Sifting through the massive store of JCR emails in my inbox in a fit of procrastination, one in particular happened to catch my eye this afternoon. It wasn’t relevant to my current life at Oxford, and indeed specified this fact in the subject line. But it brought back many memories from my first year and therefore allowed me a few minutes of reminiscing rather than reading – a common aim for many students in the lazy hazy days of Trinity, I am sure.
Addressed to the freshers, it reminded them that as newlyweds recently assigned college children, they had to remember to write letters to their offspring before the rush of Prelims and Mods, punting and Pimms, and other end-of-term activities both horrific and delightful took over their lives. They’ll write those letters and send them off to their children, and voila! Instantaneous families will be created, faster than adding water to Uncle Ben’s rice.
The summer before my first year, I was mystified upon receiving my letter in the mail (oh, forgive my American tongue – the post). I’d never heard of the tradition of college families. The closest you’ll get to this institution in the United States is in the collegiate Greek system, when sororities and fraternities assign new pledges, or “littles”, to older members, their “bigs” – as in, brothers or sisters. But that letter did contain important information, such as the theme of the Fresher’s Week bop, and its authors seemed nice. They would have me and my siblings over for dinner our first week.
I didn’t give it much thought until I arrived and was greeted by my college father on move-in day. It turned out to be one of the most fortuitous paternal relationships ever established in an Oxford college; I had never used a tea kettle before in my life and was bewildered as to how it worked. My father, to his credit, contained his laughter and only allowed a few chuckles to escape as he explained that the process was really quite simple; fill with water, plug in, press button.
So really, having college parents saved me quite a bit of embarrassment when I first invited new friends over for tea. And the dinner, at least what my siblings and I remembered of the drunken haze, was a perfect bonding experience. We began to look forward to the days when we would make our own matches.
And they came fast. Proposals were made and accepted during Freshers’ Week, and grew more elaborate over the course of Michaelmas. I had friends proposed to at Bridge, but also with songs below balconies or played over the radio. My own marriage was not made until Trinity, due to the fact that a match between two boaties required the backdrop of a Summer Eights barbecue.
I didn’t realize until well into the year that at some colleges, husbands and wives are assigned to one another by older students. But even with the freedom to make your own choice, there’s still an element of spontaneity; for you never know what sort of children the Oxford stork is going to bring you, when your first year has finished in a flash and preparations for the new batch of freshers are in full swing.