Campus Stories, Wisconsin, Campus Radio Station–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1991, part 3

In place of the former requirement to speak German for an hour a day, the suite had German meetings, which eventually would be known as Swiss meetings because Heidi was Swiss and she mostly taught us about Switzerland.  Sometimes they were called suite meetings.

Swiss meetings were whenever we could all fit them into our schedules.  Sometimes they were in the suite, and sometimes they were in classrooms which Heidi would reserve.

Once, Heidi showed us slides from Switzerland and a wagon full of little girls she had taught and brought on a field trip.  I noticed that they were all blonde, and I wondered if there were many brunettes in Switzerland.

We studied Switzerland: its division of languages, government and culture.  We also learned some German.  We learned the Swiss joke that they were a neutral country because they liked fighting too much.  We also learned some phrases in French, German and Italian.

A couple of times at the very beginning of the year, Tom and I were the only ones able to go to the meeting.  Heidi tried to teach us some German words for foods.  Then Tom asked with his characteristic grin,

“Do you know some dirty words in German, eh, Heidi?”

“Well–Yes.  There’s this word…”  She gave us the word for, well, you know, the sh– word.

I even wrote it down in my little German dictionary so I would recognize it if necessary, and not use it.  (After all, some kids in my high school had once told a foreign exchange student that the f— word meant hello.)

Then she quizzed us on the words.  Tom only remembered Sch–βe.

“I try to teach you German, and this is the only word you remember!” Heidi cried.

In another meeting, Heidi took the two of us into a classroom in the 103-year-old building of Old Main.  Here she told Tom and me the German names for countries on a map on the wall.  Tom began singing “Albania.”  And, of course, what really interested Tom was the drinking age in those places.

I had a tiny crush on Tom, but his preoccupation with drinking worried me. I was a teetotaling Nazarene, and didn’t want a guy who drank alcohol.  I’d heard nothing from Peter for some days now, though he knew where I lived and I didn’t have his number.  (I didn’t know he stopped in once while I wasn’t there.)

I began to think we were just friends at a dance and that I’d never see him again, so Tom gained prominence in my heart.  Shawn still interested me, too; I sometimes sat with him at lunch.

***

Three of my classes were in Old Main, and German was in Jubilee.  Old Main was a beautiful building, the one in which miscellaneous classes were held.  It went back to the days when RC was still Mission House Seminary, and German was the language spoken there.

Like almost all the buildings on campus, Old Main was said to be haunted.  There were three floors plus the basement, all with classrooms, but the third floor was the spookiest because it was the main haunt.  The stairs to it were even warped.

The second floor Honors room was said to have lights in it after dark.  The first floor had one room, 14, that seemed like it could be haunted, but its main offense was its ugly, 70s-orange-red and yellow paint.

(These colors worked much better on the outer walls than on the classroom walls.  On the outside, they were beautiful colors for the building; on the inside, they were garish.)

The legends of the ghost, passed down by the faculty, differed; some said it was a cleaning lady, some said it was a former professor.  One legend said it was a composer who died of a heart attack while composing a song: This ghostly song would play up until the point he died, then pause, then finish as it would have been written had he lived.

On the second floor, teachers sometimes wrote things on the board early in the morning, only to find them erased a few minutes later.  No one else was in the building at the time.  Chairs in a room were sometimes found all turned around.

Of course, I remember myself and the InterVarsity group turning around all the chairs in ugly room 14 once–but that was the first floor, not the second where the ghost supposedly did this.

More concrete features of Old Main: It had one large tower over an entrance.  After a rain, I sometimes stood at the bottom, looked up the face of the tower to the very top, and watched raindrops fall the long, slow drop to the ground below.

I don’t remember if this tower had a belfry, but bats did often invade the building.  In my junior year, as I sat in the Honors room during Advanced Composition with Counselor Dude, I saw a black form flit by the open doorway.  I kept watching to see what it was, until a bat flew into the room.

Several of my classmates shrieked (I think all or most of us were female in that class), but I thought it was great.  I didn’t think of the rabies threat; this didn’t come to mind until late 2004, when a teenage girl in Fond du Lac, WI nearly died of rabies from a bat scratch.

