Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Dance Card for a Red Cross Dance

IN BIRDLAND WATER HAS RETURNED, AND IF THE WATER TABLE IS STILL LOW, AND IT'S TOO LATE TO SAVE THE CORN, AT LEAST EVERYTHING IS GREENING UP. A few nights ago, when I was putting the chickens to bed I glanced over at the garden coop, which has been more theoretical this year than an actual garden. I think I've harvested 5 anemic cucumbers and a handful of cherry tomatoes. I have pulled a few weeds over the summer, but even the weeds were overcome by the drought. Anyway, I glanced over and saw that the rains have brought quite a crop of Lamb's Quarters. The earth was still damp from the last little bit of rain, and I made it a point, the next day to spend some time weeding. Now, weeding is probably my favorite thing about gardening, under certain conditions (soft, damp earth, so that the weeds pull up smoothly and the soil shakes off simply.) Conditions were perfect, and I brought a little basket out with me to harvest tomatoes. The vines are full of blossoms, but only a few were ripe on the vine. These were compact, as if the drought had concentrated them. Again, I got only a handful, but how satisfying to weed half the bed in the half hour between chicken-dark and full on dusk.

Now the wheel of the year is turning back to the dark side—earlier nights and later mornings—which is fine because now that school has started I need to spend my evenings prepping for classes instead of mooning around the yard. This morning I threw my bike in the back of my car so I could get to the Student Life Archives where my class went for a field trip. I love the archives. It's a little like a library, only you can't check things out. It has some books, but mostly it has one-of-a-kind objects. It's a little like a museum, only you can closely examine, and even handle the artifacts. Ellen Swain, the friendly archivist always has a selection of objects from student life laid out on the table for my students to see. 

Helpful Advice

 I take my class every semester, and by now she knows which are my favorites. I like to share with my students a longer perspective on the university. They are often surprised when I tell them how the university has changed in big and little ways since I was in their place so many years ago. But here, they can see the props to those stories, and more. I like to show them the green beanie cap that freshman men had to wear all year, any time they were out and about on campus. Some years the caps had small bills, others no bill. A button on the top of the cap was color coded for their college. A freshman caught without his hat would meet with dire consequences—perhaps the kind of hazing that is illegal today. In May, they would build a bonfire and burn their caps to pass the dubious honor of the beanie hats to the next crop of “green” freshmen.  

I also like the little notebook that Alan Hicks, a student from the 40's used to keep track of his expenses while here at the university. I join my students in their awe at his dedication to keeping such a faithful account, and at the expenses he records (coke date—26 cents; graph paper—21 cents; a peephole into the past—priceless). We examine a scrapbook from the 20's and Ellen explains the purpose of dance cards. 

 Some of the most telling evidence of the university's changing relationship to students is in the books written for freshmen by the Dean of Men and the Dean of Women. Facts for Freshmen is the men's version, and very straightforward and, well, factual. It has rules about bicycle use and visiting hours. 

 The women's version (Illini Wise) is much more parental, offering advice and even a helpful chart about what kind of outfit is appropriate for each part of student life. Going to class? “Saddle shoes or Loafers.” Church? “Heels with hose or dressy flats.” The Dean of Women also published a book called Campus Cues, chock full of advice about dating. I like to ask my students to contemplate the difference in their relationship to the Dean of Students today. Would they expect to be told what to wear or how to date? I ask them again, to imagine what will be different in another couple of generations. What stories will they regale their children with about their student days?

Freshman Beanie Hat

No comments:

Post a Comment