Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Working in the dining hall was a joy—much more fun than classes.

Letters from Penn State - November 1962

Wednesday evening

Thanksgiving Eve

DeDe just left; her father came up here secretly tonight to take her and her sister home to surprise their mother for Thanksgiving. It's the first time she's been home this term. I would certainly like to be home for Thanksgiving too, but there isn't much more time left in the term anyway...thirteen days. I think I may end up taking the bus home, because I definitely will not stick around here until Friday, when most of the kids are going. Paul Doughty has to wait till then, as do Katie and Carol. I haven't seen Pete again yet. Bob Ames says he plans to hitch-hike home. A week ago I was considering signing up for Christmas employment (an application at the Willard building is forwarded to employment offices in the city of your residence during vacation), but now that idea has soured. All I can think about is being home and staying home! My theme song is "There's no Place like Home for the Holidays". A Christmas tree was set up in front of Waring this evening.

That 137 in Soc. turned out to be a B. So I have a solid B for Soc., unless he downgrades. And my B in English is all sewed up. If I make a very good mark in my other CLTX exam, I may be able to pull up from the C. About Phys. Ed. I have dire doubts. I love my skating class and have gone out five evenings the past week to practice, but I still wonder what I'm doing in Section 4. Oh, well.

I went skating tonight. There was a big crowd there, probably because the girls have 1:00 permissions, since tomorrow is a holiday. I tried to talk Carol into going, but she says since she's taking it in Phys. Ed. it doesn't interest her so much any more. That's the way I got about tennis. But skating just gets more facinating. Tonight I didn't stay long. When there are so many people, you can't do anything but go around and around with the tide.

You know Shirley Jackson who wrote "The Haunting of Hill House"? We had to read one of her short stories for English, called "The Lottery". I think it is the most startling thing I've ever read. Gee, that's another thought. With light luggage, I won't be able to bring my books home for you to see.

I shouldn't have started this; it's really late and my mind is a little blurry. I sit for five minutes between each sentence. So I will close, and be more informative tomorrow.


Tales from the Dining Hall

Sometimes the world is just too wonderful to bear! I am in a heavenly mood this morning. Yesterday afternoon I came out of Soc. class and who should be waiting to walk me back to the dorm but Jeff Amsbaugh, the head checker in the dining hall. He's the nicest guy I know, a senior in accounting. He's walked me home from the library before, but yesterday is the first he ever waited especially to meet me. Wunderbar!

And this morning I worked breakfast and had just ladled out the first cup of cocoa when Mrs. Sanders came in and asked me if I'd ever checked before. I hadn't; girls only check very rarely if a boy doesn't show up. So she showed me how, I took my seat at the door, and crossed off numbers for the next seventy-five minutes. It was so much fun! I hope somebody cuts again soon. The checkers have a ball. It's fun seeing all the kids when they come through. I was in A, and that's a hard dining hall, because the kids are all used to Al Epstein, who usually checks in there, and he has most of their numbers memorized. The kids are used to just waving their cards at you and speeding on through. Yours-truly held up the line a couple of times while frantically hunting up a special or replaced number.

Al really is the whizziest checker of all. He has a phenomenal memory for names and faces and numbers. Of course it's only natural to remember some of the kids, but he remembers everybody. He's really personality-plus too, and that could be part of it. When the line is slow, he gets out the trays for the kids, tells them the state of the eggs this morning, and takes the tongs from the serving lady to pick out the biggest piece of coffee cake for them. Everybody gets a "Good morning, glad you could make it, how's the family?" He is known variously as the Smiling Checker, the Restless Checker (he doesn't stay at the desk by the door; he's all over the place. Says the only reason they don't fire him is because Mrs. Sanders has a crush on him), and the Checkerbird.

All the boys have nicknames—to keep down the confusion over the half dozen Joes who work, there is Dirty Joe, Little Joe, and Muncheroon. Dirty Joe got fired the other day. It seems he had just failed a bluebook and was working on trayline. He kicked the dishwasher and put a dent in it. Mrs. Sanders saw him and that was the end of Joe. It's too bad, because he's a nice guy. But he's got a job at Singer experimental lab beginning next term and will work there part-time until he graduates in the spring, so there won't be too much break in the income.

