When the smoke had cleared
Dorsey Hill still laughs about the night I came through fraternity rush at the Sigma Pi house in Athens.
“Damn’dest sight I ever saw,” he says. “You were wearing white socks and black, pointedtoe shoes, and your head was skinned. I mean skinned. I said, ‘Where on earth did THAT come from?’”
But they took in the skinhead anyway at the house on Milledge Avenue, the one with the white columns, and there were some high times in the next four years.
I forget exactly who went to put the Chi Omega owl to the torch. The Chi Omega sorority house was across the street from ours, and they were an uppity bunch. One year they built a paper owl, a huge thing, for rush.
We were sitting on our front porch in the marvelous rocking chairs, and somebody thought it would be a good idea to burn the owl.
Every firetruck in Athens showed up to put it out. So did Dean Tate, dean of University of Georgia men. When the smoke had cleared, we were on something called “social probation.”
That meant we couldn’t have another party until every member had graduated from school, had fulfilled his military obligation and had fathered at least two legitimate children.
In retrospect, it was worth it. Fifty silly sorority girls, outraged and bewildered, watching their precious paper owl go up in a glorious blaze. Strike another one for dear old Sigma Pi.
I could do this all day. There was the basement we called the “BoomBoom Room.” Beware, young coed, to enter there. It was in the “Boom-Boom Room” where we administered a water-drinking torture called “Cardinal Puff” during initiation. A pledge almost died after “Cardinal Puff” one night.
Maybe that is what started it. Sigma Pi once thrived. We had the captain of the football team, the captain of the basketball team. But hard times came along.
I heard they had to sell that beautiful old house to pay their way out of debt. I heard the membership had fallen off to almost nothing. I heard the university that even taken away the charter and that Sigma Pi had died a quiet, slow death on the campus.
I shed a tear, but nothing more. It’s been a long time.
But there was a telephone call last week. It was from a Georgia coed. She had a sense of urgency in her voice.
“You’ve got to help,” she said.
“Help who?” I answered.
“Sigma Pi at Georgia,” she went on. “I’m dating a guy who’s a member, but they’re about to go bankrupt. They lost a couple pledges who were supposed to move into the house. They needed their money for rent. One of them joined the Navy.”
I called the Sigma Pi house in Athens. The president answered the telephone. We used to have eighty members. “We’ve got eleven,” he said. We sent more than that to burn the Chi Omega owl.
The new house is being rented from a university faculty member, the young man said. The current members are trying to hold on to the house until more members can be pledged. More members, more money.
“We even keep the heat turned off,” he said, “to save money.”
There are no parties, the president told me, because there is no money for parties. There are no meals at the house because who can afford cooks? What Sigma Pi in Athens needs and wants is some help from the alumni. A donation, maybe, at least a visit to help with rush.
“Just some encouragement,” said the president.
That’s not much to ask. I’ll try to get up a group and come over, I said. We’ll have a few cold ones and talk about it. And afterwards maybe we’ll all go over to Chi Omega and apologize.
In a pig’s eye, we will.