A love story from the 1950’s shows us life at Ohio State hasn’t really changed.
As the dreaded cuffin’ season looms before us, I have become more aware of the amount of couples at Ohio State, not just present, but past too. Walking through the halls of the Union, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the plaques of names labeled “Ohio Union Couples.” There are, however, two names missing from this list: my grandma Helen and grandpa Jim. They attended Ohio State from 1956-1961 when the Varsity Club was the hip new scene and Brutus hadn’t even been born yet. I’ve listened to my grandma reminisce for years about how they met and their time at Ohio State, and what I’ve noticed is that the memories she cherishes aren’t too different from what two star-crossed Buckeyes would say nearly 60 years later.
Helen was born in the sticks near Canton, Ohio, and she requested the town not be given a name because it didn’t deserve one. Jim was raised much the same in a little-known town called Irondale, Ohio which reached an impressive population of 368 in 2017. I asked Helen what she felt like when she first walked on campus, to which she simply cheered, “YES, HOT DAMN!” Coming from a town of a few hundred to a school with thousands of people her own age, it was all Helen and Jim could do but contain their excitement at the prospect of escaping the small town fever.
Helen can be described as hopelessly silly, but perhaps that’s what made her such a free spirit with an infectious personality. To start, Helen has reported to me that she was “a real loser” at the time, but I translated this as the aged plight of the struggling student. She was not a loser, just a stressed student with too much on her plate. Though, this could be a convenient excuse to justify failing health survey and forgetting she was enrolled in a class until the last week of the quarter. Okay, so maybe she was a little bit of a loser, but bygones be bygones and D’s get degrees (at least back then they did).
Even though the dorms had a curfew of 10:30 p.m. in those days, it didn’t keep Helen from the soirées at the local speakeasy. I recall the story of the first time innocent Helen tried jungle juice in 1956, and yes, they did have jungle juice back then, though it was more of an old-fashioned than a swirling hell pot of unnamed substances. Helen was not much of a drinker, one sip and her legs went out from under her and some guy had to carry her back to Mac Hall over his shoulder like a fireman while Helen babbled about God knows what. She signed her name upside down at the front desk, still aloft on the guy’s shoulder until she was laid on the elevator floor. Ding… Ding… Ding… Helen was found sleeping in the elevator, riding it up and down until she was found by a sympathetic soul.
My grandpa Jim participated in his fair share of shenanigans and spontaneity too. Like, hitchhiking to the Rose Bowl in 1958 to see his fraternity brother kick the winning field goal. And of course, there is also the infamous story of Nixon’s hat. In 1960, Jim and his frat bros were at the Ohio State game when they bet Jim he couldn’t steal Nixon’s hat, and back then a triple dog dare was practically legally binding. So, Jim went down and reached down over the bleachers and plucked Nixon’s hat off his head and waved it around in victory. Two secret service men took him by each arm and pulled him down from the bleachers above, but Nixon just laughed and said “Ah, let him go fellas.” After that, Helen and Jim always voted for Nixon.
Much like the couples on the wall, my grandparents met each other through Greek life. They met because Jim’s fraternity was across the street from Helen’s sorority. Helen, the sly dog, was actually dating a friend of his at the time. The night they met, Helen had fixed Jim up with her roommate, so they double-dated at formal with different people, but they must have had too much to drink because the rest is history. Helen told me, “From then on we [Jim and I] just went on our own together. I really did need someone more responsible, I just didn’t know that at the time. My roommate Barbara said to me, ‘For god’s sake have the good sense to hold onto him.’ And that I did.”
Often when we think of dating in the 50’s we imagine the gentleman courting the lady, but in reality, my grandparents met at a formal while hanging out with sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, drinking jungle juice, and kissing under the band stands, a phenomenom I’ve seen myself time and time again on a Friday night. Perhaps the nameless guy you kissed at Bullwinkle’s won’t be your future husband (or maybe he will?), but just know that your grandparents probably would have done the same thing if they were you.