Speaking of income, I found out last night that yesterday was payday at Willard. I thought that since the 25th didn't come until Sunday that we'd have to wait for Monday to get the checks. Now I'm hoping that it's open this morning. I'm going to stop over there before I go to work lunch. I figure I must have hit the fifty-hour mark by now and am due to be increased from ninety cents to a dollar an hour. Which should jolt the usual sum up a little. I have been late twice, and I'm not sure how many lates constitute a cut. One cut sets you back 25 hours. Two cuts, 50 hours. Three cuts and you're out.

Remember my report on the Crusades for CLTX? I got it back today, a lousy C-, with the note "Can you give a reference for the above information? If so, please come see me and bring your authority." My report was pretty darn good if I do say so myself, and I certainly am going to see her. Luckily I haven't yet returned the book I got my info from. It's a brand new book I found at Pattee called "Costume Cavalcade" and it is so readable and informative that I had planned to use it to study for the final to supplement my notes. But I guess some of the ideas of fashion origin in it are not the same as hers.

This morning I found a package sign in my mailbox and am waiting impatiently for the post office to open so I can go collect it. I have no idea what it could be, except that Bill [older brother] said, when you were here, that he was going to send me something. Speaking of Bill, I'm ashamed to say that I haven't written to him in years, and I'm the one who owes the letter. I also owe a letter to Barb Fogarty, who is a very good letter writer. And, I don't believe it, to Kathy Shera! I actually got a letter from her last week. She enclosed the Clarkies Capers and her graduation picture, which was very nice. I've got to write to her. But I'll be home so soon!

We are going to have a taffy pull this Christmas, so find the right recipe. And the house is going to be more decorated than it's ever been before. Holidays! Thanksgiving dinner here was wonderful. There were seconds on everything, even turkey. And they had sticky buns instead of bread, and mints and nuts and fruit, along with all the expected food. I had a lovely day. And I must stop, because I'm conserving on paper to type my short story this afternoon.


A Ride Home, and another Suicide

I'm beginning to realize that one doesn't just say "I'm going home on such and such a day" and go. Rides are not easy to come by.

As you suggested, I called Carol Evans, Carol Cameron, and Donna Miller. I couldn't get any of them and will call them all back tonight. I also tried steve Polednak and he didn't know of a way. Bill Jenkins says he put his name up under "ride wanted". I'll probably see Pete Yetrumskas in the line tonight and will ask him again. Luggage is no problem now, because I called Carol and she suggested that they could bring my garment bag home on Friday.

Whatever I do, I have to decide by tomorrow. Dining hall workers must fill out a form by then, telling their exam schedules and the last meal they will eat here. The sign says "All students are urged to work as long as possible during exam week, because we will probably have more students than ever eating then." I don't know how they figure that, but that's what it says. We also put down whether or not we'll work next term.

I called the bus station this afternoon. The only bus on Tuesday leaves at 8:19 p.m. and arrives in Scranton at 1:00 a.m., going through Williamsport. I also called Judy Fara, who wasn't going home, but to her boyfriend's. She said she took the bus once and would never do it again. Yogi, the girl down the hall, suggested the train, but I don't know anything about that.

I've almost talked myself into staying until Friday. Then I could go home with Carol and would have worked at the dining hall all I could. Only, I wonder if I would not go crazy those three, no two, empty days. I could take a book out of the library to read just for pleasure for once. I don't know what to do. And I won't hear from you before I have to commit myself. Because if I end up staying till Friday I'll certainly want the dining hall to fill up part of the time. It would mean more Christmas money, because we can take a self-addressed envelope over to the bursar and will get our last check in the mail. Just thinking about it, I guess I will stay till Friday. Decided. I think.

