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Original Writings 

[What's This All About?]

 

How Sorority got her name

 

Interlude concerning
Sorority's humble origins


Sorority, if cornered during conversation and asked to speculate about her particular purpose in the world, almost always begs off, choosing instead to offer as disclaimer the fact that she only, really, arrived on this grand scene in the first place as the eight pound, two ounce by-product of an experiment gone afoul. 

And despite the existential nonchalance she'll attempt when relating the details of this experiment and how it resulted in her humble beginnings, a certain pride always seems to filter through in the telling even though the "experiment" which she describes was perhaps not an experiment so much as simply an alternate life choice made in the early sixties by a couple of students who chose to remove themselves for the moment from the inconvenience of higher education. The two ex-students, and new parents were Sophelia Starr and Wallace Cough.

Sophelia, who went by the pet name Sofa as a young girl, later to be known as "Soda", was one of countless progeny to the notoriously affluent Massachusetts Starr lineage, descending from patriarch Bull Starr, original minuteman, patriot, drinking buddy to Paul Revere, whipping boy to Hank Adams, and forefather to all the importer, rumrunner and political do gooder Starrs currently clustering like barnacles in various enclaves around Boston, down Cape Cod, and off on Nantucket.

Wallace on the other hand, who had never had a nickname as a youngster but was soon to be called "The Buzz", grew up as the bastard and only son of Alma "Mountain" Cough, long time Pub Keeper of Alma's Matter, the sole watering hole in Rico, Colorado which had once been a booming mining camp but currently was nearly abandoned and just a cheesecloth and a stray dog shy of being a ghost town.

Call it experiment or life choice, but with Sorority's arrival a family was born, a family perhaps initially somewhat shell shocked at its own unplanned formation and one rather motley in appearance but a family all the same and after Mr. Cough had finished striding about various wards shaking his head and any hand he could clasp and Miss Starr had bashfully thanked every doctor and nurse on the staff several times, Wallace tucked their swathed daughter under his pudgy, muscular arm protecting her like a ball carrier guarding a football late in the game and they took their leave of the hospital together in the gray April rain of Mt. Vernon, Washington, huddled beneath a single ratty umbrella. They drove silently home to face with renewed urgency a fledgling farming enterprise that was knee deep in tulip bulbs that refused to pullulate properly and organic produce that was rotting before it sold.

It had been an initial hope of this Starr-Cough partnership, and indeed one of the founding premises to the journey which they had set off upon together, that the twenty acres, which they purchased clandestinely with money intended for Soda's education and betterment, might allow them to grow some small percentage of the floral festoonery demanded by folks in the greater Puget Sound area for the upcoming celebratory events of Easter, Mother's Day, and June weddings. It had been another plan that the same acres, which lay at the end of a lonely dirt road in the lush and verdant Skagit River Valley, would yield ample produce so they might supply a stall at an upstart local farmers market with organically grown fruits and vegetables. This land then, along with making livelihood possible and yielding sustenance, was also expected to surround, nurture and protect, providing their small trailer with a comfortable buffer against a world that had disappointed them thus far while giving them a sense of ownership and the isolation they thought they needed. A tall order perhaps for any acreage.

They had had no plans for a child.

1964 however, which was to be their first full year together, had been following a script of its own and had been playing itself out in a way as strange to both of them as the globoid tautness of Soda's burgeoning stomach.

In fact, the Starr-Coughs, in business but not licensed, in love but not in luck, and cohabiting but not married, had been so off put by their child's pending and, in their blushing eyes at least, somewhat unfathomable arrival, that they hadn't tilled the soil with anything near the expertise and doting care necessary for early success in the growing game.

"When it comes to the planting of things," Sorority has noted wryly, "My father was always much better at spilling the initial seed then he ever has been at cultivating the result."

As the imminent birth had become less novel fascination and more economic reality, Wallace was driven away from his frumpy furrows and uncooperative seedlings towards gainful employment and eventually landed himself a postal route. He was soon spending most of his waking hours, six days a week driving around on the shotgun side of his Ford Falcon, left foot slipping precariously from brake to gas as he careened down country roads stuffing Life magazines, induction notices, and Sears & Roebuck catalogues into the rural mailboxes of Skagit County.

