STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Pour me cider and offer oatmeal-raisin cookies to stir up fall memories of college. It’s amazing how certain scents can bring back the past — hard-core traditions and some silliness of dorm life.
The first thing that comes to mind at this time of year courtesy of those fragrant foods is Lantern Night at Bryn Mawr, something that still happens each October.
In a nutshell, it’s a ritual that starts out a little scary, at least from the perspective of a first year student new to the welcoming process — ye, of little faith as an innocent “Mawrter.”
Lantern Night takes place in a darkened cloister of the school’s main library. In the suspicious mind of this Staten Islander with a history of playing jokes, images of the movie “Carrie” hovered in my mind as fellow frosh stood in dark waiting for something to happen. And then suddenly there were lights — green, light blue, dark blue and purple — that appeared in that pitch black as sophomores handed each freshman a lantern. It was one of the beautiful things to see. That’s maybe when my college roommate Juli (aka Hool) and I truly saw the light — we belonged to a sisterhood.
And I think that’s when we literally lightened up a lot. We could have a little fun in this place when given the opportunity.
Like one Sunday afternoon down the line after a “tea” in the Great Hall — think cookies and warm cider — Hool and I stuck around to find a spot in the cozy building in which to study. We ended up roaming the hallways that were just inside of that cloister area where Lantern Night unfolded. We saw a door ajar to one of the offices. It was the cluttered quarters of a college professor who had a deadpan sense of humor.
When we left the library that night at closing time, his door was still open so we decided to be nice and lock up. But before doing that, we took a fish mounted on the wall that sang a song when you pushed a button. We left a ransom note. Something like, “Put two Big Macs in a bag behind Pizzi’s Pizza and Beer by 5 p.m. Friday or you’ll never see your dead fish alive again!”
After consultation with friends, Hool and I took the fish on a whirlwind tour of the Main Line snapping photos of the buxom bass — at Mape’s Five and Dime, in the local thrift shop, at the Acme in town, with a cigarette in its mouth. But what to do with such evidence? We developed the photos, returned the fish to the professor — although he did not deliver on the Big Macs — and filed it away until another opportunity presented itself.
The next semester, Hool got a job as a teacher’s assistant — for none other than the professor with the sense of humor. So we turned the fish images into slides and she slipped them into a lecture one day while working the projector. Here was the City of Ur…and then a smoking fish. There was that priceless moment of the professor’s pregnant pause — and then — whew, he laughed and continued with the lecture.
Some other time, I’ll tell you about Hool’s kipper snacks. Just serve up another batch of something with cinnamon and nutmeg for those memories to flow. You won’t even have to spike the cider!
Keep in touch.