In 1948, I went from Brooklyn, NY, to an “out-of-town” college, Syracuse University.
I had chosen Syracuse because of its journalism school, and had never actually visited the campus. Nor did my parents drive me up when the school year started; they had no car. I said goodbye to Mom and Dad at home and was on my own with the moving-in process.
Luckily, as it turned out, I was not completely alone—my roommate was to be one of my best friends, Bernice. She and I made the 7-hour trip up to school on the New York Central, each of us with a trunkful of clothes in the baggage car, and more clothes in carry-on suitcases. We took a taxi from the railroad station.
Having grown up in a rather small, railroad-flat type of city apartment, I was really looking forward to my freshman dorm, University I, which the college literature called a “cottage.” The very word “cottage” brought to my mind the mandatory adjective “cozy,” along with an image of red brick, bright shutters, geranium-filled window boxes, and sparkling white ruffled curtains. Sightseeing out the taxicab window, I remember thinking: “This must be the slum part of town,” when the driver stopped and said, “This is it for University I!” This was it?! This was our “cottage?!” The reality was a grimy, mustard-colored three-story clapboard residence that was long past its prime.
Greeting us at the door to help us with our luggage was a smiling Junior Guide. We briefly glimpsed the dark, boxy living room with its threadbare carpet and seedy, mismatched furniture, and then she led us up (and up!) the stairs to our third-floor attic room, all the while “orienting” us to the university. We were so stunned by the shabbiness of the dorm that not a word registered, and our room was a further shock. The one closet for both of us was about two feet wide and four feet deep, with just a curtain for a door. About three feet out from the right-hand wall was a four-inch floor-to-ceiling pipe that connected to the bathroom, which was downstairs on the second floor. On the twin beds were rolled-up mattresses that definitely had seen better days. The windows, of course, were bare.
As our guide chatted on, Bernice and I nodded without hearing or saying a word. My disappointment was so intense, I felt like crying, and I would have if I had been alone. Instead, when our guide finally left the room, Bernice and I burst out laughing. We unrolled the mattresses, fell onto the beds, and laughed until I thought we would burst.
Our laughter proved to be prophetic: we had many good times in that dorm, which housed about 20 freshman girls and turned out to be pretty cozy after all.