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Re-mum-bering Texas traditions

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OCTOBER 02, 2015

My senior year of high school, a friend of mine decided to ask an even better friend of mine to the homecoming dance by artfully writing “HC?” on his butt cheeks and presenting them (and the message) to her in the cafeteria during first period. He was sent to the alternative school for a month and had to shave his head.

Although I’m in my third year at UC Berkeley, the word “homecoming” still brings me back to the days at my big Texas public high school. That place, where my senior portrait hung on the wall by the main entrance, was always home to me. I never doubted that I belonged there — it was certainty rooted in immortalized traditions, recurring over generations and indubitably into the future.

When I was in middle school, I used to sneak into my older sister’s room when she was out with her friends and sit in the closet, staring at the bundles of red, black and silver ribbon on her wall. Each had a bunch of fake carnations at the top with hundreds of ribbons cascading down to the floor. Hot-glued to the ribbons were bells and whistles and shiny bags that had once held Hershey’s kisses and other candies. One of them even lit up.

Mums — these massive arrangements of arguably the tackiest materials known to man — are trophies of adulthood, badges of honor and a staple of Texas high school homecoming tradition.

If a boy asks a girl to the homecoming dance, he — or rather, his mom — is expected to spend hundreds of dollars constructing the mum, which the girl gets to wear around her neck the Friday of the homecoming football game. The girls make their dates mini-mums (called garters) that they wear on their arms.

In a world where “heteronormativity” is nothing but a Cards Against Humanity card that no one really understands, these sorts of traditions are not only commonplace — they’re sacred. They’re rites of passage, and having the biggest mum publicly establishes your dominance over all the girls in your third-period Spanish class.

Underneath all the memories of light-up mums and throwing candy to the crowd during the annual homecoming parade lies the idea that I was at home in my safe town, where the traffic caused by Friday-night football games shut down all businesses within a mile of the school.

Maybe it was all of this pomp that led me to believe that when I came home, it would feel OK. My friends who graduated before me all invariably showed up to the homecoming game with tales of faraway college towns and the wonders of the outside world.

These traditions — each ridiculous in its own right — created commonality among generations of students and gave us all a place to which we knew we could return.

Maybe I’m clinging to these traditions because you won’t find anything like them at UC Berkeley, where nobody but Rally Comm seems to know when homecoming is.

Or maybe I’m worried that, in the absence of these sorts of silly traditions, there will be nothing tying me to UC Berkeley students once I graduate. The things UC Berkeley students tend to be proud of (rankings, free speech, rankings, rankings) mean very little when you’re old and looking for something to fondly reminisce on while your kids pretend to listen.

When I return to UC Berkeley after graduation, I don’t want to feel like I’ve outgrown the campus, the way you do when you walk back into your elementary school and notice the toilets are comically small. I want to feel like a part of something — even if that something is ridiculous — that spans generations and connects me to this place.

When I come back, I want to feel like I’m coming home.

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MichellePitcher.

OCTOBER 02, 2015