BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Friday, 11 May 2018
It was at Wells Hall where we girls, The Rockets, first learned what it was like to be on our own, without our moms, and to be starving students.
Wells Hall was our freshman dorm when we attended college at Brigham Young University, and we had our own kitchen, instead of eating at a dining hall, as many college students seem to do.
Our building was named after Emmeline Wells, a women’s rights pioneer, was made of brown bricks, and was two stories high, with large lobby windows looking to the south, on the very eastern edge of campus.
Our apartment had three bedrooms, one antiquated bathroom, a narrow, tunnel-like hallway, and a kitchen which doubled as a living room. Each floor had a large lobby where you could hang out in big groups, but we always preferred our own cozy kitchen.
Everyone always ends up in the kitchen, right?
We had a large yellow table with six hard yellow chairs, and a scratchy brown-plaid loveseat, which was conveniently located underneath the old-school telephone, with a long and twisty cord.
Yes, this was waaay before cellphones. We might have seen a brick of a car phone in a movie at this point, but the concept of everyone having a cellphone small enough to fit in a pants pocket wasn’t something we could have eeeven dreamed of back then, in 1985.
New on the scene was the concept of touch tone phones, and we used this idea to register for classes, instead of having to wait in line. It was such a novelty, being able to accomplish things over the phone without having to talk to a human! We called the recorded voice Mr. BYU.
Here at Wells Hall, we had our first lessons in budgeting for food, and how to keep ourselves full without breaking the bank. All of us had just come from the security of our parents’ homes, and it was eye opening, not to have dinner magically appear on the table each night.
In our apartment lived Anita, Julie, Lori, Nancy, Traci, and me. Lynette lived next door. (The next year, when we decided to move off campus, Traci got different roommates, and Nancy moved back to California, so we hooked up with Lynette.)
Fortunately, since none of us had a car, our building was situated right next to a small grocery store called Carson’s Market. It’s hard to remember back that far, but I know for at least a while we pooled our money and went to Carson’s Market together to buy our groceries.
Anita recently refreshed my memory and reminded us we each chipped in $10 a week towards our groceries, and we ate a lot of 10 cent packets of Banquet chipped beef over toast. We also made tuna casserole with only one can of tuna.
And speaking of tuna fish, one time Anita scolded me because I didn’t stretch a can of tuna far enough when I was making a sandwich. Haha!
But getting back to the kitchen itself. It was large and old, with a big picture window which overlooked the sidewalk behind us. From the window we could see two other dorm buildings, so it was a fun place to sit and snoop. One time the dumpster caught fire and we thought that was pretty exciting.
The kitchen had white metal cabinets in an L-shape, with the standard sink, stove, and fridge. There was also a big microwave on a table in the corner by the window, and I think this was my first experience with such a newfangled invention. There was also a freestanding pantry, where we stored our food.
Sometimes, we would combine any special treats we’d come upon and make a nice dinner together, as you see in the photo above.
And for such occasions, we could borrow stuff from Central Hall, like our pretty peach tablecloth. I still remember how we set the table with our black-and-white stoneware plates, and had a bouquet of fall-colored flowers as a centerpiece.
Or maybe I don’t really remember all these details, I just think I do, because I’ve looked at these photographs a lot over the years.
I know what we ate at that dinner, though, because I dutifully recorded it in my little red journal, with my then-perfect script handwriting:
Wednesday, November 13th, 1985
Tonight Lori, Anita, Julie, Nancy and I had the best dinner. (Traci buys her own groceries now and eats on her own.)
Not long after I got home from classes I started making cornmeal muffins. Then I helped Lori grate potatoes for au gratin potatoes. (She makes them with sour cream and cheese and they are so fabulously delicious!)
She also made chicken with Shake-n-Bake and strawberry-banana Jell-O with pineapple chunks in it. Anita made a pie using some pie dough mix her grandma made and gave her. She filled it with some bottled apple pie filling from Lori’s mom.
Anita and I went over to Central Building and borrowed this really pretty peach-colored tablecloth. We put the flowers Anita got from Brendan on the table as a centerpiece. It looked so elegant and everything tasted “mah-velous!”
Towards the end of the school year, our kitchens were remodeled, with wood facing on the cabinets. During that time, they gave us passes to eat at the dining hall for Deseret Towers.
I didn’t like it nearly as much as being able to make our own food. And the idea of having to be in full makeup, clothes, and styled hair before going to breakfast? Not. A. Fan.
It was in this apartment, and in this kitchen, we girls grew close together, and started our journey towards womanhood. Thirty-three years later, we’re still the best of friends, and I’m so thankful. Love you, Rockets!
To read more about Emmeline Wells, the woman whom our dorm building was named after: