Thursday, July 23, 2009

High Crimes at an Institute for Higher Learning

As planned, I met my college roommate, Joy, for lunch yesterday, and as predicted, she had me in stitches in no time.
We caught up on family, shared pictures of our grandkids, and reminisced about our past. She gave me permission to share this memory with all of you:
When we were sophomores in college, we had an excellent rapport with our house mother. (Yeah, back then, dormitories were segregated by gender, and women's dorms had a matronly type living in an apartment on the ground floor of the building.) Her role was advisor, confidant, and security guard--males were not allowed in the building between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., and only allowed upstairs to visit our living areas one afternoon per year: home coming weekend. And then if a male was visiting in your room, the door was left open at all times! Alcohol was a big no-no and grounds for expulsion. (Times were a little different back then, wouldn't you say?) I'm just trying to set the stage for what happened that night.
Around 2:00 a.m. a light knock on our door roused us. Standing in the doorway in her bathrobe was our housemother, Mrs. Dunne, with her index finger to her lips, indicating we needed to be silent. She came in the room closed the door and whispered, "Some men have broken into the dormitory. I heard them when they bumped into some chairs in the downstairs lounge, and I snuck up here for help." We discussed in whispers what our course of action should be. It was a serious situation: surely only rapists and/or murderers would be so brazen as to break into a women's dormitory on the campus of the University of Maine at Machias!
This was 1965; cell phones had not yet been invented. Individual rooms did not have phones, so we tip-toed down the hall to the phonebooth, dimes in hand, carefully and quietly opened the door, and Gail, the 3rd member of our room dialed the police. I can't remember if there was a 911 number then or not; I don't think so. In any case, Machias was a small town, and I'm not even sure there would have been more than one officer on duty. After calling the police, we decided to call the men's dorm--small college, there was only one men's dorm --for back up assistance, concerned that the police would not respond quickly enough to save us from the intruders below. A good friend of ours named Gordon answered the phone. Gail explained our plight, and he assured us that help was on the way. This was less than reassuring, as even though Gordon was six feet tall, he was basically a big, cuddly teddy bear and we didn't get the feeling that superman was rushing to our rescue!
Deciding to take matters into our own hands, I grabbed a broom and Joy grabbed a golf club, and we tip-toed down to the first floor landing, hiding behind Mrs. Dunne as best we could. Now you have to picture this: Mrs. Dunne in her bathrobe with a nightcap over her curlers, followed by Joy in her jammies and fuzzy slippers, wielding a golf club, Gail in her nightshirt, me barefoot in my flannel nightie holding a broom, with home made curlers in my hair--I used the cardboard centers from toilet paper rolls; they were just the right size for the look I wanted! Half-way down the stairs, I panicked. "I'm not wearing any underpants," I whispered. This was not good. We might be about to be raped, and here I was making it easier by having no obstacles between me and my attacker!
At the landing, Mrs. Dunne stepped forward, and in a deep voice we didn't even know she possessed, yelled, "You'd better get out of here! The police are on their way." There was a scuffling and scrambling footsteps, thrashing, thumping and thudding, and then quiet. We went the rest of the way down the stairs and felt a draft of cold air coming from the women's restroom, off the lobby. Joy, with the protection of her golf club, ran to investigate and arrived in time to see three men running away from the dorm. A couple of seconds later, superman in the guise of teddy bear Gordon appeared. She pointed in the direction the intruders had taken, and Gordon and his sidekick (Batman and Robin?) took off in pursuit.
Eventually the police showed up and took statements from all of us after having apprehended the culprits. The explanation we heard was that a couple of sailors from the Naval Station in Bucks Harbor, a nearby town, had met a girl in our dorm named Pumpkin (I guess the name says it all!) and had decided after imbibing a little liquid courage, that they were going to liberate Pumpkin from her Kimball Hall (dorm) prison. Mrs. Dunne's gruff warning had put the fear of God in them, and they had stumbled back out the same way they had entered.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Dunne, Gail, Joy, and I were summonsed to court to testify in the case of the state vs. three sailors. The courtroom was filled to capacity with townspeople and college students--this was the most excitement the town had seen in years! When Joy was summoned to the stand, the prosecutor questioned her and she related the entire episode--except for the part about me not wearing any underpants--to the jury, including the fact that she had looked out the restroom window and saw the three individuals racing away from the building. She was able to identify them, even though it was night time because the area outside the dormitory was pretty well-lit. The prosecutor thanked her, and the defense attorney took over. He did his best in his cross examination to trip her up, but she was no fool and kept her cool and stuck to her story.
Finally, in a desparate attempt to discredit her testimony, he said, "These figures running away from the dorm: Are you sure they were men?" Joy sat up in that witness chair, as high as her 5' 3" 110 pound frame would allow and responded indignantly, "I guess I know a man when I see one!" The whole courtroom burst into gales of laughter, the judge pounded his gavel for order, and the embarrassed defense attorney said, "No more questions, your honor."
The sailors were found guilty, but since no real harm was done, and any damage was limited to a few scuff marks left by their shoes as they scrambled out the restroom window in terror of Mrs. Dunne's voice, and maybe because of the formidible foursome they caught sight of on the stairway landing, the punishment was mild. But it did make for good conversation at Helen's Restaurant in Machias, and around the campus for weeks after.


Rafael Mantovani said...

what a nice story! :-) thanks for telling this

but what happened to Pumpkin in the end? what did she say in court?

I bet those guys didn't stand a chance against the four of you gals :-) they were smart enough to run

Eva Gallant said...

As I recall, Pumpkin was expelled a few months after for drunkeness and other nefarious behavior on campus. lol

glnroz said...

Lordy Mercy, old friends and old stories are such great fun,,,

Mardel said...

Times sure were different, weren't they? Now it seems like we've all been dialing 911 forever, but when I was a kid, we just dialed '0' for operator and she (it was always a she) did the rest.

I laughed so hard when I read about the part with you wearing no underwear. OMG my sister and I used to try to get away with wearing as little as possible to bed (hey, our room was hot in the summer) and my mom used to spank us if we didn't have enough on. Regardless of the threat of being spanked, one night we tried to sleep naked, but we couldn't relax enough to go to sleep. We just knew mom was coming in any minute. (by the way, we did have separate beds) Finally we put our pj's on. Being spanked by your hot-headed mom on naked buns would be horrible.

Sounds like Pumkin was ahead of her times (for college)

Jen said...

This was a great memory of your college days [I'm sure you have many]Time have changed. Now-a-days students MIGHT get a warning not expelled
because finances are important. Money and numbers come first sad to say. Good job ,Eva

Sally said...

Great old time story, thank you for sharing with us.

Joy said...


You remembered so many of the details that I had forgotten. The only thing I remembered was the $5.25 that we got for testifying. I know we debated whether or not it would be profitable to try to witness several things as, I think at that time, we were able to go down to Helen's and get a steak dinner and a piece of their famous pie for $5.25.

Jane, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole story. I haven't laughed so hard since last Wednesday.

Love Joy