Bring your pennies and don’t forget to sing

Bring your pennies and don’t forget to sing

Many of you know I, along with my sister and many of my friends, attended Berry College in Rome (GA, not Italy, which was oddly one of the first questions I got about my school). What many of you may not know is that Berry, while a lovely school offering an equally expensive lovely education, is one of the strangest, cultish places I have ever been. I can’t count the number of times I have tried to explain Berry’s eccentricities to my friends and received the whaaaaaaaaa? look in return. And everyone else I know who has attended Berry always has the same problem. So, in honor of my upcoming trip to Berry this weekend, I have taken it upon myself to describe to you one of Berry’s finest and strangest traditions: Mountain Day.

The first thing you need to know about Berry College is that it was founded by the one and only Martha Berry, aka The Chosen One. The priorities of Berry College are as follows: Jesus, Martha, deer, students. The first two are often interchangeable. I don’t want to go so far as to say they worship Martha, but let’s just put it as they really, really, really, really like her. A lot. More than they like Jesus. And, God bless her, Martha was not the most handsome woman. There are a few portraits of her throughout campus… the best comparison I can make is a stern pterodactyl who is always frowning and judging your NIV Bible. Not exactly an encouragement when you’re trying to take a math final. They like Martha so much they even buried her pony (named Roanie…wait for it… theeeere you go) ON campus in front of the health center… and it has its own tombstone.

So with all this in mind, I can now move on to the finest aspect of The Chosen One’s sanctity – her birthday. Some people love to celebrate Christmas; others really enjoy a good Thanksgiving; still others might prefer the 4th of July. At Berry, all of these things are mere whispers compared to the real holiday: Martha Berry’s birthday. I have no idea when her actual birthday is (sorry, Martha!), but it was some time in the beginning of October. So every year, the first weekend in October is dedicated to remembering Martha with a few normal activities and a few not so normal, call the guys with butterfly nets activities.

The first thing we do is pretty fun, and mostly normal: The Mountain Day Olympics. Each dorm gets to pick a theme, order t-shirts, and commence in human pyramid-making and three-legged races. This part is a ton of fun, and from the outside looks totally normal, until you realize a couple of things. 1) Nearly every student is there. You could attribute this to school spirit, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that you are Shunned if you even think of someday possibly maybe kind of sort of not wanting to participate in The Chosen One’s celebration. We throw bricks at anyone who tries to leave campus that day. 2) The other weird thing is that the Olympics takes place at 2pm on a Friday, a time when students might, oh, say, be in class. However, on Mountain Day weekend, classes let out early. Professors plan tests around it, study groups make sure they meet early or not at all, and those of us with campus jobs don’t have to report, because everything is closed (except for the cafeteria people… sorry, cafeteria people). It’s like a national holiday, only with deer and a lot of screaming.

The next thing we do can in no way, shape or form be considered normal. I feel like the best way to approach this is to just describe it, and you can reread it as many times as you want until you understand. A lot of this won’t seem normal. Some of you may even want to ask questions. But if there is one thing I learned from Martha, it’s that the answer to your question is way weirder than you anticipated, so it’s best to squelch those. Okay. I think it’s time to describe… the Grand March.

A good Berry-ite would be able to tell you why and how this tradition started. But you’re stuck with me and I don’t know, so maybe try going to the web site if you’re curious. All of the students line up in order of class – seniors first. The senior girls wear blue; the senior guys wear white. The underclassmen girls wear pink, and the underclassmen guys wear blue. You probably want to ask why. Don’t. When the march starts, everyone goes single file (yes, this takes a while… but just wait for it) down a steep incline. It’s not technically a mountain but I guess The Chosen One didn’t want to have to be responsible for the deaths of 2,000 farm kids so she picked a hill instead. At the end of the hill, there is a bucket. When you reach the bucket, you drop in pennies according to how old you are – if you’re 18, you drop in 18, etc. Again, you might find yourself wanting to ask why we do this. Again, don’t. We don’t know. We just found pennies and put them in the bucket and if no one had change we just pretended and opened our empty hand over the bucket when someone else dropped their change in.

When you finally get back up the hill, it gets awkward – you have to hold hands with someone and walk down two by two. Keep in mind that the female to male student ratio was 68% to 32% (and a 12:1 deer to student ratio…). It was every junior and senior girl’s dream to finally be able to hold hands with a boy. The rest of us had to hold hands with a girl. A random stranger with whom you had to walk down the hill, try to make small talk, and silently beg to let your hand go because hers is so sweaty. When you make it up that time, you join with two more people. This continues until all the students are going down 16 across. It’s now been approximately 17 hours since this march started.

On the last leg, everyone raises their arms in the air as they go down. I suppose this is to promote unity, but what it really promotes is the need for strong deodorant. Then we all stop, crowded together like cattle, and someone leads us in the alma mater. I know about 5 words of the alma mater, and I’m not alone – we all wind up humming the tune, which gives the effect of a bunch of whales underwater trying to find their brethren. Then the president speaks. I have been to eight Mountain Days. I have never figured out what the president is saying. I think he is trying to help the whales.

