Rising tempers till rising temperatures

Tensions grow as cabin fever rises

Having my two SDSU granddaughters home for the holidays and talking about the final tests they had just endured made me wonder if the stretch between Christmas and spring break is still as long as it was 50 years ago.

Things were different then, or so says Captain Obvious. Christmas break was before the end of fall semester. When break ended, we returned to school to finish classes and get through finals week. The serious students among us took huge armloads of books home for the holiday break.

They studied the books, used them to write theme papers and, in their free time, did a little early bookin’ to get ready for the final exams coming up in each of their courses.

I always intended to be one of those serious students. I went so far as to take armloads of books home for the break. I piled them in neat, impressive stacks beside the recliner in the living room where my folks could see them often. I placed spiral notebooks, freshly sharpened No. 2 lead pencils and three-by-five note cards covered with scribbled notes beside the stacks of books.

I spread at least one book open with the pages down and the cover showing, and I changed that book every day or so to give the appearance of academic activity. Then I went out on dates or cruising Main with the guys, leaving a wonderfully staged still life of the young man as a student.

Cramming at semester’s end

When I returned to campus, I pulled all-nighters to finish compositions due the following morning and I crammed at the last minute for each final exam.

The after-Christmas end of fall semester seemed long. I made it that way, and I guess I never learned better.

The first half of the spring semester was far, far longer than the end of fall semester. I guess that was because the period from late January through early March can be cold, snowy and windy on the upper plains, and young adult males don’t much care for that combination, particularly when they’re cooped up with 40 or 50 other young adult males on the fourth floor of Brown Hall or the bottom floor of Harding.

In such situations, young adult males tend to get on each other’s nerves, sometimes by accident, sometimes quite deliberately.

Long winters produce short fuses

Sundays can be the worst days during that part of the academic year. No classes to break the monotony, nothing on the TV in the first-floor lobby (and if there were, you’d have to fight everyone on all the other floors for the right to watch your program) and no organized activity.

On Fourth East in Brown, that meant we’d crowd into someone’s room, listen to radio and swap stories. Eventually, one of the gang would start teasing another. The rest of the crowd would join in, strictly from boredom, and we’d bump the tension level until a punch was thrown and the room was cleared.

It happened week after week until the temperature warmed, the snow melted and the breeze mellowed as it whispered its way through the horticulture garden near our dormitory. Once we got outside again, we were pretty good pals, but late winter was not a time for friendships.

A bunch of us listened to the Cassius Clay – Sonny Liston fight over a transistor radio on Fourth East on Feb. 25, 1964. That was for the heavyweight championship of the world, and they didn’t throw as many good punches as the guys on that floor did the following Sunday afternoon.

By Terry Woster ’66

Terry Woster ’66 is a native South Dakotan, growing up near Chamberlain. He used his degree in journalism to ply his trade in this state since graduation. He currently does freelance writing for several South Dakota publications.

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