Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fifty Years Ago--My Rat Season

One of my great adventures in life began 50 years ago this week: I left home for Clemson College. I don't recall the exact date, but I believe it was Saturday after Labor Day since colleges started later then. My mother and sister drove me to Clemson with what of my possessions would fit in the back of our car (I'd shipped a foot-locker of clothes by bus the previous day), and I began my journey to adulthood. (I hope I arrive sometime soon.)

My first surprise on getting to Clemson was to find my roommate was someone I didn't expect. The college had assigned me a roommate, but that fellow had found another roommate, so I had George Sidroney, a Yankee from Metuchen, NJ, but we got along great.

George before Rat Season Started

I knew only one other person at Clemson that fall, a high school classmate, Fred Cleaves, so everyone I met that fall and everything I did was new. Every day was a new adventure. Only for the first week or so in the Army have I had so many new experiences all at one time.

Clemson had a very active "Rat" program for freshmen back then. It began right after each student got his freshman picture made for the school yearbook and lasted, traditionally, until the Clemson-South Carolina football game. Every freshman got his head shaved and had to wear a Rat Hat (beanie) at all times when on campus outside the dorms. Further, each "Rat" could be called on by upperclassmen to lead cheers in the dining hall during all meals. Punishment for Rat infractions was meted out by a Rat Court and could include having a Block C being shaved in whatever hair had grown back on the offenders head since the start of Rat Season.

My Rat Haircut

Fred Cleaves and me in our Rat Hats

Rat Season traditionally ended after the Clemson-USC football game if the Tigers won (and lasted until Thanksgiving if we lost), but 1960 was a problem because that was the first year the Big Game was played at the end of the season (rather than at the State Fair in mid-October), so the 1960 Rats were not happy about the additional several weeks of Rat Season.

Getting Our War Paint on

Ready to defend the campus.

The last Rat tradition of the year was for all Rats to paint their faces and join a student militia defense force to guard the campus before the Big Game with USC. I did my Rat duty and joined in the defense, staying out all night protecting our honor, but I must admit that more than once that night the phrase "Snipe Hunt" crossed my mind.

In the retrospection of 50 years, it is easy to see the good that Rat Season did. In addition to building an esprit from shared sacrifice, it allowed all incoming freshmen to start on an even (bald) field with each other. Without hair as an influence it was much easier to get to know guys as they really were, rather than being influenced by hair style.

We all survived Rat Season. For most, our hair grew back (though for some it was a temporary process), but the spirit we learn in those three months was permanent. I kept my Rat Hat handy for 45 years. I could probably even find it today.

The Old Rat Speaks in 2004

1 comment:

John said...

I very much enjoyed that piece Preston, it speaks volumes about how far we have come in the last 50 years. As a people I can see we have regressed.