Finally, the excitement ended when the bat flew out of the room and Counselor Dude shut the door.

Another fascinating feature of Old Main was an old, German plaque on the wall on the first floor.  It went back almost to when the building was built, and had German names on it such as Muehlmeier.

This is how I learned that some buildings were named after people.  The words “geboren” (born) and “gestorben” (died) after the names showed this to be a memorial from the days when German almost became the official language of Wisconsin.

Later in the year, Latosha told us the college wanted to move radio station WVRC to Old Main on the third floor.  They told her the DJ’s late at night would be safely behind locked doors, but she said, “I’d be afraid of something poking its head in!”–meaning a ghost, of course.

This room became the A/V room.  Here, Lake TV would broadcast school announcements and, later, class cancellations, movies, and student-made music videos.

Freshman year, as Peter told me, a student accidentally played part of a porno movie.  He put in a tape of another movie recorded over the porno, but the movie wasn’t long enough to cover up the porno.

The college had dug up long strips all over campus in the year before, and put in wires to transmit the radio station to several buildings on campus.  Some of them were by the suites, now growing grass back in.  They used this method rather than a regular radio signal.

But other buildings still couldn’t get WVRC.  They were supposed to be hooked up before the end of the year, but never were.  The radio station was eventually reduced to DJ’s hosting dances around campus.

Peter and I wanted to be co-DJ’s.  He wanted to call us “Rock ‘n’ Robin”; I wanted to play Christian rock, such as Steve Taylor, Mastodon and Greg X. Volz, mixed in with secular music such as MC Hammer and Metallica.  But this never happened because the station never officially made it to the air.

I signed up to be a DJ before I started dating Peter.  I heard about it after dinner from a junior who lamented to Heidi, Latosha, Paul, Maizie and me the probability of not getting enough DJ’s.  We were walking outside Chase, the science building.  I was interested.  Heidi waved at me as if to say, “Here’s one!”  So we all walked over to the radio room, which was in Chase at that time.

We looked around at the few records there, mostly secular.  I don’t remember if there were any CD’s.  Yes, my younger readers, this was back in the Stone Age, when a record could be only a year or two old.

Latosha stuck an MC Hammer record on the turntables, playing around with the dials and switches.  She said “Testing, WVRC, testing” into the microphone.  We played around with the equipment, testing it out and playing music.

We had a great time–until Latosha discovered the broadcast switch was on.  Oh, shoot.

“The FCC requires us to say this when we finish broadcasting,” she said, grabbing a paper with the FCC spiel printed on it.  “WVRC is now ending its broadcast.  WVRC broadcasts at a frequency of….” etc., etc.  She flicked off the switch.  “That’s probably the shortest broadcast WVRC’s ever made,” she said.  I wonder if anybody heard it.

Jubilee, once a men’s dorm, was now the office building.  On one floor stood a door with a padlock and a “Caution” sign.  A flight of stairs leading to it was also blocked off with a sign.

I didn’t know where these stairs were (though Peter did, and went up them once, the rebellious spirit that he was), but I often passed the door, especially when teacher Ruth moved German class from Old Main to a conference room on third-floor Jubilee.

That door scared me.  I had to pass it to go to the ladies’ room, where I always feared something would come through the walls:

The year before I came, this door had locks and signs all over it.  It led to an old frat room, supposedly haunted.  Also behind the door had been the office of a professor who left before I came.  According to the stories, he’d say the office was haunted, but no one would believe him.

Latosha and some friends had gone into the old frat room, but it freaked them out.  There was some sort of frat symbol on the floor, and it was all dusty and dirty and had rat or bat droppings here and there.

Julie told me that in Muehlmeier in maybe 1990 or 1991, a guy supposedly overdosed on drugs and probably died.  They (whoever they were) set his body down in the hallway by the stairs.  When they came back, the body had disappeared.  (Maybe he wasn’t really dead?)

A star football player had died on the football field in a freak accident: he was hit a certain way during a routine tackle, snapping his neck or injuring his spine.  Now the field was haunted.

