Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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My first roommate, Barb from Florida, apparently didn't like Penn State and left after that first summer term. For the fall I got my wish to live in West Halls, which are Penn State's most "old ivy" dorms. Meanwhile, my high school friends who weren't going on to college were already getting married.

Letters from Penn State - August 1962

6:45 pm

New Roommates for Fall

I am sitting at Barb's desk so I have a view of the square. Three boys are down in front of the dining hall with guitars. They gather every few nights to sing and they sound as good as the Kingston Trio. There's a good-sized group gathered around them now. They just finished "M.T.A.".

Barb is visiting a boy in Frackville this weekend. A girl named Izzy from Pollock 4 called this afternoon and said she had just found out she's Barb's roommate in the fall and wanted to talk to her. I guess all the room assignments are arriving in the mail. Mine is probably lying in your mailbox now. I'm dying to know what hall I'm in. They haven't put us all in the same place. Linda and Joan are in Atherton, Gail and Linda are in Pollock, Harriet and Linda are in East. If I get East I'll commit hari-kari. It's miles away.

I went to Mass with Rita this morning. It was really funny, I thought. I mean, funny-odd. It was in Schwab and there was no music at all unless you count a bell they rang a few times. All we did was get up and sit down and kneel and listen to Latin. I didn't even feel like I'd been to church.

I got a C+ in my English paper on Job. He says it's a frank paper, that I need more variety in my style and in my diction. I thought I could write!

I'm going over to Carnegie again tonight to practice. The days just fly by. Thursday night is our second concert and I'm not ready for it. I'm enclosing the program from the last one.

On Thursday night there was a percussion ensemble in the armory. I dragged four other girls along to hear them. It was really pretty good. Mr. Dunlop told everybody in the band they'd better be there.

Sunday dinner was fried chicken. We have to wear heels to that, the boys wear suits. Supper was a disappointment: savory goulash. That's what the menu said, at least. Nobody thought it was very savory. And watermelon for dessert.

I'm going to practice now. Please send me my room assignment right away when you get back and also some money. I'll have to buy a bathing cap tomorrow. We have to have white ones for swimming and write our names on the front with Magic Marker so the instructor can call to us in the water. I didn't pack a cap, idiot that I am. Oh well. I hope you have a nice vacation.

1:00 pm

Room Assignment for Fall

Yes, I am absolutely overjoyed to be in McKee! There is no place I would rather be. That hall is coveted by many (it is the only girls' dorm in West; the other five are boys'; there is a co-ed dining hall, Waring) and most of the kids have landed in East. West halls are the prettiest on campus. Wait till you see them. They are brick with gables and balconies and ivy, and apple trees in front. Rita got in too.

We went over there the other day in the hope of seeing our rooms. I tried the doors all the way around the building. They were all locked until we got to the back maintenance entrance, which was propped open. I went in and immediately ran into the janitor. I asked him if we could go up and see our Fall rooms. He said he couldn't take us but that the supervisor would be in at 4:30. It was 4:15 so we camped on the wall of Waring until she showed up and then persuaded her to let us in. She wasn't too enthusiastic about it, but she did.

The lobby is much nicer than Pollock, with carpeting and organdy curtains and living-room lamps. And I saw my room. It is on the second floor, faces sort of toward Rec Hall. And there is ivy growing over the window! It is much more homey looking than Pollock. And it is in a very good location. I am close to Carnegie, the armory, the library, and Schwab. I'm going to love it there. West is the oldest on campus. McKee was built in 1949 to look just like Irvin, Watts, etc., which were built much earlier.

I'm glad Carol [high school friend who will start in the fall term] got Simmons. That was what she wanted. I know only one girl who got in one of the favorite pair (Simmons and McElwain) and she has a sister who is in a McElwain sorority.

Thursday night was the happiest of my stay here so far. The band concert went perfectly. Then there was a party for the band at Delta Chi fraternity house in town. First the dance band played, then the B.O.C. faculty played. We ate and talked. I forgot what time it was and dashed back to the dorm at twenty after eleven. Despite my speed, I got two late minutes.

