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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, January 22, 2006



Nowadays about the only time we hear about initiations is when some college Greek fraternity or sorority goes too far and pours so much booze down some schnook’s throat that he or she dies of alcohol poisoning. When I was growing up, initiations were common and totally varied in approach. My high school had a freshman initiation, but it was so mild that the only thing I remember about it was the wearing of beanie hats for awhile.

I didn’t experience it myself, but one of my close friends was picked to become a member of our Pep Band, a select band that not only played at basketball games, but which traveled with the basketball team. This friend, blushing all the way, told me that during his first overnight road trip with the basketball team, his fellow band members held him down on a hotel bed and shaved his genitals--- with an old fashioned straight razor—which made him unlikely to make any sudden movements during the process.

The initiation of initiations for students in our high school was the varsity club, or P Club initiation. I actually don’t remember if it was held in the fall, following the football season, or in the spring after most of the sports except track had finished their seasons. It probably was in the spring, since the weather was pretty warm, and if it had been cold it would have been almost intolerable. I received my letter in football at the end of my junior year football season. I participated in P Club Activities all year, so initiation might have been in the fall. It doesn’t matter, really.

We had a large group of initiates, and I am not sure whether that improved the situation or made it worse. The first phase of initiation was when those who were already in club requested that individual initiates make each of them a paddle. I had such requests for either four or five paddles. I am not sure what initiates who had little access to a shop did, but I made at least four paddles. Each had a handle like a ping pong paddle which sloped into a business end twelve to sixteen inches long and six to eight inches wide. Most paddles were made with 1X8" lumber or with plywood, I made both. (What you have is cheaper than what you have to go get.)It was acknowledged that a thinner “business end” stung more, but because it was not so heavy, was unlikely to leave permanent bruises on those who were struck by it. Since the victims were the makers of the devices “stung” was more acceptable than “bruises"). The more attractive the paddle was, the lighter would be the punishment was the general thought. I don’t think it made much of a difference. Some guys drilled a series of half inch holes in the paddles they made. That was not a request for any of my “initiators” so I didn’t. I did discover that being whacked by one with holes was much less fun than with one with no holes. Most paddles were painted or varnished. I used a wood burner to put a picture of a Plains Indian Chief, with a head dress on all of mine. I also put feathers, attached to a rawhide cord (actually a leather boot lace) attached to a hole in the handle. These became the property of the “initiators” I still have one of the paddles that was given to me when I was on the power end of the initiation. It is beautiful and was a prized possession with which I occasionally threatened my boys as they got out of line. I am not sure where it is now. One of them may have “done it in” for all that I am sure.

The initiation lasted more than one day, but it didn’t take up an entire school week. On the first day of initiation we wore a burlap tunic which came to a line below the buttocks (and which, for some, were padded against the onslaught of the paddles.) We wore one boot and one sneaker, and the scruffiest of jeans or burlap pants, since it was understood that they might not all survive the service. We all had some feathers attached somewhere (Our team was the Pocatello Indians), and we all wore the most modest of boxer shorts since there was a rumor (not totally untrue) that if the initiate did something really wrong, he might be asked to drop his pants for an unshielded swat, and the boxer shorts were insurance against partial nudity. On that first day the senior members required us (during school hours, but not during classes) to run errands, to get autographs from various people including the principal, attractive young ladies, teachers, janitors or “others”. We were also required to sweep or mop various areas of the school or any other tasks that could be done either during study hall or between classes. These activities carried on for quite some time after school, but not for “eternity”. I don’t remember whether this part of the initiation was for more than one day or for several days, but it seemed like several days.

The meat of the initiation occurred on the last day when we, and many of the students at the school, if not all, were sent out onto the track practice field beside the auditorium. (I know that we had a big audience). Hell began before we went outside though. Early in the day we had eggs smashed on our heads, eggs dropped into the single boot then swatted with a paddle so that by the end of classes I was walking in the residue of four or five eggs squishing around my foot in the boot. It is also true, that there are more pleasant things to wear to class than egg white and yoke drying in your hair and running down the back of the neck.

