A “Date” to Remember

I do have diversified audiences! One day I’m speaking to senior citizens, the next, to seniors graduating from college. Like a chameleon, my presentation of Between the Two Rivers adapts to the environment.

Speaking at the Delta Zeta Sorority at the University of Washington last evening proved to be delightfully a unique experience and very unlike all my previous presentations. My audience was comprised of my sorority sisters—89 college students and two dozen alums.

While I always take pride in talking about my book and emotionally recalling my mom’s experiences, at the DZ House, the main subject was the book’s author—me. The undergraduates wanted to hear about my experiences when I first came to the U.S. as an Exchange Students living at the sorority house.

How could I help but indulge their curiosity? After all, I’ve spent my happiest days at the DZ House.

Besides, as I stood in the same parlor (now remodeled and expanded) and faced those gorgeous young girls, I felt as if I was stepping into the sorority 56 years ago—not fumbling through life as the newcomer to this country, but as someone who has experienced so much good fortune.

One story I recalled concerned my arrival at the DZ House from Baghdad, Iraq. I had no idea what to expect. My parents and I had thumbed through several dictionaries to understand the word sorority, because part of my Fulbright Scholarship included living at the Delta Zeta Sorority. My dad, knowing some Greek, deciphered Delta Zeta but the meaning of ‘sorority’ remained ambiguous other than ‘a social club for females with a designated housemother who exercised strict curfew.’ When my brother heard the word ‘curfew,’ he blurted, “Aida is going to jail?”

My mom, on the other hand, was quite relieved that my room and board would strictly be with girls.

When I rang the doorbell of the House for the first time, a tall, blond and handsome guy opened it. Oops! I checked the address. It was the one written on my piece of paper. Nevertheless, I stepped back, uncertain what to do. Then the handsome guy said, “Oh, Miss Aida. Welcome to UW.”

He was the houseboy and all the girls were expecting me. I was relieved that my mom didn’t have to know about the doorman.

At dinner time, I was seated at elongated tables for 12 each in the dining room with 60-plus girls. The housemother invited me to sit on her right, as the guest of honor.

For the next 30 minutes, several houseboys came in and out the kitchen, serving the girls our delicious dinner of baked ham, mashed potatoes, green peas and lime Jell-O. Silverware clicked and goblets glistened beside the candelabras while the girls chatted. My English was minimal and the context of the girls’ chatter mostly unfamiliar. But I heard the word ‘dance’ so I guessed they must be discussing a joyous occasion.

Mary-Lou, who was seated across from me, caught my eye and asked, “Aida, do you have a date?”

Well, I knew what ‘have’ meant. And I knew everything anyone needed to know about dates. After all, Iraq produced three quarters of the world’s dates. Furthermore, my mom had given me several small packages of dates to pass on as gifts.

So when Mary Lou asked if I had a date, I said, “Yes. In my bedroom.”

The housemother got red in the face, spitting the lime Jell-O onto her buxom bosom, and everyone who overheard was stunned. Remember, this was in 1952.

Donna, my roommate who had already gotten one of those gift packages, immediately broke the silence. “No, no, Aida,” she said. “We’re not talking about the kind of dates you eat …” And so she began to explain what to have a date meant.

From what I could gather, the custom sounded lots of fun. So, sadly, I said, “No. I don’t have a date.”

Mary Lou jumped into the discussion again. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll get you a blind date.”

That hour of reminiscing about my first days at the sorority brought the house to laughter and more laughter.

Just before closing, one of the girls said, “You should become a stand-up comedienne.”

It was a fun evening for all of us.


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