We drove more than six hours east last weekend to see our daughter perform in the Washington State University marching band. Oh, we watched a football game, too. The Cougars beat the New Mexico State Aggies 58-7.  

Somebody somewhere said we should give our kids at least six weeks before visiting them at college. Perhaps it’s the empty nest syndrome, but we visited our daughter in three.

My husband and I have divided college loyalties. I attended the University of Washington. He went to WSU. Two decades ago, my stepson gave us a license plate bearing the logos of both Washington state universities with a lightning bolt down the center and the words “House Divided” at the bottom.

Our son graduated from the University of Washington. I often told people Nora was my husband’s last chance for a Cougar — and she complied.

As we sat in the bleachers Saturday evening under clear skies in balmy weather, my mind floated back decades to my first year of college — especially when the speakers boomed the Village People’s “Macho Man” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” In honor of the song’s 50th anniversary, the WSU band performed The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.”

I feel so old! The University of Washington might demolish my old dormitory, McMahon Hall, because it’s so old. Workers already tore down McCarty Hall to build three new dorms and they’re working on demolishing Haggett Hall for two more. McMahon has 11 floors divided into men’s and women’s “clusters,” each with three or four mostly double but some single rooms. One of my cohorts created a T-shirt depicting an airplane dropping an atomic bomb with the words: “McMahon: We do it in clusters.”

I am grateful that my children are smarter than I was.

On top of a bookshelf in my messy office sits a brown cardboard box filled with University of Washington spiral notebooks. Inside I jotted down thoughts, complaints, fears and who-knows-what-else. I’ve never cracked them open. It might be a good time to do so now that my youngest child has flown the nest. Then again, it might heighten my fears for her safety when I recall all the stupid things I did in college.

My first roommate and I couldn’t resist a cute little kid outside Safeway giving away kittens. Dorm rules prohibited all but goldfish, yet we brought our furry four-legged critter into our room and dubbed him “Macho Kitty.” One morning we heard shouting next door. Then our little kitten crawled back through the open window of our sixth-floor dorm room with masking tape on his fur bearing the words, “I am a goldfish.” Poor Macho Kitty grew up rather schizophrenic. We held him close to the speakers whenever we played his theme song, “Macho Man,” and several times guys had threatened to drop him off the balcony to see if he landed on his feet.

Another time I walked through the cluster and picked up a piece of paper in the shared lounge area. It read: “Did anybody notice our furniture is missing?” Sure enough, our sofa, table and chairs were all gone. All that remained was our small refrigerator. We knocked on doors and finally discovered a guys’ cluster on the seventh floor with two couches, two tables and a half dozen chairs. They had climbed from their balcony down to ours and stole our furniture, lifting it over the balcony rails.

One afternoon as we sat at our corner desks with windows overlooking University Village, a green two-liter soda bottle dangling from a string suddenly appeared. We reached through the window and pulled it inside. Attached was a note saying, “We just wanted to meet you. Enjoy the slow gin fizzes.”

Drinking played a huge role in my early college years. Our cluster held several parties with four and five kegs of beer. When we cooked a lasagna dinner for UW football players, one of our clustermates vomited on the white tablecloth borrowed from my roommate’s parents. We attended parties dressed in togas or like people living on Fourth and Pine downtown. We watched the cult-classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the University District. Eight or so of us sported green T-shirts bearing the words “League of Burly Women,” each with a nickname beginning with “B.”

One night when the dorm served steaks instead of Cheesy Garden Casserole, my roommate left the dining hall early. When I arrived, Laurie welcomed me to her DLSW party (Drink Laurie’s Sh---y Wine party). Oh, my. That night the dorm lost heat. Laurie insisted I use her electric blanket, but I refused. Instead, as I sat at a table in our cluster studying for a psychology test, I saw my shoes tossed out our bedroom door. Then my coat. My clothes. My mattress. Everything! She kicked me out.

When dorm officials aired the movie “Night of the Living Dead,” we rushed upstairs during intermission to our 11th floor rooms for beverages, squealing and screaming about the horrors of bloodthirsty zombies trying to eat people. The guys in the cluster across the hall heard us. After the movie, we re-entered our cluster and switched on the lights but nothing happened. Candles glowed in the bathroom and, in the flickering light, we saw words on the mirror in lipstick: “We’re hungry!”

We screamed and I raced through the lobby out to the balcony. Suddenly, a body covered in a sheet rose from the corner and I screamed again. So did everyone else.

And, um, we were on a quiet floor.

I hope I didn’t terrify any parents sending their children off to college. I’m sure your kids are much smarter than we were way back when.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at chaptersoflife1999@gmail.com.


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