For we were young yet and full of fun yet and looking forward to days to come
It’s not the first time or the last time; that forever we will have a jolly good bum, bum, bum.
Even now I have a reoccurring dream where my long suffering roommate props the backdoor open with a brick so I can come in late. How I communicated my desperation pre-cell phone, I have no idea. Breaking a rule of “The House” probably saved my life as I was speeding back from Memphis to make curfew. Free as a bird for the first time, my true nature was always a challenge in college.
But thank the stars, I had a stable home life with the Chi Os.
“The House” was Tau of Chi Omega (Box 4498, Oxford, Mississippi 38677) where I lived on and off for 3 years during the 1970s. Coincidentally, it will be decimated this summer for a fancier version about the same time I lugged my stuff up the stairs to our corner room a half-century before.
I harken back to the cherished home I saw it to be. Joyner Avenue, Frances Square, Clydelan Court, Sunnyside Drive, Myrtle Street, Arrowhead Drive, and Rolling Fields Circle had nothing on the retooling that I received through club living on the edge of campus.
Changing residences were old hat to me by the time I got there. My childhood was a patchwork of new elementary schools and friends. Determination for a lively life set up a wild-card purpose in me. College was a world that I had elevated and anticipated since it took root in my imagination. With that…. sorority membership was a no brainer.
Before my Father and I arrived with my suitcases, I knew no one at Ole Miss except a few long distance acquaintances and a childhood friend who I had not seen in a while. I was confident that to live in a community of similar start-ups would be centering and offer a launch pad complete with yet to be mimicked skill sets. Clearly this would not be everything that I needed for the land of the living, but it was a first step in managing the never-ending personality parade.
The Chi O House of the 1970s was grandiose for the time – red bricked and columned, necessary tributes to the Old South. Still I appreciated its juxtaposition to the Pi Phi house, a modern and more thoughtful respecter of the landscape.
At a Sorority Rush Coke Party in the summer of 1973, I first met the Chi O membership when they burst through the front door of “The House.” I feigned composure as I stood transfixed on the steamy hot sidewalk dressed in my fall woolens as they pranced and clapped and chanted: “Who’s that walking down the street – Looks so cute and dressed so neat – All the people turn around to say – Chi Omegas are out today – La De Da, Go Chi O, Go Chi O!”
An assortment of shapes, sizes and moods, the girls wore red (cardinal) shorts and gold (straw) tunics with red piping and the Greek symbols for Chi Omega. In that moment, their approach to the world was of utter effervescence.
I was anxious to get some of their elixir. My parents and my hometown had become sluggish vehicles to my galloping horses. Not that my parents were resting in the mundane for they had much more spark than many in the way of imagination. Still Oxford and sorority life afforded a breed of creativity and freedom of which I had yet to dip my un-pedicured toes..
At the time I cannot say that I considered the other rushees (now known as recruits) who might be experiencing anything but the same high that I was. To those who were unable to relax in the moment, those not included or those who were simply pressured to conform to an unsuitable life style perpetrated by another generation, I was oblivious. The sorority association was simply a technicolor model to which I was drawn.
At seventeen I was an egocentric newbie, not able to see possibilities in the future worlds of work. I was mesmerized by social possibilities. There were no judgements involved: I longed for confirmation of what I understood thus far which was excavated in never-ending emotional conversations.
For me, this was a good thing. It turns out that most of life concerns navigating the highways and byways of participation.
Grateful to have felt seen at “The House,” I was at the same time perplexed by the need to always prove oneself. “The House” was a swell training ground for planning, practicing, playing, singing, dancing, listening, drawing, studying and then rehashing it all. Someone was always nearby to debrief.
Going through “Rush” in those days, a participant was invited to rounds of parties only to be included or excluded by the various groups whose purpose was to select good members as they saw them. Invitation was based on certain standards involving grades and an enthusiastic nature. Pledges faced certain requirements in the first year to become initiated into the group.
Home was not assured after moving into “The House.” Aloneness at times was guaranteed; the intense kind that while you are surrounded by people, you still experience a disconnect. Such bouts set in when comparing oneself to others, an unsteady feature of the western culture.
Most likely you’ve heard “if you understand Mississippi, you understand the world.” I’m not sure I get the drift completely, only that the sentiment feels correct; there was an environment that remains both exotic and disturbing.
At that time “The House” residents and advisors were homogenous except for the kind African American ladies who cooked our meals and cleaned our rooms. I can see them, arms crossed, leaning on the door frames watching our antics with grace.
Since then I’ve read Du Bois and am beginning to fully understand “the veil” or the color line which he describes. Membership goals of Chi Omega “that she may be a symphony of high purpose and helpfulness in which there is not discordant note,” had many miles to go to achieve the coalesce of heaven.
The House of my memory rocked by way of record player needle and the sounds of Jackson Brown, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Bob Seger, Billy Joel, The Eagles and for heaven’s sake Barry Manilow. (This brings me to the dreary conclusion that the veil disregarded women musicians too.) The space was awash with gleaming paneled wood, snug room-lets, bowls of flowers, cinderblock halls, impromptu posters, birthday celebrations, pitchers of ice tea, a window-lined dining room, a brick patio for hamburger cookouts, owl cookies, labeled bathroom cubbies, and a chapter room which doubled for meetings and the viewing of in-between class television favorites like The Young and Restless.
In prep for demolition this summer, the current and thoughtful members prepared a video to honor past memories. I made ready to shed a tear, but the music was unfamiliar and the house too, which had experienced many do overs since the 1970s.
Still I know that these sisters are a more enlightened version of their predecessors who have been ever-evolving since 1899. Along side their current standards for high academic achievement, their philanthropy efforts are a huge part of the Chi O Tau Chapter where last year they raised over 60,000 for Make a Wish Foundation.
If in passing we are allowed a life review then surely one of my screenings will be set in “The House” dining room. During the aftermath of a nighttime meal (no doubt Rose’s Meat Concern), we will remain seated, packed-in, side by side for songs of full harmonies.
One melody echoes still though the inculcation of context was yet to be realized at the time. The lyrics of “Shades” continues to be fulfilled as reunions of all types have happened in support of our long and winding roads.
In the current world mood, it makes me sad to think that everything of the past fades to flawed. Spirit-filled companionship is not the easiest of commitments to make, but forming into experiential groups can promote bonds of understanding where unimpeded college-aged types can begin to process what it means to become a real grown up; continuing education is an assured bonus as the years go by. After all who else can console or advise other than those who knew you when you had a lampshade on your head?
My chest tightens as I think of leaving “The House” after my last semester, lugging my stuff – bump, bump, bump, back down the stairs into a future on the wing and a prayer of “to whom much is given, much will be required.” Best practices of “The House” reverberate as the trial run that they were: open your heart, show up and check in.
Pay back for playing hard while there is especially handy in the “Shades of evening.”
In the shades of evening, There will be no grieving, Even tho’ you’re leaving
Chi O far behind you. There’ll be many memories, there’ll be many letters, there’ll be lonely hours
’til we meet again, then We’ll have our reunion, there’ll be toasts and singing,
And you’ll hear us bringing praises to you ’til then, Chi O now departing,
Come bid sweet adieu, Chi O ever after, We’ll remember you.