I suspect August 1975 was just as hot and miserable as any other August, but I don’t remember. That was the month that my mother and I left San Antonio, Texas early one Saturday morning and drove nearly 500 miles to Norman, Oklahoma to move me into my room on the campus of the University of Oklahoma (OU) where it would have been just as hot. I was nervous and trying not to show it. Mom’s only apparent emotion was to tell my father that she would be returning with the inside windshield wipers moving. It took me a while to understand that meant she would be blinking back tears.
We arrived on campus to a much different experience than today. In the Fall of 2015, students and their families will be welcomed to campuses with sophisticated processes, check-in times and volunteers who help by unloading packed cars and carrying boxes, bags, and suitcases to empty rooms. I don’t remember any of that existing on the day I moved in 40 years ago. We found our residence hall, got a key, were assigned a mailbox and moved ourselves in.
Both of my parents graduated from OU so my Mom was familiar with the campus though the tower I would be living in was new since she graduated in the mid-50’s. Walker Tower, which would be my home for the next nine months, was built in 1966. That was the era when universities were building huge residential facilities to cope with the influx of students as the baby boomers started heading to college. Usually cinder block construction, generally unattractive buildings they had some new design features such as sealed windows because, unlike older halls they were air-conditioned (yes, in 1975 many students had rooms without air-conditioning), and no more community bathrooms. Twelve-stories tall, Walker was one of three such towers at OU, each of them built to house about a thousand students. By the time I arrived only two were being used to house students; the third, Couch Center, housed Postal Service employees while they attended training programs.
My particular tower was designed in the shape of an X with hallways stretching from a central elevator lobby. That day I moved onto the west side of the ninth floor, known as Walker 9W. With the key and a room number, we headed to the 9th floor. Once there we found a lobby for the five elevators created by a pair of glass doors on either side, east and west. Sixty freshmen women were housed on the west side; sixty freshmen men were housed on the east side. Each side was identical in design. Just inside the glass doors was the office space for a Resident Advisor (RA) and behind that was the RA’s room. On either side of the RA’s space were two lounges and from there two long corridors extended to the fire exit stairways at each end. Doors lined both sides of the hall. (I now know this is called a ‘double-loaded corridor’.) That first day, ‘my’ hallway seemed very long and austere. From my perspective, Walker Tower was a hive of strange faces, of people who all seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going. I did not.
My new home away from home was on the corridor to the left as we went through the double glass doors, about halfway down the hall. The rooms of Walker Tower were classic 60’s construction. Two rooms connected by a bathroom. The bathroom had two sinks, a bathtub with shower and a toilet in a stall with a door. The furniture in the bedroom itself was built-in. Along the left wall, it was bed, desk, bed, desk with a two tier bookshelf running the full length above them. The right wall held two closets, then a dresser unit containing two columns of drawers with a mirror above; all the same dull brown. A large single pane window provided a view to the outside. The only furniture that moved in these rooms were the desk chairs. I lived in that room for four months and have no idea what color the walls were.
When we opened the door to move me in, the far bed and desk were already made up. My roommate had moved in a week earlier to participate in Sorority Rush. That meant the bed next to the hallway wall would be mine. My Mom and I unloaded the car, took everything up to my room and she left to make the return trip – another eight-hour drive. There were no trips to the Container Store, not that it existed yet, or any other store appropriate to the decade, to buy things for the room. I had clothes (packed in my graduation present – three indestructible and very heavy olive green American Tourister suitcases), bedding, (including a wonderful, very heavy, patchwork quilt my mother had made during her quilting phase), blue towels (which I used for a decade, at least), the ever-critical clock-radio, a new Smith-Corona electric typewriter (with a very cool feature, an ejectable cartridge to change ribbon colors or, most importantly, insert a correction tape), a collection of favorite books and a teddy bear from my high school sweetheart. What more was needed?
We got everything in the room and Mom headed out for the long drive home. (On that trip home she got stopped for speeding three times – I think she only got one ticket though.) It was late Saturday afternoon and classes didn’t start until Wednesday. I was on my own, still had a roommate to meet and three days with nothing to do. I looked at the stuff stacked on the bare mattress and started unpacking.