We May Have Been “Silent”
But We Rocked Around the Clock
If you remember Bill Haley and the Comets playing “Rock Around the Clock,” then you’re in my age group. That song marked the beginning of my life as a college student.
How well I remember living in a boarding house at San Jose State, where, after dinner, we girls would crank up Haley’s classic tune, line up on the linoleum floor in the dining room, and practice our moves. How forgiving were our housemother and father.
What a time it was! We fell in love with Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.” We pledged various sororities. We had coffee in “The Coop” and tried smoking L&M or Viceroy cigarettes. My best friend gave me a red leather cigarette case and lighter, which I hid in a drawer so my parents would not know. Never learning how to inhale, however, my life as a smoker was thankfully short-lived.
Joining the sorority was an exhilarating experience. Our house was a historic home in San Jose, once owned by a judge. I felt so grown up just to be sharing one large upstairs room with three other girls. We washed our hair in the tub (requiring creative contortions), held our chapter meetings in the stately living room with its beautiful crystal chandelier and marble fireplace, and crowded around long tables in the dining room each evening.
One tiny closet didn’t begin to hold all of our wool skirts, cashmere sweaters and saddle shoes, the classic school wardrobe of our era. A bay window overlooked East San Antonio Street. From this vantage point, we could keep our eye out for the fraternity guys who passed by every day. How handsome they were with their crew cuts, cuffed jeans and white socks.
Living in a sorority house with our housemother, a sweet little lady, Mrs. Brown, meant we had lots of rules:
• Do not leave any object lying on your bed after 8 a.m.
• Do not wear pants or shorts on campus.
• Do not smoke while walking between classes.
• Do not hide liquor in room.
• Do not host any male visitors save for a relative above the first floor.
• Do not stay out past 11 p.m. on school nights and midnight on weekends (except 2 a.m. if a special occasion, and only once a semester).
I was in heaven! Having shared my bedroom with my elderly grandmother throughout junior and senior high schools and being an only child, I loved having so many sisters. And the rules were not so different from the ones already followed at home. Hey, it was the 1950s after all.
I majored in Business (Marketing) and minored in English, with loads of homework (about which I complained endlessly). Fewer than 8,000 students attended San Jose State, which meant we could usually get our classes and our “tuition” was about $50 a semester.
Friday afternoons brought beer busts with the fraternity guys we kept our eyes on. Loud music accompanied our playful repartee: Elvis Presley kept us moving with “All Shook Up” and Little Richard, “Tutti-Frutti.” When in a more romantic mood, we slow-danced to “Only You” (the Platters) and Al Hibbler’s “Unchained Melody.”
In many ways, it was an innocent time. Korean War vets were back home and attending college. Ike was president. Moms were homemakers and dads brought home the bacon. Violence was unheard of back then.
Almost all of us were middle-class kids who wanted a college education on our way to a job that we expected to support us. Our dreams included early marriage, three or four children, and a home in one of the brand-new housing developments sprouting up all over the Santa Clara Valley. And we would live happily ever after.
Our perfect lives that had begun with “The Wedding March” and soon had us singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” began to change, as did the music.
• Lost your job? “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival).
• Suddenly single? “Leaving On a Jet Plane” (Peter, Paul & Mary).
• Our leaders assassinated? “Abraham, Martin & John” (Dion).
• Off to war? “Eve of Destruction” (Barry McGuire).
• Women going back to work? “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” (Helen Reddy).
We may have been the silent generation, but oh baby, we never stopped rocking around the clock! (Now, however, rocking chairs on the front porch may be more our style.