Another suicide, this time a boy. [James Chandler Yaun (8th-secondary education-Secane) jumped to his death from the eighth floor of Pollock A at 2:15 a.m. Saturday.] I honestly believe the cold uniform impersonality of those skyscraper dorms is a real depressant and that if those kids had lived in West, they wouldn't have done it. Also, the fact that Pollock and East have those flat open roofs. Of course, the boys' don't have sundecks and so the boys aren't supposed to go up there. That's why he had to go up through a transom. He landed on the main steps out in front, that go down into the lobby. That makes two suicides in one term. I wonder if this is usual. I've heard of several other attempts, including that one right next door to Carol, who slashed her wrists. You never know what's going on in the minds of the kids you pass every day.

If I go home with the Harmons, should I offer to pay? It seems kind of silly, I know they wouldn't take it. I wish I knew what to do.

Wed. eve

Switching Roommates

I've changed my mind and decided to take the bus home on Tuesday night. You'll probably think I should wait and come home with Carol, as it is more convenient all around, but I simply can't wait till Friday. Somehow I'm more crazy to be home at the end of this term than I was last term. I think it's seeing all the Christmas in town. And the Future-Teachers-of-America from our high school was here this afternoon. I saw all the kids and Mrs. Jewett and Miss Hand. I want to come home! I feel sort of guilty about it, as the bus is an expense and I'll have to take a taxi over to the station, and I won't be home till 1:30 in the morning or later, but consider my length of time away from home with Carol's. You probably won't think that three extra days could make such a difference, but they do! Especially since it's Christmas. I put down Tuesday dinner as my last meal when I filled out the dining hall form this afternoon.

Another development: I may change roommates for the winter term. Kristi and Bonnie, who live two doors down in 106, do not get along together at all. In fact, they have hardly spoken to each other except when absolutely necessary since the second week of the term. They both have talked to the coordinator, Miss Burkhart, and want to change roommates. DeDe and Kristi have gotten to be fairly good friends. I still go around mainly with Rita, Kathy, Linda, and Joan from last summer, especially since Rita lives right downstairs. So while DeDe and I get along perfectly well together (except about the light), we haven't got a very close relationship. Kristi and DeDe decided that they would probably get along pretty well together as roommates and I think they would. They are both talky and date a lot. I wouldn't mind switching much because I'm not used to doing many things with roomies anyway, Barb [from last summer] or DeDe. But Kristi won't even bring up the subject with Bonnie, they are so antagonistic, so Bonnie doesn't know anything about this at all. Miss Burkhart said that I am probably the one who should tell her about it.


So I've been looking around for her all day and just saw her on my way over to the dining hall. She was on her way to band then and I asked if I could talk to her later. I'm going to go see her later this evening. I don't know Bonnie very well, despite the fact that she's a close neighbor, because she spends a lot of time with her fiance (she's engaged). But she's a fourth term Music Ed major and just seeing her around, I like her. She plays the clarinet. One reason she and Kristi didn't get along is because Kristi is almost a compulsive talker and Bonnie is pretty quiet. She makes high grades, has a 3.36 average. Also, Kristi smokes and drinks and Bonnie doesn't. I would appreciate a roommate who doesn't smoke. I put that down on both my summer and fall term applications and got smokers both times.

Bonnie likes a very neat room. Actually I do too. But DeDe, who never makes her bed, makes me feel super-tidy when I make mine. We got fresh top sheets yesterday and our beds were torn up to get the old bottom sheets, and DeDe didn't even bother to remake it, just slept on the mattress-protecter pad. Kristi says that Bonnie likes to keep a candy dish in the room, but Kristi can't leave anything like that alone and gobbles it up. Well, I would like a roommate who could leave food alone. I buy food and DeDe eats a good half of it, without even asking. My goodness, this sounds like a list of grievances. DeDe is a very nice girl and I like her a lot. But the more I think about it, the more I would like to make the switch. I hope Bonnie agrees to it.

I had my CLTX final this morning. It wasn't too bad, but like the other test, it had a lot of the vagueries that make things difficult. For instance, multiple choice in which one, none, or several of the choices may be correct. I showed Dr. Gates my souce for the Crusades report on Monday and she still hasn't gotten around to reading it, so I don't know if I can hope for any improvement in my grade or not. With just these two tests the entire term, I'd almost have to have made an A in the final to get a B in the course.

