Recalling Some College Capers
By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
There comes a time in our lives when we have a great deal more to remember than to anticipate, and in just such a mood I find myself dwelling on my college years, not that they were anything so special but still several notches above my high school years, wherein I managed to excel only in mechanical drawing, physical education and English. All else fell into the category “Distinctly Without Distinction.”
That category would stalk me into the local college, where because I had an uncle who owned one of the largest testing labs in Texas and because he had promised me a job upon graduation, I disastrously chose to major in geology, a field so foreign to my interests it might as well have been taught in Japanese. Luckily, the class was in a small amphitheater and I had a seat right next to a window; even luckier, the room was on a small incline and I had but to roll out the window and land on an expanse of grass only some five feet below. I would always wait until I had answered the roll call, and then quietly “bail out” as some of the others in the class would softly mutter “Geronimo,” which is the word parachutists traditionally yell as they “hit the silk.”
Needless to say, I flunked out my first fall semester and then performed a flawless encore the following spring. A few months later, however, another relative came to my rescue, offering to finance yet another try at college, but only if I would enroll in an out-of-town college of her choice. I readily agreed, thinking a change would do me good. Little did I know what a mega-change was awaiting me.
Texas A&M was then known as the largest military school in the world, as famous for its brutal hazing practices as for the vast number of officers it yearly provided to the armed forces of the United States. While West Point and the Naval Academy had graduating classes in the mid-hundreds, A&M classes were in the thousands. (It was once estimated that the majority of American officers on the beaches at Normandy in World War II had been A&M graduates.)
Given such an environment, I turned to study in self-defense. But I was bored with the military exercises and often feigned one excuse after another to avoid such activities, including various medical maladies that had no mention in books on the general subject. One subject was very much on the minds of most cadets: girls. There were a few towns nearby with an above average amount of attractive young women, but still the demand far exceeded the supply. Some of these ladies were often booked for many weekends in advance.
It was in such dire circumstances that I had a major stroke of luck. A fellow cadet had been restricted to quarters on weekends because of failing grades, and he most generously “gave” me (after several dollar bills had passed between us) his date the upcoming weekend. I had met her before, blonde, perky, pretty, and possessed with what some cadets called a “promising personality.”
Sadly, on the “D-Day” in question, I was showing off my “short-order rifle drill” skill to a couple of cadets when I lost momentary control of my M-1 rifle and the rifle’s stock struck the bone above my left eye. Almost instantly a large glob formed over my eye, and in acute pain I hobbled over to the nearest medical center. I must have looked even scarier than usual, with blood all over my face mixing with the purple of the bruise. In a voice I hoped sounded better than I knew that I looked, I politely muttered that I would like to see a doctor.
Looking vastly amused, the middle-aged nurse picked up a phone and said, “Doctor Wiseman, you’ll never guess who is here. AGAIN. It’s Cadet Grattan—and this time he’s even using makeup!”
I still occasionally wonder what might have happened if I had managed to keep that date.
Another lovely lady figured in my next memory. On a Corps trip to Dallas to attend an A&M football game against Southern Methodist University, I met a young lady who would years later become my wife. Thus swept away, I asked my aunt if I could transfer to SMU. The difference in tuition costs between a state university and a private one was staggering but because I had made very good grades at A&M, my wish was granted.
SMU and Notre Dame football teams had met before, and though SMU had never won, the games had always been close. That year, both teams were in the Top Ten and headed for bowl games. Very late in the game, Notre Dame led by a small margin when the SMU quarterback, Don Meredith, who was to go on to a successful career in show business, had brought his team deep into Notre Dame territory when he pulled one of football’s oldest plays, the Statue of Liberty, in which the quarterback fades back to pass and a running back comes along behind to take the ball from him. Amazingly, this tired old play works and, with only seconds left to play, SMU had gone ahead of Notre Dame.
It was then that a classmate of mine, Hugh Lampman, who later became a broadcasting legend in Dallas, rose to his feet and yelled out across the eerie silence, “I knew it, I knew it all along. God IS a Methodist!”
And with that, the place absolutely fell apart. But of course, Notre Dame scored again in the fading moment of the game. So the denomination question will have to be decided another day.
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