The B.O.C. kids left yesterday and band settles down to meeting only once or twice a week for the rest of the term. I am sure band is out for me for Fall. Maybe later if I really practice I can get in again.

12:45 am

Being an Accompanist

I'm glad Barbara's [another high school friend, going off to Boston] enthusiastic about college. She'll probably have her bad moments because I certainly have and I hope she loves it anyway.

A Mr. Boyer called a few days ago and said that Mrs. Spencer (whoever she is) had told him I was an accompanist. He wanted to know if I would play for two girls who will do a duet in Blanchard (wherever that is) on Sunday. So I said yes. Someone left the music in the room yesterday. It is Tchaikovsky's "Legende". I'm supposed to meet the girls at 4:30 in the dining hall to practice it.

Last night I went over to Carnegie to practice the music. I didn't get much done. First, of course, I had to play a few popular songs. While I was playing "If I Loved You" the janitor came in and leaned on his mop and listened to me. When I finished, he clapped, and then we started talking. We talked for forty-five minutes.

He's an old man and really nice. We even got on the subject of interracial marriage, after he told me about this negro baritone who used to practice there. What is funny is that the night before that, I went into the lav there and took up another hour talking to the woman janitor. These people work from 5:00 pm to 1:30 am. They are brother and sister. I've learned a lot about the Blue Band from them. It used to meet in the big round room in the center of Carnegie but the building is too small for the expanding music program and Journalism wants it for television and photography. So the army moved out of the armory and that's why they're down there now.

Band will meet only once more, on Monday. I love it so much!! Something must be done. I have to get in it again.

P.S. - I saw my fall roommate yesterday. She is little and blonde, wears glasses, seems like a nice kid. [My summer roommate Barbara transferred out of Penn State at the end of summer term.]

4:00 pm

Raccoon in the Dorm

It is raining. They keep talking about the drought around here, but it seems like it's always raining.

Today band met for the last time. We sight-read through music some of the kids had requested. Mr. Dunlop said the tryouts for concert band would be held on September 19, 20, and 21. I'll be there, few saxes are used! Why couldn't I play a clarinet?

I got back my theme on Candide today and it "made" my day. I never thought I could be so happy over a lousy B minus. His speech on this one: "This paper has a nice, crisp and amusing style quite appropriate to a discussion of Candide. In general you handle Pangloss well, but you don't give enough time and space to Voltaire's philosophy. Your vocabulary is good and I can see you are increasing your authority over words. Keep up the good work."

Yesterday morning the group going to Blanchard met in the Religious Affairs office in the dining hall at 9:30. Three cars went out. It was the second time I've been in a car since I came here. Blanchard is a tiny "out-in-the-sticks" town, off the main highway. The Liberty baptist church seats maybe 100 people maximum. 50 were there. Anyway, with such a small audience it's not as easy to get nervous. The duet went all right.

We have been diving in swimming the last two classes. Today we went off the board. Proof of how lousy everybody is: Mrs. Lundengren asked me to demonstrate for the beginners' class. I wasn't too flattered!

I was alone in the laundry room on the fourth floor the other night ironing a dress. Sensing a movement, I glanced over at the door and saw a raccoon come sniffing in. At first I thought it was a kitten, but no, it was a baby raccoon, and really cute. It came over and licked my ankle. I looked at it a minute, then ran out into the hall and shut the door, shouting "there's a raccoon in the laundry room!" A girl came out of one of the rooms and said, "Oh, is she in the laundry room?" She came and picked up Josie by the scruff of her neck and carried her out. I went back to the room with her. The minute Josie was put down she was off again, up on the window sill, over the desk and the dresser, sniffing into everything. Active little creature! It seems she'd been lent for the evening by the girl's boyfriend. It isn't hard to smuggle animals in. Carol Baer on the seventh floor has been keeping a hamster for a couple of weeks now. All it involves is remembering to switch him to another room on the day when the cleaning lady comes in.

The 4-H moved into West Halls yesterday, darn it. I used to go over there when I wanted to study outside because it was deserted and is really beautiful. That place feels so much like home to me already! As I have said before, every organization under the sun has conclaves here. Next week the Rainbow girls will arrive in South Halls.

