Working the South
You avoided formalities in those days, spoke of everything in abbreviated terms. And so it was simply the South. You met your friends at the South. Made weekend plans in the South. Hustled to beat the dinner rush at the South.
Your student job was working the South.
You shuffled to your shift on winter mornings, roommates still asleep, snow underfoot. Or you kicked through leaves on autumn afternoons, hurrying from class. Or you sprinted across the quad on spring evenings, your buddies still shagging Frisbees from a darkening April sky.
You tore a plastic apron from a roll as thick as your arm. Found the flimsy serving gloves. Faced a relentless conveyor belt ferrying discarded scraps and half-eaten meals from the dining hall. You sorted bowls and glasses and silverware, fast as your hands could manage. Unloaded plates from a dishwasher the size of an elevator car. Scrubbed pots, hosed off baking sheets. You wiped down tables, still thinking about those Frisbees on the quad.
The ache of leaving those lawns.
But also, noticing the amber light in the wooden rafters. The neat, leaden grid on the Gothic windows. The astonishing sheen of a freshly mopped floor. How laughter lingered in the kitchen. How stories were told. The timely advice and dirty jokes. How the South became another classroom.
A second college.
And how, when the shift was over, you bummed smokes from old-timers on the loading dock. Your lit cigarettes, poking holes in the night. Sparking more stories. More laughter. Illuminating an unexpected education.
— Dave Devine ’94
Our Lips Are Sealed
I envied the girls who used their hairbrushes as microphones, singing at the top of their lungs while dancing and laughing. They would pull me in, handing me an object to serve as a microphone. I was always embarrassed in this situation but tried to act thrilled.
I was swept along with the group on its way to an unscheduled performance at North Dining Hall. We sang “Our Lips Are Sealed” and danced atop a table while the song blasted on a boom box. I did not recognize anyone in the crowd and felt free to gyrate away. I did not realize the plan was to go to South Dining Hall next. What? I actually knew people there!
I thought I might hide in the crowd but was too slow to hop on the selected table and forced to dance on the side since there was no more room. I felt so exposed. I saw faces I knew. I tried to appear as though I was enjoying myself immensely. The song went on forever.
I’m still chagrined by how embarrassed I felt. What was the big deal? I was in the glory of my youth and with a group of women I loved who enjoyed dancing in front of a crowd. Oh, to go back and enjoy that feeling, instead of feeling embarrassed.
— Sue O’Reilly Vansandt ’85
Lost and Found
My very first morning in the dining hall intimidated me somewhat — learning my way around, walking into a room of strangers while thinking about the day of marching band rehearsals ahead. I tried not to feel lost as our group weaved between buildings on our way to North Dining Hall. Part of me was relieved at having my roommate also on campus early to audition for the band — at least one vaguely familiar person was with me! — but as we wandered around getting breakfast, I managed to lose her and the rest of the group from our residence hall.
I stood with a tray of food, looking at a crowd of total strangers, nervous and unsure of where to go next. About the time I resigned myself to sit at a random, empty table, I heard the last thing I ever expected: my name. Somehow, the Notre Dame student I had stayed with six months earlier recognized me and called my name loud enough for me to hear it across tables of friends catching up after their summer apart. I am still not sure how Angela noticed me. Getting invited to a full table that morning was exactly what I needed and turned into the first of many times when friends found me in a dining hall, often when I most needed it.
— Anna Schmall ’06
While Notre Dame is known for its legendary history of spirited events, the small, daily routines that connected us made undergraduate residency truly special. Every day we gathered at our Manor home to head over to South Dining Hall. To sit together and share was our healthy respite. “Duck” dissecting the limited menu of choices, the choreography of the salad bar, the twins’ third servings, the occasional ice cream sundae smorgasbord, the less occasional steak night, The Observer coverage (“Did you read Molarity today?”), Jaime singing The Stones at top volume, lobbing leftovers during food wars (yes, you read that right!) and the endless laughter, all created unique bonds. This daily ritual made my friends family — and families that eat together, stay together . . . still strong, 40 years later. Fight on!
— Dan Tarullo ’81
Solid or liquid? In a split second every Sunday morning, I had to decide between these two options at table in South Dining Hall. A crisp apple slice or sweet milky goodness from the Cinnamon Toast Crunch? A broccoli crown would make a nice garnish, or perhaps a skillfully placed potato cube, but some OJ would surely anoint the entire creation. Well, full disclosure — I always went solid. Liquid was too risky. I left the soupy slosh factor to my more confident brunch connoisseurs. I just couldn’t be the one who overflowed The Bowl.
Yes, The Bowl. The add-and-pass brainchild of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. Sixty breakfast items — bacon and egg bits, beans, berries, biscuits, and bagel bites — all deposited into one standard-issue dining hall bowl. No two food mountains ever alike. Often a swampy mess, but somehow in its own way, elegant, a work of art to be quietly pondered.
Except that The Bowl was never quietly pondered. Upon the final contribution, our grand marshal swept The Bowl up for procession. The Bowl had its own song, its own liturgy even — which we only later learned was borderline sacrilegious. Nevertheless, The Bowl made its way around South Dining Hall, lifted high with pomp and circumstance before being presented to an unsuspecting diner. A student buried in a textbook. Girls chatting away mid-sentence. Maybe even a young family visiting campus.
The Bowl was the gift they never knew they wanted. For me, though, it was the gift and reminder of Notre Dame friendship.
—Geoffrey T. Mooney, CSC, ’09 ’11M.Ed. ’20M.Div.
