When I was preparing to head off for the University of Arizona as a scholarship student in 1962, my high school newspaper advisor, Rachel Riggins, suggested that I apply to live in a co-op dorm at the U of A—Pima Hall. It was a small dorm, as residence halls went back then, built to hold thirty-three girls, but it mostly had about forty during the four years I lived there.
The word co-op meant just exactly that. We did all our own cooking and cleaning. Everyone was assigned duties each week, and the duty roster was posted in the hallway, right next to the sign out sheet. Some girls liked cooking duties. Six o’clocks started breakfast and seven o’clocks finished it. Eight-thirties, did the dishes and cleaned up after breakfast. Ten-thirties started lunch and eleven thirties served it. One o’clocks did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. Four o’clocks started dinner, five o’clocks finished it while five-thirties set the tables, served the food, and cleared afterwards. Six-thirties did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, but at dinner food was served family style, with plates stacked at the head of the table. Food was dipped out of serving bowls and onto plates which were then passed around the table. When dinner was over, the five-thirties took the plates to the kitchen—two plates at a time. Mrs. Van, the house mother, allowed no stacking of dirty plates. My grandchildren are always bemused by grandma’s stringent rule against “NO STACKING,” but that’s where it originated—from being a five-thirty at Pima Hall.
In addition to cooking duties, there were cleaning duties as well. My favorite was PPV—porch, patio, and vestibule. The upstairs bath was Bath Up; the downstairs bath was Bath Down. No one wanted to have to clean the house mother’s apartment, especially before one of her bridge games. Cleaning the basement was way down on the list of preferred duties. Cleaning the living room wasn’t that bad.
By the way, these were the “old days.” NO SLACKS OR SHORTS were allowed to be worn in the dining room DURING ANY MEAL!!!
Pima Hall was by far the cheapest dorm on campus—$129 per semester for rent. As for our food? Each of us paid a dollar a day into a common fund from which the food manager purchased groceries and created menus. Our dollar of board money gave us three hot meals a day six days a week and two on Sunday. On Sunday evenings we were free to raid the fridge and the pantry. By the way, the meal planning ladies did a top-notch job. The first year I was there and doing five-thirty duties, I remember barking my knuckles while chipping ice off an ice block to serve water and iced tea at dinner. And that year we had a washing machine down in the basement with a button-mangling wringer. At the end of my freshman year there was enough money left over in the board fund to purchase both an ice machine for the kitchen and a new washer/dryer in the basement. Whoohoo!!!
But what made Pima Hall remarkable were the girls who lived there. They really were smart, and they were serious about getting an education. Pima wasn’t exactly an honors dorm, not officially, but you had to have a decent grade average to get into Pima in the first place, and we routinely walked away with the residence hall academic honors. Pima wasn’t a sorority, but it served a similar purpose by giving small town Arizona girls a port of entry into the complexities of university life.
Pima Hall girls were fun. We sang while we did dishes and gathered around the grand piano in the living room. We watched the Miss America pageants each September, sprawled around the dorm’s only television set. And we clustered around that same set in tears and horror the week John F. Kennedy died. We celebrated birthdays in jammies in rooms after curfew. (10:30 for freshman; 11:30 for everybody else.) When someone got engaged, it was time for a bathtub dunking. In the evenings, we necked on the front porch until Mrs. Van flashed the lights to tell us it was time to come inside. She always stationed herself in the vestibule assessing each girl for damage as we came past. (I wonder how many other former Pima Hall girls besides me can still apply lipstick without the need of a mirror due to Mrs. Van’s all seeing once-overs?)
Pima Hall girls were allowed to usher at events in most of the university auditoriums for which we were paid the princely sum of three bucks a night. We were required to wear white blouses and black skirts. We handed out programs, guided people to their seats, and went back to return seats to their full upright positions once the events ended. And if the program we were ushering happened to be one we wanted to see and there were seats available, we were welcome to stay for the show. That’s how I heard C. Day-Lewis do a poetry reading, and that’s why, at our garden in Bellevue, you’ll find bits and pieces of a poem he read that night, Baucis and Philemon. There are excerpts of that wonderful story carved into rocks and beams in various places around the yard.
The only official office I ever held at Pima Hall was that of song leader. We sang songs after dinner especially:
Pima Hall, our castle tall,
Where fairest dreams come true.
We pledge our hearts in loyalty
Because we’re proud of you.
Our hearts fill with gladness
Never clouded with sadness
For the sun always shines
Through the darkest of days.
Pima Hall with stately walls,
A palace, yes indeed.
Where memories like jewels we share
With true sincerity.
So laugh, cry, and love,
They are all still a part of
Our Pima Hall.
Of course, that wasn’t the ONLY song we sang, not with me as song leader. Eventually I was summarily removed from that post because Mrs. Van objected to my leading the girls in rousing renditions of: Roll me over, in the clover, roll me over, lay me down, and do it again. Evidently just applying a new layer of lipstick when I walked in the door at night wasn’t enough to paper over Mrs. Van’s entirely justified suspicions about what I’d been up to.
Why all this reminiscing about Pima Hall? Because we’re having a Pima Hall gathering, A Pima Hallbee as we’re calliing it, here at the house in Tucson this coming Saturday. Some of the women who are coming I saw last year at a similar gathering. One of them, at least, I haven’t seen in more than fifty years. So there’s a lot of vacuuming and dusting going on around here. The PPV—porch, patio, and vestibule—will be in pristine condition. And no four or five o’clocks, 5:30s, or 6:30s need apply.
The cooking, serving, and cleaning will all be done by the catering folks from Feast. All the guests will need to do is sit around and visit.
And maybe sing.
Now, what were the rest of the lyrics to that bad girl song?