GUEST COLUMN: Letter from Dogwood

In my youth, this was the month college students returned to their dorms for another year of spartan living. My college was all-male, which probably accounted for much of its plainness. The double rooms came with two desks, two chairs, and two cots or a bunk bed. 

There were no curtains and no carpets, and electronics other than a radio or record player were forbidden. Desk lamps were permitted, and bookends, maybe a small bookcase – posters, so long as they were put up with masking tape. In other words, a janitor’s broom closet had more personality.

We who studied late or pulled all-nighters missed conveniences related to off-hours eating. There were to be NO cooking appliances in the dorms. No toasters. No toaster ovens. No hot plates. There was no canteen, either, and no vending machines, no soda machine, no Nabs machine. And forget today’s easy foods such as Pop-Tarts and Hot Pockets and microwavable popcorn – they had not even been invented.

Well, actually, one “appliance” was permitted – we were allowed one of those small plug-in coils that could heat one cup of hot water for instant coffee. We kept that busy. And we were allowed to keep bread, crackers, and PB&J in our rooms. And Tang. God bless General Foods and Tang. That abomination was the drink of necessity at many a midnight snack or on those weekends when money had run out.

A generation later, my wife and I were on college tours with our son as he was scouting schools that might appeal to him. By then, small fridges and microwaves were commonplace and legal, and much convenience food was well-nigh upscale. Some suites had mini-kitchens. I was totally envious of his spoiled generation.

This Memory Lane excursion began today as I prepared today’s lunch, noodles. I had recently heard someone reminisce about his days as a poor college student, living on noodles, so I bought a couple of samples at the supermarket. The first proved to contain inedible noodles and the makings of the worst, saltiest so-called “beef” broth I had ever tasted. Roaches ran in the other direction. Bring back peanut butter and Tang, please.

The second was labeled “Shrimp Noodles.” However, when I pulled back the lid, I began to worry. I saw noodles, all right, and five dehydrated green peas, several slivers of something orange, and one little item that might have been an over-sized amoeba or a very small shrimp. A shrimp, I decided, else the label would have said “Amoeba Noodles.” I later found a second shrimp, and I decided the orange bits may have been carrots. Amen. A man needs his veggies. 

Overall, I would have eaten better if I had made a PB&J sandwich, which I still love. But hold the Tang, please. I am no longer a poor college student. I have cold milk in my fridge.

David Black lives in Louisa County.

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