‘Hail to purple, hail to white’

 hail to mom and dad

Wearing her school colors, Pam O’Meara stands in front of her former sorority house, now privately owned.  It overlooks Lake Michigan just off the Northwestern University campus. (Pam O’Meara/Review)
Wearing her school colors, Pam O’Meara stands in front of her former sorority house, now privately owned.  It overlooks Lake Michigan just off the Northwestern University campus. (Pam O’Meara/Review)
The Northwestern University Marching Band performs in Ryan Field, the renamed football stadium, just before the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes begins. (Pam O’Meara/Review)
The Northwestern University Marching Band performs in Ryan Field, the renamed football stadium, just before the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes begins. (Pam O’Meara/Review)

I searched my closet for anything purple — my school color — and came up with a few shirts, a jacket, socks and even shoes to wear for my 50th college reunion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois — the first reunion I’ve ever attended.

A sorority sister began contacting a number of alumnae months ago, encouraging us to attend.

Half of me wanted to go, but half didn’t. Would I have much in common with them anymore? I pictured all of them trim and in my stressful attempts to lose a few pounds, I gained a few instead. And they would all be with their husbands but I would be single.

In the end, none of that mattered.

The more I thought about going, the more fun it sounded, especially as the group emails began flying back and forth with sorority sisters announcing their attendance and saying how they were so looking forward to seeing everyone.

The university posted a long list of activities that included a tour for prospective students, a talk by an admissions officer and a musical show — right up my granddaughter Belle’s alley. I passed that on to my daughter Kate, and she said she’d go with me, taking Belle along to look over the campus as a prospective student.

Since Kate and Belle are the best travel buddies, that clinched it. I went back to the events page online, checked off all the activities of interest and hit the send button. I was committed and getting increasingly excited.

We drove to Evanston and started out with a campus tour. I was amazed to see the campus had almost doubled in size with land reclaimed from Lake Michigan, an activity that began when I was a student.

I remember lying on the beach during summer school and watching barge after barge carrying fill dirt for the lakefront project. (I wondered if filling in the lakeshore like that would be allowed nowadays.)

At first I had trouble getting my bearings with so many new buildings but then I saw some familiar ones, too. The library had a new addition  and a no-guns sticker on the large, old entrance door.

As I walked around, I thought about my college boyfriend but with the campus so changed, memories didn’t flood back as quickly as I expected.

That evening was my first meet-up with sorority sisters — 10 of us altogether. I had kept in touch with Kay through Christmas cards and had seen Karen a few times in the past 50 years, but had lost contact with the others. I didn’t recognize a few until I heard their voices or they identified themselves, but it was so fun to get back in touch.

We lined up for pictures while the husbands lined up opposite us with their cameras. And we talked and talked over dinner. Nearly everyone was retired, doing volunteer work, traveling and keeping fit.

Big-time football

The next day began at 9 a.m. with a tailgate brunch — my first ever — in a huge, football field-sized tent next to the stadium. People and buses were all over.

Then it was game time and we headed inside the stadium, which looked like a sea of purple. The last time I watched the Wildcats play was at the Rose Bowl 20 years ago. The marching band played our “Alma Mater” school song and the fight song. Then the homecoming game began, and it wasn’t long before I began noticing the big pauses in the action.

Fifty years ago we didn’t have to sit around while the TV networks ran all their ads. I guess big money rules college football nowadays

There were some new cheers and chants — “Move that chain! Move that chain!” — in hopes of our team making another first down.

But the chants didn’t help and our optimism slowly waned. The Wildcats lost 10 to 40 against the Iowa Hawkeyes, after beating the Minnesota Gophers 27-0 a couple of weeks earlier. (And my beloved Cubs lost, too.)

We walked the mile or more back to campus like we used to on beautiful fall days.

A feeling of belonging

That night my all-class dinner was held at a local country club. Afterward, we nostalgically sang, “Hail to purple. Hail to white. Hail to thee Northwestern.”

And hail to Mom and Dad, I thought to myself for their gift of a college education and a sorority membership.

My parents would have been glad I attended my reunion. So was I. Just wish I could have thanked them in person.

My father didn’t finish college because he had to work, so he took pride in paying for college for my two sisters and me. My mother did graduate but couldn’t afford a sorority membership, so she wanted to make sure I could. She felt she missed out on social activities when her friends went to alumnae events and she couldn’t. She was wiser than I knew.

 I feel the importance of the college and sorority ties that have followed through my life. And singing Northwestern’s “Alma Mater” at the football game and class dinner tugged at my heartstrings and gave me a firm sense of belonging.

I loved sharing some of this with Kate and Belle, especially when three sorority sisters from the Boston area offered to host a visit upon learning Belle was interested in a college in Boston.

The sisterly bond continued. I am blessed.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.

 

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