Most freshers focus on supping and tupping in their first term, but a series of flukes and coincidences led me to a little known university in the heart of the Bible Belt in Tennessee.
Clearly, I’d thought no further than “sounds sunny” before packing a bag of thongs and a paperback for the flight. Had I done any research, I’d have noted the legal age for drinking in The United States was 21 years; and if I’d read the prospectus’ small print, I may have stumbled upon the bit that said “hell no” to hellraisin’.
Lord, have mercy.
Induction week was disappointing, ya’ll. It was one long haul of Kool-Aid cook-outs and canvassing from The Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints. Hopes of swigging malt liquor in the back of a pick-up truck with Randy Travis were fading fast – and it wasn’t looking like Billy Ray Cyrus would be breaking my heart anytime soon.
Fortunately, I wasn’t lonesome. My pals Caz and Baz had also blagged a scholarship for a BA in Communication Arts in the humidity. We were the guinea pigs for a Harrogate, Yorkshire / Harrogate, Tennessee twin college jolly. Basically, it was America or Leicester. But as the reality of a dry campus began to sink in, I wished I’d called clearing.
We would not be beaten by the frost wash God Squad though – and set about finding some serious fun. Our prayers were answered with a neon sign for The Oasis Bar – the only watering hole within a five mile boot scoot. Owners Pappa and Mamma Wally welcomed us with pitchers of Michelob and a southern smile. We returned the favour with a fist full of dollars and a massive lie that I’d been to school with Princess Diana.
Finally, we’d found some friends in low places – like-minded heathens with a hankerin’ for moonshine. And I got me a hick – a true, trailer park sweetheart who knew little of social graces but a lot about love (“Got any cowboy in ya? Would ya like some?”). At least he took his hat off.
I temporarily joined a sorority too – the Delta’s, but only managed three of the required six weeks of pledging. Well, you had to lug a silver stick everywhere to prove your dedication. And have bag of sweets constantly available for your ‘sisters’. And know about perming. I thought sack that for a can of Smoky Mountain Dew and became an honorary frat girl instead. The Sigma Pi Beta’s were much more up my route 66, but I won’t go in to their initiation process.
Our minds were expanding in line with our social circles. Caz fell in love with the son of a preacher man from Hillsville, West Virginia. His middle name was actually DeWayne. She wangled us an invitation one Thanksgiving, where we witnessed a hellfire and brimstone sermon then had squirrel for tea – shot by the preacher and stewed by his wife. Yes, it did taste a bit like chicken, but the bushy tail didn’t half get stuck in your teeth…
My father went to his grave never knowing I’d played poker with a guy in the ghetto who’d just done time for murder. Most people at that ‘social’ had a gun and the boyfriend at the time, Oreo (really) had to keep introducing me with a caveat: “I know she white, but she cool. She English an’ know Lady Di.” The Di lie followed me everywhere.
I’m told I had a near death experience on Highway 25E, waking up with windscreen in my hair and the county sheriff breathing down my neck. The parents weren’t too pleased when I airmailed that news home. Good job I’d left out the bit where we danced in a club called the CRS, later finding out it stood for Cut, Rape & Stab.
But somehow, despite all the beer, kisses and near misses, I miraculously managed to graduate – hilariously ending up in the ‘Who’s Who of American Universities & Colleges 1994’.
Maybe the Lord had worked in mysterious ways – steering me along a rocky road in redneck county, quietly holding my hand as I danced with the devil and dodged the path of righteousness. Or maybe, maybe, it was simply fluke, coincidence and a thirst for knowledge which led me to The Light …
… of The Oasis.