I arrived at the University of Delaware in the fall of 1962 fresh off the farm, although I didn't really live on a farm then. I think unsophisticated is the word I'm searching for. Due to efforts of my guidance counselor in securing scholarships, my road to further education continued to be surprising and dreamlike to me.
Aware that my roommate was from Wilmington and an upperclassman caused me some concern. People below the Delaware/ Chesapeake Canal where I lived were looked down upon by people living above it. They were city folks and we were country folks.
Ellen was already there when I arrived, and had claimed her side of the room. Sophisticated described her perfectly. She had blonde hair, colored and styled, and wore a plaid skirt, white blouse, and the ever popular knee socks with penny loafers. Her face was photo-session ready, and her nails were manicured and polished a bright red to match her lips. I noticed the top of her bureau was filled with all kinds of make-up, perfume, nail polish, and hair rollers. I found out later she never missed a night without those hair rollers.
Then she surprised me by extending her hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Ellen. I hope you don’t mind I took the bed on the right.”
That was the beginning of one of the most satisfying friendships of my life. Ellen was the perfect roommate, always considerate and helpful, and even though she was a Sophomore, she always treated me as an equal.
Her being an upperclassman had many perks and smoothed my transition to university life. She was my campus guide, mapping out my class destinations, warning me about frat parties, and accompanying me to Friday night dances. It didn’t hurt that she had a cute brother, either, especially for the Sadie Hawkins’ Day Dance.
Orientation week, that week when Sophomores do everything they can to humiliate Freshman, was bearable because of Ellen. She stuck close by as I wore my beanie cap and poster board. Everyone knew her, and she was the reason my board filled up with the required signatures so quickly.
Ellen was Catholic, had graduated from Tatnall in Wilmington, and faithfully went to mass on Sunday mornings. I am sorry to say I didn't follow her lead, and only attended church services about four times the entire year. Her dad worked for the DuPont Company and, of course, they were all members of a country club. She had plenty of things to boast about, but never did.
When my birthday came up in November, she surprised me with a chocolate cake and a copy of the Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. She knew I liked the twisted tales and she liked the poetry. We both shared the wonder of “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”. That well-worn book has maintained its honorary place on my bookcase for 53 years now with its "Happy Birthday. Ellen" written inside. Some friends down the hall crowded into our tiny room to munch on chocolate cake, and we all talked late into the night to make it a memorable birthday even though I was far away from home.
When the weather got cold, Ellen taught me how to knit. I was not a fast learner, but she didn’t give up, and I ended up knitting a cabled Christmas sweater for a boy I knew who had recently joined the Army. She gave her time and talents freely and thought nothing of it. Now, whenever I knit, I think of Ellen.
Later that winter when I was sick with the sore throat of the century, she brought me chicken soup from the dining hall, kept the drapes pulled so I could rest, and managed to keep the dorm noise to a minimum. My mom would have been proud of her. I was such a complainer, it makes me wince to think of it.
Ellen was a thoughtful, caring, and humble person. She put others ahead of herself, and I'll always remember her as the kind friend she was to me.
After I married, we lost touch. A few years later I saw a wedding picture of her in our local paper. I cut it out and have kept it all these years. Even though it's worn and yellowed, Ellen’s happiness shines through to me.