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One Woman's Opinion

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Becoming a Lady, Part 4

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Part 1Part 2Part 3

Urbanna, Va.— In 1959 Randolph-Macon Woman’s College was filled with highly-intelligent, lovely, white, privileged southern girls who went by the term of “southern belles.” They had come from all over the South . . . Atlanta, Charleston, Richmond, Dallas, Montgomery, Jacksonville, Columbia, and Savannah. There were very few students from the North.

I stared at my own image in the mirror. Did a lady possess beady brown eyes, a mop of restless curls, and a freckled nose? I doubted it. Back home I had never thought about looks. But a girl in the south not only had to be charming, she had to be beautiful.

The incoming freshman class handbook had been distributed to all the fraternity houses in Lexington, Farmville, and Charlottesville. Our senior photos from high school became the basis for pre-arranged or blind dates at VMI, Washington and Lee, Hampden-Sydney and UVa. If one’s looks didn’t make the grade, one wouldn’t get a blind date. This was grim news for me because any beauty I possessed was difficult to discern at first glance. I felt like a sheep lined up at the gate to be assessed for market. 

It occurred to me that while my date would know what I looked like, I would have no idea what he would look like. Where was my handbook of entering classes at the men’s colleges so that I could make my selection? I thought segregation of the sexes an odd system, almost as if males and females had to be kept apart to be able to concentrate on studies.

Ridiculous, I thought, as I hopped on the Trailways bus and headed for Charlottesville for my first prearranged blind date and my big night at the distinguished University of Thomas Jefferson. I had been given the name of a faculty member’s family at whose house I would spend the night. They were an elderly sweet couple and I had a cozy room where I prepared for my big evening.

I was determined to have a good time no matter what my blind date looked like. He turned out to be short, but I was relieved he looked handsome enough in a southern sort of way.

The party was at a “frat house,” and when we arrived it was already going full blast. About 50 wild, crazed couples were dancing in frenzy to loud rock ‘n roll music. A huge table in the center of the room contained a punch bowl that was dispensing a fruit beverage to thirsty revelers. I didn’t see any sign of a chaperone; Mother would not have approved.

I was soon mashed into the center of my first exposure to a drunken brawl. I decided to try some of the punch so that I could get more into the party mood. It was only fruit juice but I began to feel better . . . perhaps becoming less of a budding writer observing human behavior around me and more of a participant.

Suddenly a big male with wild bestial eyes gyrated up to me following the beat of the music, picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and carried me upstairs. Kicking open the door to a bedroom, he flung me onto a bed and leaped upon me.

What? What? Horrified, I was frozen in fear. Was this what Mother had in mind when she sent me off to Virginia to become a lady? His weight was dead centered over me and I soon realized “dead” was a good description as the young man had passed out. I pushed his heavy body aside and switched on the light.

He looked so young and vulnerable, no doubt some mother’s precious son that she hoped was becoming a gentleman. I realized he was probably under as much pressure as I was as to meet everyone’s expectation. He was probably desperately trying to be known as a BMOC (big man on campus) and here he was, helplessly passed out in a frat bedroom.

I looked around me to see a pigsty room of jumbled sheets, blankets, and articles of discarded clothing flung everywhere. Empty beer bottles lay on the floor and the room smelled like a brewery. A bra hung from a lampshade, no doubt from the last lady and gentleman’s visit.

Ohio arose from the den of iniquity, gathered her rumpled self, and marched down the stairs and out the front door. I managed to find my way home and without a word to the professor’s wife, who came to the door not terribly surprised that I had returned so early. I went straight to my room and perhaps I cried into my pillow that night. The next morning I crept out of the house, closing the front door quietly behind me, and caught the earliest bus back to Lynchburg.

Gone were any illusions about college life in Virginia or much hope of ever “fitting in.” This, gentle readers, was going to be war . . . but as yet I did not yet know the war I fought would be a war with myself. (Continued next week.)


posted 03.25.2015

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