I tend to think of the college dorms of my time as being austere compared to the ones kids live in these days, but a social media post recently made me remember what real austerity was in my freshman year at Creighton.
The post asked people to name their favorite University of Nebraska football player. Well, I don’t pay much attention to Nebraska football, but I had a favorite: Bill “Thunder’’ Thornton from the early 1960s. Like many other players of the era, he played both offense and defense. He was a running back and a linebacker for the Cornhuskers. I never saw Thornton actually play, but I liked the nickname “Thunder,’’ and he sure sounded fierce over the radio on Saturday afternoons.
Radio? Yeah, radio. My assigned freshman dorm had a radio in the game room in the basement. Game room is a high-falutin’ term for a place with ping pong equipment, a couple of tables for card games, a popcorn maker and maybe an ironing board in the corner. That was it, except for a couple of ratty couches, a few well-worn easy chairs and a radio on a shelf against the wall.
I can’t remember a television anywhere in the dorm. There must have been one somewhere. If so, it didn’t carry Cornhusker football, because the fans – a group of freshmen from Nebraska towns and cities – gathered in the basement to listen to games. The followed the Big Red like it was their religion. Saturdays in Wareham Hall were pretty quiet, so I took to joining the Nebraska group to listen to games. The guys were excited about Thunder’s senior year, and they were getting fired up about the new coach, Bob Devaney.
But this isn’t about Nebraska football. It’s about a college dorm without ready access to television and little to do during free time but listen to the radio and play cards or ping pong. The main lobby had an old-fashioned (well, old-fashioned these days) telephone booth with folding glass doors for privacy. I think I called home – collect – once that year, just before Christmas break. I can’t remember my family ever calling me. It just wasn’t something people did in those days. Long-distance calls cost money, don’t you know?
It’s been a while since I’ve been in a college dormitory, but a while back I was told nearly every room had a television somewhere. These days, I suppose, TVs have been replaced by laptops and smart phones. I was surprised and envious when one of my granddaughters moved into a dorm at State and told me it had both air conditioning and an elevator. What? Wareham had air conditioning if everyone opened their windows and doors and let the wind blow through the place.
In the freshman dorm, we had to be in our rooms at 8 p.m. Imagine that. For the first week that semester, the dorm manager cut electricity to the rooms at 10:30 p.m. They took “Lights Out’’ seriously.
We could wear blue jeans in the dorm, but not around campus unless we were headed to an intramural activity. For some reason white Levi’s were exempt from the jeans edict. Every guy had a couple of pairs. That Majorette’s song, “White Levi’s,’’ came out sometime that year. The California surf scene inspired it, but it might as well have been Creighton’s theme. “Everywhere he goes he wears his white Levi’s and his tennis shoes and surfing hat and big plaid Pendleton shirt.’’
You might say fashion was relaxing by then, because the Majorettes hit came only a few years after the more formal men’s wear song “Black Slacks.’’ Remember? “Brrrr, black slacks, make a cool daddy-o, when I put them on I’m a-raring to go.’’
When I transferred to South Dakota State after freshman year, the dress code was basically “anything goes.’’ The front door of the dorm wasn’t locked, the power stayed on all night and a big TV (well, for its time) dominated the first-floor day room.
Big changes, weren’t they? Something that didn’t change, though: When State traveled to Nebraska for football, my roommate and I listened to the game on his radio