Greek to me

Not long after I began my sophmore year at Adelphi, I received an invitation. Social functions had never been my thing, and I didn’t feel inclined to start then, but my uncle always had to see my mail, so he found out about it.

Sitting here, at the age of 71, typing these words, I keep asking myself how I could have allowed that man to bully me into showing him my mail. It was a gross invasion of privacy. It wasn’t that I had anything to hide, it was the principle of the thing.

I had apparently been badly traumatized by the episode in Vietnam when the whole school was angry with me and wouldn’t speak to me. It was a sick, empty feeling that literally made me shake, and when Ray got mad at me, somehow it evoked that same awful anxiety. Even now it makes me uncomfortable to think of it.

As it turned out, there was something I needed to hide. Although my father had seemed displeased with me when I departed for the States, he once again took up correspondence with me, as he had while I was in boarding school. He was a compulsive letter writer, and I could usually expect a letter every week from my parents.

But after the famous “what is the purpose of this phone call?”episode, my father had nothing good to say about my current guardian and I was always afraid of what he might write in a letter. So when my mum paid a brief visit in 1965 I asked her to tell dad to be careful what “said”.

With the inevitable result that he simply stopped writing to me.

In any event, Ray got to see the invitation I had received, and was thrilled because I had been invited to take tea with the ladies of one of the campus “fraternities”. They always insisted on that term rather than “sorority” which would have made more sense.

Whatever they chose to call themselves, I hadn’t a clue what such a thing might be, nor why Ray thought it so marvelous that I had been invited to tea. In retrospect, of course, I can see that he thought it was a great honour and privilege to be recruited by a fraternity. Perhaps it might have been, except that as I came to realize, this particular fraternity was unpopular at the time and was in danger of being booted off campus for lack of membership.

Basically they were scraping the bottom of the barrel when they found my name!

To avoid a confrontation with uncle, I accepted the invitation and went to meet the girls. It was not a very large party. The fraternity in question was one of the oldest, but it was based in the South and at the time this made it unfashionable. I was still clueless what it was all about and Ray did not do much to enlighten me.

I imagine all of us who attended the tea party were invited to “pledge”, there being so few of us. In the end I think there were maybe four other pledges beside myself. If there had been the Internet then, I could have found out what all of this meant and undoubtedly I would have resisted getting involved.

Not that there was anything at all unpleasant about being a “sorority sister”. Under different circumstances I might have liked the idea of having a particular group of friends that I could trust and rely on. But I was not a social creature and if I had been, I could never risk inviting anyone to my “home”, for fear of how my uncle would behave.

I really needed someone to talk to, but I couldn’t imagine ever telling anyone about the complicated situation of my life. I was embarrassed and somehow I think I felt it was my own fault.

In due course, I became an “initiate” but there were not too many demands on my time. Academic achievement was considered very important to my fraternity and in fact they afforded me a partial scholarship, for which I was very grateful.

For my initiation I had to have a formal gown and this was beautifully created by my aunty Kay who was incredibly talented. I only ever wore the dress that one time but it meant so much to me. It was all pink satin and white lace, which were the colours of the fraternity.

Over the next two years we struggled to find new pledges. I found myself involved in organizing a party which was something of a challenge for someone with so little social know-how, but it was all good experience and I certainly needed a social education.

I see now that things have changed for this fraternity and that they are once again firmly established at Adelphi. For the encouragement and support they offer to young girls, I think that is a good thing.

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