Then… it’s over. You have the rest of the day to enjoy the grounds, buy an I <3 Martha t-shirt, visit Roanie, make a sacrifice on Martha's grave, tour the buildings, whatever. That part is a lot of fun, although I think it's safe to say that almost anything is more fun than hiking back and forth while holding hands with a stranger.

And that night, there is another recent tradition altogether… Marthapalooza. It’s like a really fun, really unsafe state fair, right in the middle of our very own campus. Martha frowned on partying, which makes it extra fun (our definition of partying being that we drink Coke and stay out until MIDNIGHT!!). You can even have your picture taken with the cardboard cutout of Martha. I have three of those. Marthapalooza makes the march well worth it, and you get one of Berry’s finest exports – a t-shirt. My friend Bek and I even tried the ferris wheel. Don’t try the ferris wheel.

Overall, it’s a memorable experience, and while I no longer trek up the hill, it still brings me to joy to see the panicked looks of the freshmen who forgot their pennies.

Go, Vikings!

I’m scaaaaaaaaaaared

I’m scaaaaaaaaaaared

Okay, this post makes me a little nervous. Not because I am going to write something controversial about religion or politics – that’s my next post – but because I am committing myself to something and I am already thinking of ways to back out.

For a long time, I have wanted to write a book. I don’t plan on this book making me famous or rich (although I wouldn’t complain if it did); I’ve just always wanted to do it. I’ve written a lot of stories that have beginnings and middles and kinda sorta endings, but this time I really want to write a book. So I’m going to, or at least I am going to try. There. I said it. No going back.

Like I said, I write a lot, but no one ever exactly reads it. Which is mostly because I keep it hidden and secured like the Hope Diamond. But this time, I’ve actually let three whole people read my story so far. They didn’t become violently ill, so I’ve decided it’s worth a shot. 

Okay. It’s said. I can’t unsay it. Unless I delete it all… NO. Okay. Sorry about that. Posting now.

Dr. Quinn, Idiot Wrangler

Dr. Quinn, Idiot Wrangler

Recently I have started re-watching some old Dr. Quinn episodes. I used to love Dr. Quinn. I remember the day my friend Kellan Rankhorn introduced me to the show, and we would watch it together at her house as Dr. Quinn saved the townspeople and sometimes the ones traveling through. It was glorious.

However, as much as I have enjoyed the memories, a few things have stuck out to me that are both odd and hilarious. Which brings us to my great new word: Oddarious.

The first oddarious thing is Sully and his self-translation. He speaks the language of the Cheyenne, the feisty and often-genocided Native American tribe that lives near the town. But instead of using other devices to clue us in on the conversation, like, I don’t know, one of the townspeople asking what he said, he just says the English translation out loud to everyone. “Me gusta mi estomago… … I like my stomach.” It’s weird. At first I thought, okay, we can reasonably assume that he is just translating it because he knows none of the townspeople get it. But then he did it to just the Native Americans. He spoke to them in their native language. And then said it again in English. …why did you do that, Sully? Do you need me to ask it in a different language first for you to answer me? TELL ME WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS.

The next facet of oddariousness is Dr. Quinn and her whispering. She whispers all the time. Maybe it’s for dramatic effect; maybe she has chronic laryngitis. Whatever it is renders her almost mute on my speakers, causing me to turn them up high and then jump fifty feet in the air when someone else speaks at a normal volume, or heaven forbid, shouts something. I seriously considered trying to find a way to close-caption the Youtube videos. I just don’t understand why she whispers. She seems totally fine as she says: “Children, let’s talk about what we learned today.” Then, right as she is about to make her point, her voice drops to a breathy British whisper, and says quietly, “Violence is never the answer.” You’ve got some valid points, Dr. Quinn, but none of us can HEAR YOU. Speak up, sister. How she and Sully manage between him saying everything twice and her whispering an answer back, I’ll never know.

My favorite oddarious thing is the stupid, stupid townspeople. I don’t like using the word stupid, and I reserve it only for the most deserving things. Trust me, this is one of those things. These people have got to make up the dumbest population in the world. In the beginning of the episode, the shop owner/barber/saloon guy is racist. Then, Dr. Quinn/Sully/Dr. Quinn and Sully give a stirring speech (twice, and whispered) about how we’re all equal. The townspeople are appropriately remorseful and vow to change their ways. But then the next week they’re right back where they started, trying to beat up or steal from the Native Americans/black people/. They were convinced that joining the KKK would be a “fun group for the men to join.” They let a guy who beat up a girl continue to run his brothel. THEY HAVE A BROTHEL. That ain’t right.

So if you want to watch Dr. Quinn but just can’t find the time, let me sum up the series for you:

  • Someone is sick.
  • This person is also ostracized for
  • Dr. Quinn doesn’t care – she helps them anyway.
  • Dr. Quinn gives a dramatic speech to the townspeople.
  • The townspeople grump and humph and start to see the error of their ways.
  • A dramatic event occurs to truly show them how wrong they are.
  • The townspeople say they’re sorry to the ostracized person.
  • This apology will cause the ostracized person to forget all insults, rock-throwing and barn-burning previously inflicted on them.
  • Everyone is friends.

Next week on Dr. Quinn: Someone is sick.