6:30 pm

Analysis and Opera Singers

I got your letter and the loot. Thank you. I'm glad my letters are appreciated. Yours certainly are.

Yes, I've met Mrs. Lewis' nephew, Harry Owens. He is really a wonderful drummer. That night at Delta Chi at the band party he really stole the show. I even have his telephone number in case I wanted to go home sometime.

Speaking of going home, I have tests in every class on the last day (august 29) and my last one (Psych) is over at 3:35. We can stay in the dorms till the next day (Thursday) if necessary, but I do want to get home that night. It would be wonderful if you could get here in the afternoon.

I hate to tell you this but I guess I better prepare you. The reason you haven't heard much about art history is because I am doing pretty badly in it. The D I'm expecting will be nothing to pad the record with. I'm working on it, though. The Hub movie tonight (The Tender Trap with Debbie Reynolds) is being sacrificed for a date with the library.

I had my second interview with Mike Shaffer yesterday. Honestly, just talking to that guy makes me feel like I have problems. I go in feeling normal and come out feeling like a real mental case. He gave me the results of the vocational interest test I took. As in high school, I was again highest in "persuasive". I said "That's funny, you know, because while these jobs that involve meeting people always sound the most interesting to me, I'm not good at meeting people and talking to them." So he said that the test indicated that I really wished to get along better with people. We tossed this around for an hour, why I'm bashful, what I've done to improve, etc. Very psychological.

Last night Linda Myers and I went to a concert at Schwab. This Artist Series the U. has is really good. The singer was Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano, and I could have stayed all night listening to her. She sang some real opera, but what I liked best were the spirituals. She sang "Let Us Break Bread Together" and I never heard anything so beautiful in my life. Her voice filled the whole auditorium. She had five curtain calls, encores. And what stage presence! The way she walked and stood--she didn't walk, she really swept on and off the stage. She wore a bright green dress, straight all the way to the floor but with deep slits up to her knees on each side, and a blue chiffon stole and blue shoes.

Coming to and from the concert several boys cat-called such junk as "Is the meeting over yet?" "This must be Faith and Hope." You see, only the Rainbow girls dress up around here and we were wearing heels. They arrived, all 3,300 of them, a couple of days ago. And boy, if you want to get picked up around here, just pin a yellow slip of paper to your blouse. That's their badge. The campus is crawling with them. They float around in long gowns even in the daytime. Some are in South Halls, right across the street from Pollock A (boys' dorm). They have their telephone numbers on big pieces of paper taped to their windows.

They are also in West Halls. This opened up McKee so Rita and I went over there again yesterday to tour the place. I love it! Twisty halls, not like these straight Pollock ones. My walls are a drab tan (Rita's are blue) but I like it anyway. Movable desks and an arm chair! I am on the same floor as the lobby. Rita is on the floor below. They trimmed the ivy off my window, honestly! Anyway, it's around my window. The lobby is gorgeous, with a curved sectional sofa and beautiful carpet. In the lavatories there are only gang showers and no tub. I still wouldn't trade anybody.

Remind me when I'm home that I need to get a social security card to work in the dining hall. And about clothes: the main thing here for winter is long socks, loafers, and short pleated skirts and sweaters.

I have discovered the joys of White pool in the evening. I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings there, practicing diving. We are on the back dive now. That sure took courage at first! Now it's all I do, because it's more fun. Dr. Lundengren started us on the breast stroke this morning. I find it difficult. But I do love that class.

1:30 pm

Play Organ for a Friend's Wedding?

I just got your letter when I went over for lunch. I'd love to do it, but in only two days? I haven't even touched an organ in an age and a half. I thought Carol had been asked to play for Bev's wedding but now on looking through her letters I can't find anything about it. I must have confused it with Paulette's wedding, which she was asked to play for and can't because she'll be at Sky Lake.

I don't know what to say. If I did do it I'd have to spend all Thursday and Friday practicing. Which I wouldn't really mind, I'd be honored to be organist, but I've never played the organ before people and I'm not used to watching fingering that much any more. I was just trying to remember from Bonnie's wedding how much there is to it. I can't remember if Jane played a prelude or not. I would dearly love to do it, but I almost feel guilty saying yes, I'd be so scared of not being able to come through. Why didn't she ask Carol? [...]

