For Mary Lee: Love and Honor to Miami

My first-cousin-once-removed-in-law is going to start her college years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on Sunday. Her parents are driving her and her stuff to campus and will be leaving her there to begin the rest of her life. Her mom will cry and her dad will carry on with a stiff upper lip. Normal behaviors — an important passage in every family’s life. So why am I writing about this?

Although I can barely remember the drop-off part, in the fall of 1970 a relatively naive eighteen-year-old from West Milton, Ohio, was delivered to the hallowed doors of Oxford College by her parents. Oxford College for Women had been converted into a Miami University dormitory in 1902 when women were first admitted to the university. In those days we didn’t come to college with microwaves and refrigerators. It was pretty easy to carry my meager possessions up the stairs to the second floor of Ox College, which at the time was 120 years old with windows and electricity to match — and no air conditioning. But the beautiful old building was picturesque and had a ballroom, for goodness sake! It felt pretty darn cool.

I remember the rest of it as if it were yesterday. I moved in early for band camp because I was going to be a music major and planned to be in the marching band. I didn’t know that the band was known as the Stumbling 100; I thought I was going to be spelling out script Miami on the football field and my high school friend Belinda was going to dot the “I” with her sousaphone (my parents went to THE Ohio State). I met the other two girls in my dorm who were also going to be in the band, and we trudged across town carrying our instruments for our first big day at band camp. Unfortunately, nobody had told us that we were supposed to request South Quad dorms if we were in band. Ox College was more than a mile from campus and going back and forth to classes and activities involved crossing through most of uptown and all of campus. The trek to campus became our six-times-a-day routine.

My younger readers are probably asking why we had to do this six times a day. You don’t know how good you have it now. In the olden days, there were no such things as meal cards and open dining halls. Students had to eat all of their meals in their assigned dining hall unless they had made elaborate arrangements to be a guest in another dining room. Linda, Nancy, and I had to go back and forth between campus and Ox College just to get our meals. Frankly, it was brutal, but that wasn’t even the worst part.

The only other women in the dorm were the counselors and the girls who were going through sorority rush. In those days, Greeks rushed before school started, and it was quite different from what it is today. Young women who were rushing still wore tea dresses and heels to rush parties and it was a pretty formal system.

Are you getting the picture yet? It is still crystal clear in my mind. During band camp, we would march in the hot August sun for 3-4 hours in the morning, return to our dorms for lunch, come back for four more hours of marching, and then go back to our dorms again. The dining hall ladies would hold dinner for the three of us as we straggled in at 5:55 pm with sweaty hair and lime up to our knees. The girls participating in sorority rush avoided us like the plague, and rightfully so.

It is here that the story gets better. Being in band was one of the best decisions I ever made. Although I’ve lost touch with Nancy, my first friend in band is still one of my best friends and lives a half-mile from me. Linda and her husband travel with us, and there isn’t much she doesn’t know about me. My friend Susan and I can have a phone conversation after a six month hiatus without missing a beat; she sometimes calls just as I am about to call her because we have this uncanny connection. I’d like to think these enduring friendships were forged in the cauldron of the southwestern Ohio late summer.

As for the Stumbling 100, we were blessed with new grad assistants and a new commitment to move past the label and become a better band. We quickly became involved with band leadership and we were all elected to the band honor sorority, Tau Beta Sigma, which was okay with us having lime on our legs and wearing shorts instead of tea dresses. We built the Miami Marching Machine, a wooden tank-like structure that we put over Dr. Clay’s Volkswagen bug and brought it on the football field with us. We got over (kind of) our envy of the people living in the brand new air-conditioned dorms that were just south of the marching field and the music building. We met men and other women from the band who understood our passion for music and our love of the camaraderie that comes from shared experiences. We learned that first impressions are just the beginning and we became friends with the lovely women who lived in Ox College. And we changed our living arrangements in our sophomore year to better suit us — the young adults that were growing up in the palms of Miami’s mentoring hands.

As Mary Lee starts her time at Miami and becomes a member of the Miami Marching Band, I want her to love it as much as I did. I’m pretty sure that she will quickly become involved and will also meet new people who will become lifelong friends. Miami is a special place; she already knows that because her parents have long-time friendships with people they met when they were students at Miami. It’s not the same university I went to, and it’s not the same university that Kevin and Sandy went to. It’s now Mary Lee’s university, and it’s an environment that will mentor her just as it did us. There will be a huge temptation to stalk her on Facebook, but I have learned that most of the time it’s not appropriate for her old relative to comment on her wall. I promise, Mary Lee.

And since I have you readers as my captive audience, I want you to know an important truth. It’s NOT Miami of Ohio. It’s Miami University, and we were a university when Florida still belonged to Spain. Don’t ever make that mistake again when talking to a graduate of THE Miami University!

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