Dropping of plates brings back memories

Eating out the other day, a waitress unfortunately, dropped a couple of plates, silverware, etc. The clatter, of course, caused everyone to look, but fortunately nothing was broken. I had a lot of empathy with her because of an incident back in the 1950s when I was in college.

Part of my working through college was my four years as a waiter in the freshman girls’ dining hall. There was also a women’s dining hall for upperclass women. With about 90 percent of the men belonging to fraternities and living in fraternity houses with their own dining facilities, there was a freshman men’s dining hall that had a few of the non-fraternity upperclass men.

Dining had some informal meals, some more formal, and one very formal. The informal meals were breakfast and most lunches, with the more formal being dinners on Monday through Thursday evenings. The very formal dinner was Sunday noon with linen table cloths and napkins. Informal meals were served cafeteria style with the girls picking up their plates of food, salads and desserts and proceeding to be seated at the tables (seating eight each) not haphazardly, but filling up the tables in order from one side of the dining room by rows to the other side.

Generally there was no choosing of tables with seating with those who were close to you coming into the dining hall. Waiters served milk, water, and coffee and cleared the tables when the girls finished eating.

The more formal meals had all the girls coming into the dining hall within a 10-minute period and proceeding to the tables, again filling each table up in order. The house mothers of the three dormitories were seated at the first table and were served first with all the rest of the girls standing at their tables until the house mothers were seated. For these formal meals, the waiters served the plates with the main course. This meant a waiter carried a large tray with eight plates of food for each of the tables. Usually two waiters could take care of five tables.

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That brings me to why I had such empathy for the waitress who dropped the plates and silverware the other day. In the spring of my freshman year some of the waiters decided that we should have a Bermuda shorts day at the dining hall. As you can imagine, that was not approved by the powers that be, but as rebels influenced by the great weather and possibly some hormonal rambunctiousness, that did not stop us.

Our boss, Mrs. Mollie B. Aber (I’ll never forget her.) was aghast when we showed up for work, but we were allowed to put on our white waiter coats and proceeded to serve dinner. Yes, that is when I carried one of the trays with eight dinners on it out into the dining room and got almost to the far end before I turned and proceeded to dump the entire tray full of dinners onto one of the girls’ tables. No one was injured and no one really got the full meal onto a lap.

There was surprise and then laughter. I probably turned beet red.

We did get through the meal and after the girls had exited, we got a pretty good lecture from Mrs. Aber. Mine was not the first such accident, but with the Bermuda shorts affair it really stood out. The next day the six of us who had worn the shorts were fired even though we continued to get our meals just prior to when the meals were served for the girls as we had all paid for the entire semester.

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All of us who were fired were allowed to return to work the next year and I continued for the entire four years. At the end of my sophomore year, I became the head waiter and moved from a plain white jacket to a white jacket with maroon epaulets! With that promotion, my wage was doubled from 50¢ an hour to $1 an hour.

After I was graduated, I got a teaching position in a rural school just 30 miles from my college and with low pay at that position, I returned to that college dining hall to work in the kitchen both helping cook as well as being the pots and pans man. That paid a bit better than the waiters were getting, but in addition I got free meals as well.

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Despite the above sounding somewhat provincial and “in loco parentis,” there were plenty of opportunities for socializing. Though not a great dancer, I went to plenty of dances. In addition to sock hops, in the fall there was a pledge formal, a fall formal, a Christmas formal, and a spring formal and a sorority formal. All but the sorority formal, which was held in the non-residential, non-food service sorority houses, were held in the fraternity houses – the tradition being that during the evening you could walk from your own fraternity around to visit all the other fraternities – each one having a different live band. When the weather was good it made for a great night.

There was also a tradition that once each semester, the chapel bells would play “Hold That Tiger,” which meant that the next day there would be no classes and instead there would be some special entertainment. Two entertainments stick in my mind, one being The Four Freshmen and the other being the Glenn Miller band (without Glenn Miller of course.)

In my junior year we had a real blowout of a weekend with The Kingston Trio and The Limelighters performing. Anyone remember them?

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!

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