purdue University in the 1960’s getting away from people was not an easy task. Even during the late night hours there always seemed to be people roaming around the campus. After several nights walking around looking for that solitary spot I finally found it. On the edge of campus there was a railroad track that brought food and other supplies to the campus facilities. It was out by the Purdue airport. I found a spot along that track that was out of reach of the ever present street lights that adorned the campus. It looked out on the airport runway. Since the airport was used almost exclusively by the aviation technology school there were no planes or road traffic late at night. After I discovered my “secret spot” I spent several nights over the next five years on my back looking at stars and dreaming of the future.
When I got my first glance of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night (shown above) I was entranced by its intrinsic beauty. I quickly got a copy of it and kept in on my walls for many years. There was also a song about the painting in Don McClean’s 1972 American Pie album called Vincent. I played that tune many times over the years at least up until I went deaf. I remember most of the lyrics even after so many years! The song told the story of the troubled life of Van Gogh but I could also see my own life in the words. There is now some evidence that Van Gogh cut off his ear due to tinnitus (severe ringing in the ears). I share that problem with him and it can be overwhelming sometimes but I am not ready to cut of my ear as I know that won’t cure the problem 🙂 .
I guess I was, and still am to some extent, a dreamer. Like the subtitle of this blog says I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up (ha). I am still dreaming of doing other things with my life. What there is left of it that is.