When the smoke had cleared

The Covington News - - Front page -

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.

Lewis Griz­zard

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