“Go over this one more time so I’m sure I’ve got it right.” We were huddled up in that little parking space behind the University of the South’s fire department. I was more than a little bumfuzzled.
“Colbert, you just beat all I’ve ever seen, did you know that?” Dootsie Kirk was offering me encouragement in his usual down-home Jasper, Tenn. manner. “We’re going to tie this drum on Paschall as tight as we can get it. And pin these green ribbons on and attack every dormitory on campus. We’re going to wake’em up all the way to the top floor!”
Rusty Adcock and Mark Armstrong were wrapping roll after roll of athletic tape around David Paschall and this giant bass as they affixed it deeply into, and permanently against, his chest. I rubbed my eyes partly to clear the sleep and partly in disbelief.
“Guys, it’s almost one o’clock in the morning.”
“We know,” the excitement was leaping out of David’s voice. “We’re late. We wanted to start the first beat just after midnight; we couldn’t strike until the 17th!”
St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t such a big deal for me in high school. There were no parades, parties, colored drinks and the like. Nobody dyed their hair green or talked of visiting the Blarney Stone. Most everyone I knew had a little Irish in them but if we didn’t get out of school, we didn’t count it as a holiday.
March 17 was, as I learned the hard way, a little different in college. The Green Ribbon Society is listed as an honor group in the university yearbook. The club consisted of several distinguished professors and some very learned upperclassmen and I counted it a huge compliment to be invited to join. I figured, at the very least, my parents would be proud of me. This was our first called meeting.
Gailor Hall was the closest dormitory. We slipped through the bushes without a word. Marshall Boon threw open the front doors and Paschall was herded into the small foyer with great gusto. He commenced to hammering on that drum and all mayhem broke loose.
I got hit in the back with a chair before I could ask Dootsie what was going on. I staggered to my feet and Rusty pushed me up a flight of stairs, “Come on, we’ve got to get to the second floor!” Students, in every state of dress that you could imagine, came pouring out of the rooms. Most were armed with knives, bottles, lamp stands or anything else they could swing, throw or stab at the late night marauders!
Paschall never missed a beat. If anything, he got louder as the struggle reached fever pitch as we fought our way toward the third floor. Somebody grabbed me by the throat and wrestled me to the floor. I thought I was a goner when John Grubb and Mike Knickelbine ripped the guy off of me. They jerked me to my feet. “Colbert, quit acting like a rookie and give us some help here!”
Thankfully, Gailor only had three floors. We were back to back taking on all comers when Paschall declared the dormitory “taken.” I was never so relieved in my life! I tuned to Adcock. “Good. Now we can get out of here.”
Rusty just stared at me in disbelief. “You think they are going to let us just walk out?”
We had to fight our way back down those narrow stairs. Paschall’s shirt was half torn off as we leaped back into the bushes from whence we came. Milk cartons, boots, worn out copies of “King Lear” and “Paradise Lost” were raining down on us as we hastily retreated out of range. We “circled our wagons” under the street light in front of the college bookstore.
The drum had twisted sideways but was still attached to David’s breast. That seemed to be some sort of victory in itself to these guys. Ed Schmutzer had a pretty good cut over his eye. Mark was repairing the damage with some leftover athletic tape. Rusty’s fist was swollen. John had no shirt. Dootsie had sweat running down his face like he’d just gone six rounds with Andre the Giant. Knickelbine moved over in front of me. “Don’t let them take you down again.”
Again? There ain’t going to be no again. Are we idiots here? I started to voice my thoughts when Rusty and Marshall began to straighten the drum. Mark added another roll of tape and we moved off toward Cannon Hall. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my feet! They woke me up for this?
The Cannon guys were ready for us. News travels fast on a college campus. They were throwing Shakespeare and Milton at us before we got to the front door. It was more late night, or should I say, early morning mayhem. Someone turned the coke machine over. And I ducked instinctively as the chair crashed through the window. I didn’t learn until later that a “defender” had followed it. Thankfully, Cannon only had two floors.
We regrouped in front of All Saints Chapel. Paschall’s shirt was completely gone. But not the drum. We attended to a few more cuts and bruises. “What is the school going to do to us?” I was worried about my scholarship.
“Oh, they’ll assess us for the damages. Write a letter to the chairman of the Green Ribbon. The band director will get a new drum. It will be OK. It’s a small price to pay for wishing everyone on campus a happy St. Patrick’s Day.”
It’s amazing what a man will do for a college education. I reckon they can’t take March 17, 1966, away from me. And no, I didn’t mention the Green Ribbon Society to my parents. That’s one honor I kept to myself.
We tightened the drum on Paschall and offered to get him a shirt. “Naw, I’m all right,” he smiled, “we’ve only got five more dormitories to go!”