When we went out into the practice field we had races, the same kind, on the whole that might be done at a church picnic: three legged races, relays carrying heavy awkward things, crawling races, backward wind sprints, duck and crab walk relays, and even an “egg toss” though we were instructed to throw the eggs hard enough to break them on your target. (the ever present paddle was there to encourage a good, hard, accurate throw.) Along the way we were subjected to a lot of personal indignities, eggs down your shirt, strips of liver coated with raw egg dropped down your pants, and enough use of our paddles to make us pink (if you could see it) from the knees to the belt line in back. Sometime during this activity I had the opportunity while kneeling down, to swallow small strips of liver, dipped in eggs, to which were tied a cord, so that when they were swallowed (which often took four or five tries) the liver strips were slowly drawn back up through the throat (and whatever else your stomach could send with them) after which they were dropped down someone’s pants. (They were very sanitary, each victim had fresh, clean liver to deal with). I don’t know when or how it happened but I also was covered with ginger ale. All of this was done with all the coaches, the principal, the deans, and many teachers watching to make sure that no really dangerous stuff was done.
(I somehow think that the liver strips were out of sight of the faculty, but who knows, it has been sixty plus years.)

The final element of the initiation was to be held that night; at someone’s barn, and the rumors of what was going to occur there, out of sight of the faculty and coaches, would curl your hair. We were instructed not to tell “adults” about this meeting except as was necessary to get to the place. We did have the chance to go get the eggs out of our hair and boots before we went, but I don’t mind admitting that I was well nigh terrified.

When we got to the barn there were several lettermen in their letter sweaters standing outside, and they waited till all the initiates were present and lined us up in columns of three and more or less marched us into the barn. Inside the barn there were tables with a lot of food, the coaches standing at the front of the room and the rest of the lettermen sitting in chairs on either side. When all the initiates were inside they all stood and gave us a standing ovation mixed with some traditional football cheers. Then we all got hugged, back patted, and otherwise given emotional greeting as we were take to our seats at the table. It was nice, and in spite of the difficulty of the initiation itself, there was a real feeling of brotherhood. Having been in school long enough to participate as an initiator as well as the initiated, I will have to say that the brotherhood sent both ways.


At 10:37 AM, Blogger exMI said...

And in today's atmosphere, they would send you all to jail.
Which is pretty darn stupid as far as I am concerned.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Eddo said...

It is unfortunate that some people get punished for the actions of a few.

Initiations have crossed the line it seems in recent years and with kids doing more and more drinking it only seems that they would get worse unless someone put a stop to them.

Your story of initiation sounded sort of fun and definitely mild. I think in the past they used to joke about making pledgees perform sex acts on animals, but it has probably happened in the more recent years.

About the comment you left on my site - you are indeed intuitive. Sometimes I say exactly what it is that I struggle with, but other times I just leave it open-ended. In this case, my biggest temptation lately has been food. Each time I start to eat healthy I do good for a while and then I revert back to my old ways, only I seem to multiply them times 10.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

I think I would've avoided the pep band...

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

I guess I understand the bonding experience, but I am with Saur on this one.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Frankly, knowing the situation, I would have avoided the pep band too, but that wasn't a problem with me, I couldn't play an instrument.
I'm not advocating initiations, I'm just describing an experience. It happened. Like it, don't like it, disapprove or approve. There is nothing I can do about it now, but try share it honestly.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Fish said...

We were initiated into high school as Freshmen. Our initiation was one school day long with many of the humiliations you've mentioned. We were given candy to eat. Bitter chocolate covered green persimmons. The Sophomores did the initiation and we had the misfortune to be the last Freshman class in that high school building. The next year (our Sophomore year) we started in a new building and the school chose to cut out initiation that year.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Happy Gilmores said...

When my kid was a freshman (2 years ago) upperclassman came to the homecoming bon fire with paddles and would paddle the freshmen. (A tradition at this school) My son was so new, nobody knew who he was and so he never got paddled.

When I was in school back in the late 70's early 80's, I was part of band, jazz band, chamber choir, various clubs, etc. and never went through an initiation of any kind.


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