A student had died in the campus lake one year.  I don’t know the year, possibly in the 70s, but it was during a college picnic.  Counselor Dude was in a boat while this boy swam around.  The currents took him under, and he drowned.

This had been one of Counselor Dude’s favorite students; he was distraught.  Soon after, the school put up the “No Lifeguard on Duty–Swim at Your Own Risk” sign.

Even the Sigma suite had a ghost, Dr. Joes.  The Sigmas stole a Girl Scout sign in April 1998 from someone else who’d stolen it.  It flew off the wall, just missed the pool table, rolled in a circle on the floor three times, and lay still.  Other information, such as the significance of the number three, was a Sigma secret.

There was also supposed to be moaning in the Krueger tunnels, which were under or beside the basement and led to some other building.  I never went near the tunnels, so I never heard the moaning.

A room on the first floor of Krueger, now the RA supply room, was supposedly haunted.  On the first or second floor, probably the RA supply room, a girl–supposedly, again–hung herself.  The next year, another girl did the same thing there.

So the school no longer assigned this room to anyone, and made it into a supply room.  At least, so I was told.  Latosha once said that the stories may or may not have been true, but that Old Main was the one building she thought truly haunted.  This was also the general consensus.

***

Milwaukee was about an hour away.  Whenever I thought of Milwaukee in those days, I thought of Laverne and Shirley.  I thought of the way they talked and the things they did, especially in the opening credits–just like the parody in the movie Wayne’s World.  I’d see a clock from the Interstate that looked like the big clock in the opening credits.  I’d see the German-style buildings and the beautiful spires on the old, German churches.

For a South Bender who never changed clocks before, dealing with Daylight Savings time changes was a huge adjustment, especially when the sun began setting around four instead of five during winter.

“Wisconsin has an accent?” my mom cried when I talked to her on the phone a week or two after I first arrived at Roanoke.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

And what an accent!  From town to town, from county to county, the accents differed.  And S– Well, that was the strongest one of all, especially among the older residents.  When I first came to college, I told my mom my accent was “pure,” South Bend, and that might change.

South Bend, it’s said, has no accent: We talk like TV people (other than saying “Wes-consin”).  Some have called us boring, therefore.  But I always liked the way I talked, and tried to resist the Wisconsinization of my own accent.

It didn’t work.  Despite my efforts, now abandoned, I’ve noticed the infiltration here and there of local accents.  Peter used to tease me by saying, “It’s changing!”

The basic accent is this: Purse your lips as tightly as you can and say “oh.” That’s their “o” sound.  If you say a one-syllable word with the “o” sound in it, such as “boat,” it ends up sounding like two syllables–“boa-it.”

And the word “sound”–the Canadian influence is enough that it sounds like “sonde.”  “About” sounds like “a boat.”   “Pop” is often “soda.”  The “th” in “the” is often replaced by “d.”  A “th” at the end of a word, in the strongest accents, becomes a “t.”

There’s a strong mix here between the German of the original settlers and the northern, more Canadian influence.  And then there’s the prevalence of “ya,” “once,” “der hey,” “ya shoor (sure) you betcha,” and “enso”: “Let’s go once to S–, der hey!”  “Ya der hey, enso!”

“Ya” is “yeah,” pronounced like the German “ja.”

Instead of saying, “I’m going to my grandma’s house” or “I’m going to Pick-N-Save,” you say, “I’m going by my grandma’s house,” or “I’m going by Pick-N-Save.”  The reply from non-Wisconsinites is often, “Okay, so you’re going to wave as you go by?”

Plus, the “t” sound in words is harder, more pronounced.  The long “a” sound is–well, it starts to sound more like the standard long “e” sound.

The “ar” sound is harsh and short.  The long “e” sound is more like “ih.”

“Good” has a long “oo” sound instead of the short, clipped version.

If you’ve ever heard Da Yoopers songs, supposedly done by people from around upper Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan, that’s the accent to the extreme.

They also say “boom box” instead of “jam box.”