Since Wallace's boyhood had been such a contrast of tranquility and chaos with most of his time spent either alone wandering about in the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies wondering about the world beyond or within the iniquitous din of his mother's bar where he helped out by emptying spittoons and carrying out bottles just to be able to enjoy the constant barrage of banter spewing from the miner's, drunks, and adventurers that happened through, it is perhaps no surprise that he grew into a man given to dreaming, a man prone to occasional bouts of extemporaneous storytelling, a man not unfamiliar with the rousing of a little rabble, and one that had much more of a flare as flibbertigibbet and scuttlebutt then he'd ever shown as horticulturist or graduate student. As a result, he became known as something of a county crier and although the efficiency of the US. Postal Service tended to suffer, many of those along his route sought relief in their bucolic schedules by rambling down their driveways to the mailbox each day to hear Wallace deliver his entertaining interpretations of the goings on, or "the Buzz" around the Skagit Valley.

Just as "The Buzz" was settling into his routine, Sophelia began to get restless in hers, suffering an increasingly cooped feeling in the trailer, one in which the tin roof's amplification of the rain was often the only relief from her daughter's vociferous antics. She eventually took action to rectify the situation by finding part time employment in town as a soda jerk and while Sorority (or "Little Pogsy" as the Buzz had started calling her, Pogsy being a semi-acronym for Pride of the Greek System) crawled around behind the counter dumping spices and sauces on the floor and finger painting in the resulting gumbo, the gangly young mother soon known as Soda, spent much of her day refilling coffee cups and listening to what would similarly be called the scuttlebutt. Being resolutely shy, she was not nearly as eager a grape on the vine as her more loquacious partner but at days end she would faithfully succumb to the Buzz's pestering and summarize for her attentive mate all the gossip she'd gleaned from the lunch counter regulars.

Oftentimes, since many of the diner patrons were the same folk the Buzz encountered on his mail route, the stories were simply rehashed and retold, sprouting additional twiglets with every telling, bouncing around the Starr-Cough tiny trailer home back to the lunch counter, often mutating along the way into seemingly unrelated new tales which were subsequently tossed out to the public hopper to be reground through the mill in the days to come. Skagit residents quickly figured out that if they had an interest in keeping their names clear, it behooved them to either amble down to greet The Buzz at their mailboxes or make at least a weekly appearance at the diner to catch and reshape any yarns being spun that might involve them. The Buzz, being paid by the route and not the hour soon was out in the field - as he called it - in excess of eighty hours a week and could get little else done. Business at the counter, however, had picked up to the point where Soda was able to keep them afloat with the additional tip money.

Soda and The Buzz had been mid-semester dropouts from the University of Washington down in Seattle having, in fact, spent their last few weeks on campus together, all but holed up in The Buzz's tiny lab, dipping hunks of bread alternately into honey and peanut butter pots, drinking bottles of Rainier Beer, and plotting new and rebellious paths. Although what they had in common at the time was not much more than a similar sense of social isolation and the bitterness they held for their respective educational situations, they grew close quickly and finally found the strength to move on in each other's support. The Buzz, a diminutive but powerful, intensely insouciant fellow of flowing red beard and gray eyes, was leaving school towards the business end of a Ph.D. in Forest Resources. Soda, already nearly a foot taller then her new friend and still growing, undeveloped and stringy yet somehow awkwardly graceful, departed as a undeclared freshwoman rushing the Kappa Kappa Gamma house.

When The Buzz washed his hands of the Forest Resources program, he was at loggerheads, so to speak, with his primary advisor, a professor specializing in uses of forest ecosystems. The professor was finding it difficult to continue working with degree candidate Cough due to the outspoken manner in which the student had begun questioning the departments aims and goals. The Buzz's opinions, which were oft stated and, at least in the department's eyes, had become more radical of late, expressed his growing suspicion that the best way to keep the forests as a resource, the rivers running clear, and great outdoors great might be to simply cut back logging and leave things alone. If enough people assumed this position, the Buzz reasoned, it would eliminate the need for folks down the road to waste time obtaining similar degrees to the one he had come to realize that he was wasting his time obtaining.

Understandably, these views led to clashes with that segment of the faculty whose jobs would be rendered obsolete by such an environmental strategy and left the Buzz at odds as well with a good number of the other degree candidates, some of whom were having their tuition paid by Weyerhaeuser and other logging companies at this, the largest educational institution in the heart of timber country.

Soda simply found her new sisters to be disingenuous, down their nose bitches.

