At the sound of the tone...

I had kind of an odd encounter today, where I realized that my life experiences aren't exactly ordinary.

I work with a guy, Ben, who is my age - actually, one day older than my husband - so three months and two days older than me.  But you get me.  We're contemporaries.

We both went to large state schools that were not University of Tennessee.  We have a similar sensibility, and we chew the same gum.  At some point, I learned that he had a job at the Alpha Phi house at IU.

Not pictured:  me - this would be decades later.

This is common at schools where sororities are housed.  They typically have a house mother - an older-ish woman who acts as the primary on all things residential.  Some are more involved than others.  But they hire the landscaper, exterminator, housekeeping, cooks, etc.  They order supplies, they plan menus, they are the anchor that keeps the ship from going too far adrift.

So, in addition to the house mother, there is typically at least one cook - maybe more, if the house is big enough.   Because you gotta feed your Deltas or Zetas, or Thetas or Kappas... in our case, we had a cook, Ella, who handled breakfast, lunch and dinner for the roughly 60 residents of the house.  And on Monday nights, when we had our weekly chapter meeting, she had to feed double that number.

Breakfast was simple - cold cereal or hot cereal.  I ate grits or Froot Loops every day for three years.

Lunch was soup and sandwiches.  Either deli meats, or BLTs or grilled cheese.   And tomato or chicken noodle soup.  Ella could make some damn grilled cheese.  I could put them away, too.

Breakfast and lunch were not formal, time specific meals.  Each of them lasted a two or three hour span, and you came and went as needed.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a more structured event.  Dinner was at a set time every day.  We would line up in the hall beforehand, and the house mother would invite us in.  We would file in and fill up the tables (six people per).  Dinner was buffet style, and before we ate, we sang a blessing.

You sat at dinner until you were dismissed.  The highest ranking officer would check with the house mother to see if she had any announcements, then if anyone else did.  And then, the house mother would dismiss us.

This is where Ben comes into the picture.  He held a job at the Alpha Phi house that had counterparts at my house.  He was a house boy.

The job is a mix of waiter, handy-man, therapist, boyfriend and brother. 

During dinner, the house boys would fill water glasses, clear tables, take out garbage.

After dinner, they would wash up, sweep, mop, wipe down the tables.  Then maybe the house mother might have them change a light bulb, or move something heavy, or reach something on a high shelf.  Nothing taxing.

Our house boys were Joey and Kevin.  Joey was a little odd - he left after my sophomore year, I think.  Kevin was there until he graduated.  He was as much a part of my experience as my sisters.  In fact, Kevin married one of our sisters.

House boys were often the sibling or cousin of a sister, or a platonic friend of someone in the sorority.  They ended up going to our formals and parties, and they were completely non-threatening.   If they got creepy, they got gone, real quick.

So, this afternoon, we were having a company lunch.  They had cake for the April birthdays, and Ben started cutting and passing out pieces.  Someone commented on his expertise, and I said, "Well of course!  He was a house boy!"

Apparently, Ben and I are the only two people in the office familiar with this - because everyone else either thought I was kidding, or racist or both.

I never considered the less savory connotations of "house boy" - which means my white privilege is showing.  Several of my black colleagues asked lots of questions.  The biggest one from the guys had to do with what crazy stuff Ben saw.

Ben said, "If you're asking if there were pillow fights, no".

We wandered into explaining sleeping porches,  then hot and cold dorms.  The poor folks at the table looked confused and amused.

So, all of this to say, if you didn't know this, it takes a lot of work to keep a house full of college women running - it does.

Sororities are nothing like you see in Animal House, Legally Blonde, or every porno taking place in college.

Think of it as a dorm full of women who all like the same colors, have periods that synch up, and eat a lot of Stouffer's lasagna.

And we have house boys.