”You are expected to be at the bonfire by 8:30pm. Don’t be late. This is a key part of the process.” The student organizer for homecoming looked at us intently, and with much seriousness in her voice, knowing full well that the bulk of us wouldn’t be there anywhere close to that time.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t much of a bonfire guy. Our idea of a bonfire on the farm was burning some piles of old hay, straw, and feed sacks or better yet – trying to blow up old kitchen appliances with the use of highly flammable liquids….
While it could very well make for a great spectator sport, it was not what was generally considered to be a good homecoming week festivity.
Being a “Homecoming King Candidate” for NDSU, complete with big green ribbon to remind everyone of that fact as we walked around campus (and we were scolded if someone from the organizing committee found us walking around campus without it), I was forced to get used to some of the timeless college traditions like bonfires, alumni gatherings, ice cream socials, and drinking heavily.
The bonfire kicked off sharply at 8:30, right as the sun set below the orange harvest skyline. It was something to behold, a mass of timbers off next to the National Historic Site listed flax plots on the far west side of campus was stacked up high in a carefully engineered pyre.
Which was lit up and spewed embers into the night sky. It was impressive. In the back of my mind, I figured that the timbers were probably soaked in creosote…
Fraternities, sororities, and student groups competed in a challenge to sing a song or do a cheer. Each fraternity was paired with a sorority, and my fraternity there on College Street was lucky to be paired up with one of the prettiest of the sororities on campus…but they didn’t help much with homecoming, so in their best down home homing coming spirit, the men composed a great song to the tune of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” that composed of fantastic lyrics telling the complex story of how our mighty Bison were going to go on to crush the lowly bears from Colorado the next day.
It was great, except much like the sage advice of never bring a knife to a gun fight…don’t bring a ballad to a cheer contest…
Needless to say, they didn’t win, but there was one in the homecoming court that cheered them to excess. And he was the one sober.
After the cheering and singing, as the judges went to debate the merits of each rousing act, they introduced the homecoming court.
Now picture this if you will, a crowd of college students, in a death match to find out who won the song/cheer contest at homecoming, and the one thing standing between the rowdy contestants and results where ten seniors wearing big green ribbons….none-the-less, my fraternity brothers, and more than a fair share of the sorority girls let out a cheer as I walked over the rough field with the flames of the dying bonfire in the background.
Not much of a catwalk, but just right for a country boy like me.