So finally, without a word to parent, registrar, creditor, lab partner, house mate, or the Greek system, they loaded the Falcon and drove sixty miles North, buying the small trailer with the last of The Buzz's stipend and using money stockpiled for Soda's tuition and sorority house dues to acquire the land. They made loose plans to tap that which was applicable in Buzz's horticulture background to grow tulips and organic produce and things had seemed to be progressing smoothly for the first few months until the money was near gone and it became evident that most of the tulip bulbs had been planted upside down and were sprouting only to struggle hopelessly towards the earth's core. The pregnancy, meanwhile, was reaching a stage where it could no longer be ignored.

Sorority had been an equal partner in the family from the beginning in that, at the time of her birth, she had on her person exactly as much cash as her parents had between them. The Buzz was staring down the barrel of his thirtieth birthday and owed on three degrees worth of school loans. Soda had just turned eighteen.

All that Hyacinth "Cici" Parsimmons Starr, Soda's mother had ever seemed to really want for her daughter and almost always one of the focal points of their conversations during the summers they had spent together at the family compound on Nantucket, was her expectation that her daughter would follow in her footsteps as a Kappa Kappa Gamma girl.

"Those Kappa years were the best years of my life." Mrs. Starr would say, peering down her nose sternly into the suspicious eyes of her only child. "And they were the best year's of your grandmum's life, your Aunt Booboo's life and of a lot of other Starr lives as well. It's a sistership that lasts forever and since the Navy took your father away before he could help provide us with a real sister for you, I think you will find that The House will become an even more important force in your life than it has been in mine."

As a reclusive child who had never thought that she might want even one sister and spent most of her time reading and writing in her journal, Soda had doubted this from the beginning but by the time she was old enough to fully understand what Greek life actually entailed, her relationship with her mother had deteriorated to the point where an actual discussion of the matter seemed a gargantuan and messy proposition.

Widowed by the war, Ms. Starr kept her daughter in boarding schools and was living almost exclusively overseas by the time Soda was ready to enter college. She was puzzled at first as to why her daughter eschewed Starr tradition and the Ivy league for a school so far from the family but finally approved of the choice when she was reminded that the University of Washington was home to one of the country's biggest Kappa Houses. She would religiously mail in her financial support with little notes attached to each check asking about things at "The House" and all her daughter's new Kappa friends. It had never seemed strange to Soda although it had immediately confused the Buzz that Ms. Starr never inquired even once about Soda's chosen course of study or the grades she was making. After they had moved up to Skagit, Soda and the Buzz would make monthly pilgrimages back to Seattle to pick up the mail. With the check that arrived the week before Sorority was born came the announcement of a surprise visit.

It was on the resulting trip to the Seattle-Tacoma airport that Sorority and The Buzz, got their first and last look at their benefactress. Sorority, though she was barely a month old, claims the entire episode is etched in her memory and has described it this way;

"The three of us slopped into the Falcon, I remember that the back was literally brimming with discarded catalogues and junk mail but the Buzz was able to fashion out a comfy little nest for me and we journeyed South to meet the plane. We waited, huddled in a nervous group and when the plane finally landed the poor woman was barely off the tarmac when my mother stepped forward, charged forward would be more accurate, holding me out in front of her like a pot of hot stew. My grandmother stopped short and after an initial dumbstruck glance wouldn't look at my mother anymore or at me but simply stared over our shoulders at The Buzz, who stood fidgeting about under her gaze with a baby bottle in one hand and clump of pathetic tulips in the other. Finally Momma, with something of a maniacal grin betraying her face, begin blurting things like, "I want you to meet our little Sorority. Look at little Pogsy will you. Here, hold her. Hold her! She's your granddaughter goddamnit. And she's all the Sorority I'll ever need." while trying in vain to shove me into this Hyacinth person's arms. That close up glimpse of the woman and the confused and frightened look in her eyes as she gaped around wildly, clawing the air and pushing me away with those veiny talons is what comprises my first vivid memory on this earth, I swear it does and I can't ever forget it. The mascara, the wrinkled panic, that odd and tired debutante pain. Then she got back on the plane and wouldn't come off. After refueling, I suppose she just continued on to Los Angeles."

"And none of you have talked to her since?"

"Nope. The checks just kept coming though. And they're still coming to this day. Same amount, to the same P.O. Box. Just like clockwork. And every one of them has "Kappa dues" written in the little memo box."

 

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.