There used to be a much closer connection between formerly all-male Haverford College and the women of Bryn Mawr just a short stroll out the Main Line. Even in my day, when Haverford was co-ed with a vengeance, the bi-college identity was inclusive enough for there to be room for that species of male, of which I was a proud member, known as the Bryn Man, who gravitated toward the Bryn Mawr vibe.
The two institutions and their student bodies have fewer interstices today, which I consider a great shame, yet the pulse of that dynamic tension and affection of old still beats when both colleges invite their Alums back on the same weekend, and so I knew that the first night of my reunion I would spend at the Bryn Mawr Step Sing. I also suspected that when duty called, I would not hesitate to answer, but more on that in a moment.
Step Sings are important and beloved rituals at Bryn Mawr, as indeed they were in my mother and grandmother's days at another of the Seven Sisters. Classes with their distinctive owl lanterns convene under the direction of their respective songs-mistresses about the Senior Steps on the side of Taylor Hall. They draw from a songbook that includes generational anthems, rounds and ribaldries, and often punctuated by the college cheer invoking the Goddess Athena:
Anassa kata, kalo kale,
Ia ia ia Nike,
Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr!
There is a Haverford rejoinder, cribbed from Jabberwocky - "O frabjous Day! Calooh, Callay!" - but there are few now who remember it.
At the Step Sing last Friday, I arrived fashionably late with a Mawrter for company, only to find "the precession had proceeded according to precedent" and thus had not yet gotten underway. There were hundreds of alumnae and their friends and families, including children swirling glow sticks and more than a few clinking glasses. We knew it was going to be an eventful evening when the class of 1940 got the ball rolling in spectacular fashion. A gray haired nonagenarian in a short skirt with long woolen stockings of some indeterminate hue and wearing her glow stick like a torc gave a rousing rendition of a song from her youth about snorting cocaine.
We thought that would be hard to top. I mentioned that in 10 years or so the class songs would be by Lady Gaga instead of Paul Simon or the Indigo Girls, and right on cue two songs-mistresses did a 4 bar intro of Poker Face. But there was also a rendition of Haverford Harry, which I have taken the liberty of sharing here in full courtesy of the Class of 1971 Songbook:
The boy that I marry will have to be
A hermit, neurotic, and wear a goatee,
He'll be arty and smarty and smell of raw gin.
His hair will be stringy and shoulder length.
He'll snow all the girls with his sheer brute strength.
He's a nudist, a Zen Buddhist,
And his social deportment's the crudest.
His room will be cluttered with sculpture weird.
His chin will be covered with unshaved beard.
He's terrific, he's prolific,
His demands and desires quite specific.
He seems to be haunted with some strange hex,
A complex concerning that thing called sex.
He's sublime-o, what a wine-o,
For some young thing from Shipley, divine-o.
So a Haverford Harry the boy I marry must be ... inevitably!
When they had finished, the mistress of ceremonies noted that there were also lyrics for Harry's Reply (though sadly not reproduced in the 1971 songbook), and offered the opportunity for any 'Fords in the audience to come up and sing it. She didn't sound as if she expected any takers, but then, I knew of at least one who knew what to expect and was more than willing.
I waited a beat or two, then walked down the aisle in my panama hat and clad in Haverford's scarlet and black, acknowledging with a slight bow the delighted gasps of "It's Tim!" that came from the vicinity of the BMC class of 1990 section. I confess I was relieved that the statute of limitations on my various youthful indiscretions in Athena's demesne appears to have expired with all long since forgiven or forgotten.
I faced the crowd, accepted a microphone and the lyric sheet, and said something rueful along the lines of "Good God" Then up from my left stepped a fellow 'Ford from the Class of 1980, who I remembered afterward had been the only other person with me when this same scene played out at reunion 15 years ago. We were prepared to brazen through another duet, when another Haverford male came forward, and still others, until we may have been a dozen strong up there and game to give it our best. We shook hands and turned to face the music.
We sang the lines with gusto, and let me tell you it was at least as good sauce for the goose as had been for the gander. I recall one small part that went something along the lines of "She's precocious, hair's atrocious, If you get her in bed she's ferocious" which was a crowd favorite (and after which I could not resist getting the aside "You don't know how right that is...")
The whole thing was a lark and went over very well. Someone from the Alumnae office wanted our names afterwords in case they use any of the photographic evidence. I was greeting throughout the rest of the night with anonymous calls from the darkness of "Haverford Harry, you were great!" It was the very least I could do for Bi-Co relations, aside from love the Mawr and its Mawrters, which I do, I do.