I would also hear “rut” for “root” and “roof” instead of “ruf.”  In South Bend, we say it “root” and “ruf.”  In Wisconsin, “bag” is pronounced with a long “a” sound.

In the school library was an old book which documented the Wisconsin accents and words from city to city, and such words as “bubbler.”  This was a treasure trove for linguists.

“Brat” and “bubbler” weren’t the only new terms.  S– had “hard rolls”; Peter’s parents, who lived in K–, called sloppy joes “hot tamales.”

I later discovered that, at least in the Wisconsin city where I moved to, garage/yard sales were called “rummage sales.”  I’d always thought of rummage sales as something churches did.

Another strange term was “stop-and-go light” instead of “stoplight.”

My friends and I had our own little accents because most of us weren’t from S–.

Pearl had a Kenosha accent, which wasn’t like anyone else’s, as Sharon said once.  Hers was a little closer to Illinois, though still a Wisconsin accent.  It seemed more highbrow, somehow.  I believe she’d pronounce all three syllables of “probably.”  She wouldn’t say “really” as “rilly,” like everybody else–she’d say it “real-ly.”

Sharon, from Madison, said “room” like “rum.”

Just as you could tell someone wasn’t from Illinois if they pronounced the S, you could tell someone wasn’t from Milwaukee if they pronounced the L.  Because of this, I learned to not pronounce the L so I wouldn’t sound so much like an outsider, just as I had once learned to say “LOO-uh-vull” instead of “LOO-ee-vill” for Louisville, KY.

***

Cheese, dairy products, and the Green Bay Packers rule in Wisconsin.  Often, the Roanoke cafeteria even served fish with cheese on it.  Cheese on fish!  Wisconsin is also a land of Friday fish fries and brat fries.  It has a popular snack, mozzarella sticks, which I’d never seen before.  And a cheese ball is a little ball of snacking cheese, not a big ball of cheese spread.

S– is mostly white.  At Roanoke, however, there were minorities in large numbers, students from all over the world, people from different ethnic groups–even more than what I was used to back in integrated South Bend.

It was odd, though, to hear mostly foreign accents from Asian students.  I was used to Asian students who were born in this country and had South Bend accents.

I overheard that there was so little snow you’d see dirty brown (not green, brown) and wish for snow to cover it up.  This was so different from home, where there was lots of snow, so much you got sick of it.  “Spring thaw” really meant something.

To my surprise, big red squirrels, which were the only kind in South Bend, were rare here.  In predominance were little gray squirrels.

When riding through the countryside in Peter’s car, I had plenty of time to notice various things: Wisconsin had some different trees and foliage than Indiana, especially around K–, and the barn roofs were shaped like pentagons (gambrel roofs) instead of the simple triangle of Indiana and Michigan barn roofs.  This was an obvious Old World influence, probably German.

In the cities, such as K– and Milwaukee, you’d see German-style churches and split timbers.

It was strange to me that Wisconsin cars have two license plates: one in front and one in back.  Indiana cars only have one, and that’s generally put in back.  Not only that, but the Wisconsin license plates have three letters and three numbers, rather than a whole series of numbers.  It took a lot of getting used to.

People from Wisconsin go on and on about how flat Indiana is.  Well, in the northern part where I grew up, it’s hilly.

When I went to Wisconsin and Peter started driving me around, especially to K– and thereabouts, the first thing that impressed me was that Wisconsin was flat.  When I told this to Peter, he cried out, “Wisconsin is flat???!!!”

Of course, when I saw more of Wisconsin in the years to follow, I began to see that it had many hilly spots as well.  But from what I had seen so far, yeah, it was flat as a pancake, while my home in Indiana had rolling hills.

I thought the view outside the car windows was boring when it got dismal and gray in the fall and winter.  When there was dense fog, it looked like the end of the earth.

So there.

All the festivals seem to be called “fest”: Lakefest, Oktoberfest (which was, of course, German), Summerfest (huge music festival in Milwaukee).  Back home, they might be called festivals, but I think they were rarely called fests.  It must be the German influence, or Oktoberfest’s popularity at the very least.

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

 

 

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