Of Polyester Pants and Friendship

illustration

Illustration: Barry Roal Carlsen

When I first came to the university in 1978, I had never lived away from home or in a big city. Everything was new to me.

My friend Cheryl and I were going to be roommates. We’d known each other since kindergarten and had grown up together — through Brownies, band practices, high school, and more.

I’ll never forget the day we left for college. Our parents saw us off at the Greyhound bus depot in Ashland, Wisconsin, at around ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, but we didn’t pull into Madison until eight hours later. When we boarded the bus, Cheryl and I had three or four suitcases each, my electric typewriter, my nine-inch black-and-white TV, four carry-on bags, and the big purses that we all carried in those days.

It was late August, and to us, having grown up on the shores of Lake Superior, it was fall. Cheryl and I both wanted to look nice for our first day of college, and I will never forget our outfits. I was wearing off-white polyester pants, an argyle sweater, and my suede baseball jacket. Cheryl was in dark blue pants (that I would later borrow from her) and a sweater.

We endured the bus trip by talking nonstop. We had been to Madison only once to see the campus, and frankly, I was terrified.

When we stepped off the bus, I knew we were in trouble. We were scared and exhausted, and it was 80 degrees. Here we were: two eighteen-year-old girls with multiple pieces of luggage and other possessions, and we were sweating right through our polyester pants. It was like being dressed in giant, fitted Hefty bags. Did I mention I was also wearing my Frye boots? Oh, yes. And nothing says uncomfortable like knee-high boots with socks in hot weather. Our faces were a sweaty mess. Our clothes were holding in every bit of heat and moisture. Thank goodness Final Net never stops holding your hair. It was the only thing that was working for us.

We managed to commandeer a taxi outside the bus depot. After we loaded up, the driver informed us that we had to wait for more passengers to fill up the taxi. So we sat there — sweaty, anxious, and clinging to our stuff. Finally, two more students got in, and we were off to campus, experiencing what we came to call “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

Miraculously, we arrived at Ogg East, dragged our stuff to the front desk, and retrieved our keys from a not-so-nice woman who admonished us for being late. The Witch of the Desk, we eventually learned, would also control the meal tickets that let us eat and the laundry tickets that let us wash our clothes. We found our room and sat down on our beds. We were pretty sure that we had made a huge mistake. What were we doing here? We didn’t know anyone, much less where to eat, where to buy books, or even where to shower. So far, our college experience was more like an episode of Survivor.

We noticed a note on our door telling us to see the “house fellow.” Cheryl and I were in no mood to see a house fellow, a house gal, a house princess, a house king, or even the pope. But we didn’t want to get into any trouble, so we found Scott, who told us what had been covered at the house meeting — which we had missed. He seemed really nice, but we simply couldn’t listen to any new information. Scott was wearing shorts, no shirt, and was barefoot, while we were melting into two big, smelly, synthetic-wearing puddles.

We remembered that we had to call home. I went first. I told my mom that she needed to pack up all of my shorts, T-shirts, and sandals, and put them in the mail — express mail, if it wasn’t too expensive. Mom kept saying she was proud of me, but I just kept saying, “Please mail all my summer clothes.”

That night, Cheryl and I made a list of what we needed to do the next day. We knew we were going to be okay — after all, we were from a place where the T-shirts said, “Ashland isn’t the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.”

During the next few months, Cheryl and I helped each other get over homesickness, live through exams, and survive at a Big Ten university. Being in college was hard and scary, but it was also full of laughter and dances and football games, the Statue of Liberty in the lake, and ice cream from Babcock Hall.

They were the best years of my life.

Anne Lamoreaux McGill ’82 lives in Lodi, Wisconsin.

Published in the Fall 2011 issue

Tags: Alumni, Campus history, Student life, Students

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