The testing in skating was finished today. I am, without exaggeration, the worst in my group. I don't know how I ever landed in that advanced group to begin with. I certainly tried, and went out several evenings to practice, but I am not that well-balanced, or coordinated, or graceful, or something. I'll consider myself lucky if I make a C in Phys Ed for the term, with that awful fencing too. Plainly there will be no straight 3 average this term, but hopefully well above a 2. Each term I will aim higher. Maybe I'll get up there someday.

I told Kathy I'd meet her in the library at 7:30 so had better take off. Home in six days!

Sat. night

The End of Fall Term

I got an A! A minus, it's true, but still an A, and he's rather stingy with them. We got our short stories back in English yesterday, the last papers we wrote for that class and the only real story. All the other assignments led up to this. We did interiors, exteriors, groups, action, dialogue, an anecdote, a fable, a sketch, an incident, etc., but they were all supposed to give us experience in the different points of writing a short story, the paper that finished the course. And I got an A in it! It's much easier to write a whole story than parts of it. My topic was going back to the high school after being away at college. I've discovered in this course that it really is better to take everything you write about from your own life and experience than to make it up. My incident was my first dance in fifth grade; the sketch was my route going home from school for lunch; the dialogue was practically word for word the conversation at workers' lunch one day; the person was Jeff; the interior was the band librarian's room in the old armory; the exterior was the blue band practicing out on the golf course on a foggy night. Some of the kids wrote their short stories on mature, more emotion-packed subjects, like insanity, immorality, and murder. And they didn't sound right (all the stories were passed around nameless before we handed them in, so we'd have an idea of other people's styles). That A (darn minus!) looks so pretty...

And Dr. Gates upgraded my Crusades paper from C minus to B plus! And I got a B in my CLTX final exam. A B in that course is not impossible, but my probable C will be a high one anyway, whether it shows on the grade sheet or not.

With my worry about getting home I forgot to mention the cookies before. They were delicious, as always, and greatly appreciated around the hall, where food packages from home are community property like a bag of old store-bought cookies are not. And they were a real surprise. That's more fun, not knowing anything is coming and then finding a package sign in your mailbox.

This letter may not even get to you till Tuesday, so I guess it will be my last one. My travel plans are as follows, unless you call or something. I'll leave the garment bag with Carol to take home. I can take the overnight bag and the traincase on the bus with me, and no carrying problems. The man at the bus station gave me wrong information before, and that 8:30 bus goes to Pittsburgh, not Scranton. The only bus that leaves State College after my fourth period test is at 10:30 that evening, Tuesday, and I will arrive in Scranton at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday morning and in our town at 3:30. This is a rather ridiculous hour, so just leave the light on and the key in the drawer. Actually I'm looking forward to the trip; I love to ride at night. And I can sleep. You don't need to come for me. I know it mustn't be too interesting to get here and turn right around and drive all the way back. I really like long bus rides. This one goes through Sunbury and Wilkes-Barre. Those are the arrangements. I simply can't find a ride. Most of the kids can't leave as early as I can. Only three more nights in this bed here beside me, then my own bed again.

The room-switching is going through and I think I'll be happier with the new arrangement. I am going into Bonnie's room, 106, and Kristi will be here in 104. We'll probably do the moving tomorrow; at any rate, before we go home for Christmas so it will be all set for next term. Bonnie is from York and is leaving on the sixth.

I went to hear "The Childhood of Christ" at Schwab tonight with Linda and another girl from Atherton. It was put on by the Penn State Singers and the Symphony Orchestra. I liked it a lot. You don't get a chance to see a harp in action often. And the most darling little boy, named Gordan (it was embroidered on his shirt) sat in front of us. He looked around four years old and was very bored with the whole thing. He kept turning around and looking at us with big beautiful brown eyes. This put my mind on Chris [younger brother] and I get the feeling he's growing up without me even seeing him, that I won't even recognize him, sob!

I work tomorrow breakfast and as it is now ten of one, I will close. See you Wednesday morning.

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