WOSTER: Starting college with wide eyesI slept much of the way from Chamberlain to Omaha that late-summer day 50 years ago when Dad drove me and my big sister to enroll for fall-semester classes at Creighton University.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I slept much of the way from Chamberlain to Omaha that late-summer day 50 years ago when Dad drove me and my big sister to enroll for fall-semester classes at Creighton University.
It was pretty easy to sleep in the old 1956 Pontiac station wagon. It was packed with the belongings of two kids, one a college freshman, the other a nursing-school graduate on her way to get a bachelor’s degree in her chosen profession. Jeanne and Dad spent a lot of the trip talking. He loved to talk, and she was a good listener.
Me? I tuned out as soon as we hit the highway headed east. Most of the trip, I zoned in and out in that disoriented way I’ve found so common when I try to nap in a moving vehicle. This was at a time when construction was in the early stages on the interstate highway system. Nearly all of the roads between Chamberlain and Omaha were two-lane affairs.
After a traveler reached the southeast tip of South Dakota and crossed the border, the two-lane highway ran in a crooked path down the east side of the Missouri River. Much of that road at that time was really, really narrow, and the curbs along either shoulder made the driving surface seem that much tighter.
These days — in fact most days since I became an adult and began spending long days pounding the highways and back roads of South Dakota in search of stories for the wire service or a newspaper — I’m pretty fascinated by the countryside rolling by as I travel.
As a reporter, I often traveled with the radio off, just to concentrate on the passing scenery and to think about, you know, life and story ideas and people along the trail. As an 18-year-old kid, I didn’t find the scenery fascinating. It was boring, and the more I could sleep, the shorter the trip seemed.
Besides, I was about scared to death, although I’d never have admitted it to a living soul. I had a couple of close friends, but I’d never have admitted that the thought of starting classes on a college campus in the middle of a city as huge as Omaha had me pretty much terrified.
I was a small-town farm boy headed for a pretty big-time university. In the best of circumstances, I’m an introvert. Going to a big college so far from home didn’t bring out the extrovert in me.
So I slept most of the way, waking somewhere in Iowa when Dad stopped at a roadside cider stand and bought a gallon jug of apple cider and a gallon jug of cherry cider. The stand was somewhere around Onawa, if I remember correctly. It was set back close to several huge shade trees, and even though the glass jugs were just sitting on and around a display table, the cherry cider was as chilled as if it had just come from a refrigerator. I drank about half the cherry cider between there and the edge of campus.
The street past Wareham Hall, my first college dormitory, was made of bricks or cobblestones, and the Pontiac bounced and bucked as my Dad piloted it slowly toward the place I’d call home for the next nine months.
Wareham was an old dorm, as old in its way as the curbed, two-lane highways of eastern Iowa. No two rooms were the same, which gave it a certain charm, even if it means some freshmen were assigned to massive (comparatively) rooms and others had oversized closets.
My first roommate was a bit over-protected and came to college unable to tie a necktie. He had one clip-on that came halfway down his chest because his little brother had snipped off the bottom half. My second roommate (Father Cahill, the dorm manager, shuffled assignments after Christmas break) was from Los Angeles, carried a switchblade and asked, on our first night after lights out, if the walls sometimes talked to me, too.
“Uh, no, they don’t, John. They really don’t,” I whispered in the dark.
I didn’t sleep as much that semester as I had on the trip down from Chamberlain.