I wish Carol would do it. Why don't you suggest that they call her, since she'd have more time to work on it? If she can't do it, I will. I really would like to do it. I just feel sort of incompetent. I haven't touched an organ in at least a year. Oh well.

I got another B minus on an English theme today.

3:45 pm

End of Summer Term

This will probably be my last letter. All along the hall there are little notes stuck in the name plates on the doors, addressed "Custodian". They are to get our trunks delivered. Barb's is already here in the room; I never saw such a huge thing. She is leaving for NYC at 5:00 on the 29th. I'm going to be the last one here, sob!

On Monday night Graduate Hall burned. It was raining and storming out, I can't remember ever hearing such violent thunder before. Cathy and I had been planning to go over to White hall for swimming and decided to leave early, for the fun of splashing through the downpour. It was around 6:30.

Crossing Shortlidge road we met the first fire engine and since it was obviously going someplace on campus and since some other kids around were running, we followed it. So, we saw the great fire from the very start. Smoke was just starting to billow out of the gable windows in the roof. Pretty soon it was choking. We went around back. By this time a real crowd had gathered. Then flames started shooting up. I never saw anything so dramatic. A ladder truck arrived and a man was perched out on the very end of the slanting, swaying thing with a hose. And all the time it was pouring rain. The lightning came in long jagged lines right at the ground. Kids clapped when the flames shot high, booed whenever the firemen seemed to be getting it under control.

Then they enlisted the boys' services to carry out all the file cabinets that they could safely get to. (Grad Hall is used for division of counseling; it's where all the information on the students is kept.) The whole thing finally ended in a mud fight. The two top floors of the building are pretty well gone.

On Saturday afternoon I took a walk over to see the football stadium. While I was exploring over there, a guy rode up on a bike and started talking to me. His name is George Painter, he's in Physics. Before I knew exactly what happened I'd said I'd go play tennis with him. So we did and then he asked me out to dinner. We went to the Corner (that place on College Ave. under the hotel). Then twice this week he came over and we went to the Pub for coffee. Wednesday night he took me to the movies to see "Boys Night Out". On the way home I told him that I wished he wouldn't call me again, that it wasn't anything about him, just that I was sort of bashful and uncomfortable and would rather not go out with him. He was pretty nice about it. I don't know why I put an end to it, he was a nice guy, but now that he's gone I feel much better. Free, maybe.

I am seriously considering switching to music. What bothers me most is the job prospects. What could I do except teach, unless I find some talent in me for arranging or writing? I have that crazy obsession with a job in NYC after graduation. In merchandising I could probably get some kind of a store job and eventually work up to a buying position. In music all I can think of in connection with New York and glamour is show business. I still do dream about plays and musicals. But how do you tell if you have "it" or not, to get into something like that along the arranging and writing line?

I am pretty sure now that I would be happier in college taking a music major. But Home Ec sounds better after college. I spend half my life over at Carnegie. You'd faint if you saw the way I (yours truly lazy) have been practicing the sax like a fiend. Also, having no piano music, I've spent a lot of time at the piano just picking out any song I hear. And I can do that now, play just about any song after hearing it a couple of times. Also, I love the band director, Mr. Dunlop, who is just about the greatest human being alive. Also I hate my Home Ec advisor, Mrs. Lawson, who is a complete lemon (there is no word more fitting).

It's inescapable how much people have to do with what you like and don't like. But everybody in music seems to be awfully nice. I have heard that you have to have a certain average to change colleges, I forget what it is, or else you go into D.O.C. for a term. I doubt that I have the average. Anyway, I don't think I'd lose any credits by switching since all my courses are general.

I haven't talked to anyone about this yet; I'm not sure who to go to. Maybe I'll just wait until September. Anyway, you have to approve it (I hope you do).

I've got to get ready for dinner. I will be eagerly waiting for you after dinner in a lonely, lonely dining hall on Wednesday. Speed all the way.

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