Notre Dame Sausage
In 1968, my freshman dorm, Cavanaugh Hall, was a men’s dorm (like all the dorms at that time) that was assigned to the North Dining Hall for its meals. The building, unfortunately, didn’t make the cut for the National Registry of Historical Cinder Block Buildings. And, the food didn’t win any awards either. Your main course for dinner, an option of one, was at the end of a single file line of trays in front of white-uniformed ladies with hairnets. One day, after seeing the food being served for dinner, I asked the server if we were having Italian sausage or Polish sausage? She replied: “It’s Notre Dame Sausage.”
—John Sekula ’72
Ours was the North Dining Hall. Nowhere near as interesting a building as South — with its old school, somewhat Oxbridge appearance. North’s design is quite utilitarian.
Walking over from the dorm, a herd lining up in the vestibule to be checked off and go in. Those rare nights when they’d be serving (self-styled) steak and they’d nick our ID so that you wouldn’t try to go through again and get another.
And Al Sondej ’74. Built like a lineman, with a mop of blond hair, a big, genial face, there at the dining hall entrance in T-shirt and jeans, holding a plastic milk jug with the top cut off, collecting money for the less fortunate in South Bend. A year or two ahead of me in school, he seemed a one-man operation. On occasion I put money in his jug, but I invariably felt some lack in myself when I saw him. His example seemed so simple, so humble; it was his alone. I suppose I could have made my own effort along these lines, but like others I was busy living the college life. In making this work a part of his life — at that time in our lives — he seemed ahead of his time.
And his time was short — I read some years ago that he’d died in a fire.
Not without making his mark on a lot of us.
—George Sibley ’75
Dinner is served at Campus View
So when we arrived in 1977 I was asking myself: did they choose our roommates for us based on matching hair and sunburn potential? Both of us were very blond on top, with white eyebrows, and skin that would turn red after one quarter of a September home game. Tom had worked the night shift at McDonald’s through high school, and my stints as a busboy and dishwasher at Howard Johnson were equally enlightening. Maybe that was the root of his passion for food, or maybe he was just so relieved to be in college and off the competitive wrestler’s regimen. In any case, Tom’s ability to make the most of a dining hall visit became legendary in our circles.
We made our way through Morrissey, for three years, and then joined forces again senior year at Campus View. Here the important question arose: “Ringy, can you cook?” It became clear that the expectation was that the four of us would each cook dinner for everyone else one night per week. How exactly that was decided I don’t recall (but I think it was pushed by Tom), and the schedule was clearly posted on the refrigerator. And heating up canned goods? Unacceptable. Boy did I sweat my first foray into the world of stuffed pork chops. And the time I mistakenly put an entire bulb of garlic into the chili instead of a clove . . . well. Yum!
So now 40-plus years later my family meets up with Hos’s in London (my youngest had her semester abroad there) and at dinner his wife makes it abundantly clear that Tom is the main chef of the house. And guess who loves to cook at our house. And we are both still happily married. Coincidence?
—Jim Ringlein ’81
When the Tables Turned on the Students
It was the start of the spring semester, 1981. Football coach Dan Devine had stepped down and we now had Gerry Faust. Gene Corrigan slipped into Moose’s oversized athletic-director shoes. President Carter was about to be replaced by President Reagan. We accepted those changes without so much as a whimper. But the change we would not tolerate was the 90-degree switch of the large wooden tables in South Dining Hall from the traditional east-west set-up to north-south.
The students on the North Quad did not understand this crisis, but the SDH bulletin board was attacked by suggestion forms, pleading for them to “Change ’em back!” One petition was signed by T. Hesburgh, Ned Joyce, and God.
Students had some creative protests: some sat sideways at the tables, others left their trays on the tables facing 90-degrees off-kilter rather than bring them to the conveyor belt. After about a week, students snuck into the dining hall one night and changed back all the tables on the west side.
Why did we protest the new dining hall table formation so strongly? Perhaps it was a situation we felt we could do something about. Or perhaps we were reacting to two situations that hadn’t changed: the Iran hostage crisis and thefts in dorm rooms over the break. Whatever it was, I still think about the two full-time workers (lifers, we called them) I watched at the end of my work-study shift two days later, who rearranged the east side tables to complete our much-needed victory.
—Michael Mader ’83
My favorite memories of Notre Dame are not football games or parties, but the many hours I spent in South Dining Hall: memories I share with most alumni (like where our hall sat together for meals) and with fewer (like cold starry mornings many of us would make the short walk from the old architecture building, Bond Hall, to breakfast at South Dining Hall after another all-nighter of design work and drafting). My most cherished memories, however, are of working at the dining hall. A student of modest means, in addition to scholarship money and loans, I worked at least half-time all five years, mostly at South Dining Hall. I did many jobs there, but mostly I worked on one of the crews that ran the dishwasher operation behind the scenes, cleaning thousands of dishes over the course of two hours. These were crews of a dozen or so. Freshman year I started with less complicated jobs, but gradually worked my way up to jobs where speed and precision were mandatory, jobs like loading thousands of those juice-sized glasses from the conveyor into racks that would be loaded into the dishwasher. By my fourth and fifth years, I was crew boss, a role that meant one could do all the jobs well and fill-in anywhere for a crew member missing that shift. In my 62 years, I have never been better at any job, and I fondly recall the friendships developed with both student and non-student employees.
—Joseph Murray ’83
Notre Dame Magazine invites personal essays of no more than 250 words on subjects of nostalgic interest to alumni of all ages. Here are upcoming topics, deadlines and details about how to submit.