‘Girls, you know what they want.’ Tales of Ma Pfeiffer, the quiddities and contortions of courtship, a world on the edge of destruction. Cornell College, 1965.

February 7, 2013 | Author: | Posted in Family, Opinion


by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

Author’s program note. In 1946 Frank Capra (with whom I spent an afternoon while a graduate student at Harvard), produced and directed a film classic that never ages, never palls, never loses its impact or ability to touch our often jaundiced hearts.

Its title is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and at its conclusion, after you’ve wiped the happy tears away (you, softie, you), you agree that ,yes, it is a wonderful life indeed and you wouldn’t have missed it for the world, or even more.

Especially if there was a Special Someone in the mix, for that person made all the difference.

That is why I have selected a lovely tune to accompany this article; a lovely tune with a clouded history. It’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” and was written by master film score composer Dimitri Tiompkin. Unfortunately Producer Capra for whatever reason decided not to use it, and so this joy-making number stayed on the cutting-room floor for over 60 years when, at last, it was discovered.

Played by the City of Prague Philharmonic its uplifting lilt is now free to make a burdened world a little happier. Go discover it for yourself in any search engine. Play it twice; an extra dose of sweet sentimentality is just the thing for any malady. Down the hatch and “see heaven from my lucky star.”

The Look that asked for and promised Forever. “See me walking around on air/ Because you care.”

The urge to merge goes back to the Garden of Eden and its thoughtless residents; folks who, like many of us, threw away a good thing, in order to get a better thing; that proved in short order to be far worse than what they once had… and is now gone forever.While the urge has stayed constant, its manifestations have been anything but.

They change with each generation, each couple, each rendezvous, each nation, its culture, taboos, inhibitions, modesties, scandals and indiscretions. Thus this subject, of acute importance to our species, never fails to entice each of us. We want to merge; we want to see how others merge, and are at all times and places curious to a degree, and obsessed, and not so very rarely either.

“Mister Cupid just winked his eye.”

Here you will discover, thanks to yours truly who, splendidly agile and expectant, was very much present and accounted for, a slice of amorous intentions as made manifest at the end of the first phase of Post World War II America, when the prosperous nation reigned supreme, its political union strong, united and confident in its unlimited future… and when young women, still in hats and gloves, demur and patient, matriculated to find the man of their dreams who, they were confident, would find in them and their dazzling Pepsodent smiles exactly what they were looking for; for the prom; for home-coming week; for forever and a day.

Such serious objectives demanded thoughtful care and prolonged deliberation. After all, nothing less was at stake in such concupiscence than the future of the Great Republic, even terra firma itself. This was why The Look was so important to men, women, the future of America and of the land that we love. A prime example is the image that accompanies this article. It is worth far more than a thousand words. See for yourself…

In it, an enraptured Donna Reed stares deeply into the grateful eyes of Jimmie Stewart, sundry children hanging on them like so many Christmas tree ornaments. Reed’s look is a soothing mixture of gratitude, content, bliss, support, joy for life and lot, an incontrovertible declaration that she is just where she wants to be, in just the right condition she has always wanted. Everything s’wonderful, s’marvelous… man and woman in perfect sync, unrifled perfection at their finger tips.. And, if by chance any rough patch intrudes they can always return to this image, to scrutinize and readjust so they are all perfect again.

To shape such women, young women (and young men for that matter) must  know precisely what to do and when to do it. The post war collegiate scene was tailor-made for such instruction and preparation. Here is where the Donna Reed “awe” look was carefully contrived and perfected; where the fortunate men who had it beamed at them day and night, every day and night unsurprisingly accepted it as their right, only to discover its confinements and limitations later. Nothing so good, after all, comes cost free.

Everything so good must be protected round the clock and thoroughly, too. The goal was important, the investment substantial, the pay-off astronomical…. It goes without saying that such a system needed sentinels of the most severe and punctilious kind; it needed Ma Pfeiffers, and so every college had them; incorruptible, no standards higher, no task too large or small if it were for the good of the girls, the surveillance and control of the elusive, hormone-driven boys, every one a practised predator ready to drink deep of life’s fleeting pleasures.

“Girls, you know what they want!:

Every Cornell dormitory whether for men or women had a house mother called “Ma” and then her surname. Their purpose was generally similar, but varied greatly in the particular. House mothers for men had to ensure that their high flying charges did not climb on the snow-covered roof in bath robes and bare feet in winter; (I plead guilty), or put snakes in their room-mate’s bed (not guilty) or blow them up with cherry bomb fireworks, thereby recoloring the house mother’s gut-spattered private quarters; (I knew the perpetrators but cannot, even now, snitch.) House mother life was different in the women’s dormitories where one woman, a single Amazon, did battle in defence of purity, virtue and enforced innocence. Her name was…

Ma Pfeiffer, and she was a model for her time and position. As such I see her clearly in my mind’s eye.

Bowman Hall, her tightly held battlement on the frontier of the unending war between the sexes, seems to me to have been on a  slight hill, the better to survey the open territory of her charge, the territory where lurked degradation and baby bibs for the unwary. Here did Ma go, like Achilles to the Plains of Troy, go nightly in righteous defence of every vulnerable maiden. There, punctual to a fault, was she to be found, the great door of Bowman opened wide, bathed in the strongest of lights.

Ma stood in the middle of the door way, habited in house dress, comfortably worn bunny slippers, and Woolworth’s best and largest curlers. There she stood arms akimbo, scanning the horizon for outrages and girls about to fall victim to the smooth charms of plausible young men probably wearing too much hair oil.

“9 minutes. Girls, you know what they want.”

The game was now well and truly a foot.

The perimeter now became alive with writhing bodies, lurid thoughts, and fervent hopes Ma Pfeiffer and her sisters meant to derail.  It was serious business all round. Picture this scene. The upper stories of Bowman were packed with protected maidens in deshabilles looking down and freely commenting on the action. Each contortion, every uncomfortable position, each kiss, whether expertly delivered or not, the subject for public scrutiny without mercy. Yes, he was handsome but couldn’t kiss; that one could dance, but what a dweeb; but that one, yes over there, ou la la!

“6 minutes. Girls…”

And so it went, everyone, man and woman, joining the count-down as the action changed every minute, careful strategies for maximum impact now forgotten in the frantic urge to merge that made this bit of Iowa alive with possibilities.

Reputations were wagered; made; lost; made again. All under the Argus-eyed Ma who was never more adamant, more insistent, more admirable and heroic than now as the inexorable clock moved all towards closure for this night. Ah, this was living.

And then it was over, as the great clock of Cornell struck the hour, every inamorata now safely ensconced. Suddenly purposeless boys now bereft of occupation… just one stylish thespian quoting (and credibly, too)  the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” to his beloved now unattainable, no nurse to intervene. Of course there were gibes, but these faltered before Shakespeare’s immortal stanzas. In the moonlight, we all stopped and listened as the great lyric words came alive, perhaps for the very first time. It was sublime.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

And then, as if by wizard’s wand, gone, all gone, not just for this occasion, but forever. For this tableaux, so perfect of its kind and way, played out before me on divers occasions was already destined for destruction, killed along with too many of the love lorn boys who braved ridicule and public embarrassment for a kiss, and little more. They, in all their radiant youth, were soon to find another end in a far-away place called Vietnam. Life was never quite as wonderful again…

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today.


This author has published 72 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.

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