The Maury Nonesuch
The World’s Best Kisser
A Comic Miscellany Collaboratively Written over the InternetWith Apologies to Edmund Spenser, too soon eclipsed, peerless Author of The Shepheardes Calendar and The Faerie Queene
Wilson F. Engel, III (story)
Wayne Martin (Orthogonal Commentary, Chapter on Music)
Shirley Grissom (Content, Commentary, Chapter on The Senior Prom)
Laurel Lagoyda (Chapter on The Blockade Team)
Don Gordon (Memory)
Michael Levinson (Commentary on National Mollweide Week)
Virginia Ray Paradise (Commentary on the Chorus)Copyright (C) 2003-2015 Wilson F. Engel, III, Wayne Martin, Shirley Grissom, Laurel Lagoyda, Don Gordon, Michael Levinson and Virginia Ray Paradise
The Maury NonesuchContents Prolog: The Goddess of Ouija Chapter 1. Colonial Spillway
Chapter 2. The Leviathan Taken at Oregon Inlet
Chapter 3. Little Palestine
Chapter 4. Youth Fellowship(s)Chapter 5. Cottonmouth Woodland Rhapsody
Chapter 6. Printer at the Docks
Chapter 7. From Russia with Love
Chapter 8. Sandbridge
Chapter 9. Unheard MusicChapter 10. The Blockade Team
Chapter 11. Secret World(s)
Chapter 12. Senior Prom
Chapter 13. Summer Loves
Epilog: The Ghost of Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury
Afterword by Mollweide
Prolog: The Goddess of Ouija
Fools! You know me. You know who I am. You know me in your bones. You know this pale blue robe, this jeweled scepter, this diamond tiara, this board and this ring. You know me in the huddle of your closest friends, and in the riotous secret game of sleepover parties and the backroom game of coed parties when everything about love is at stake.
Admit the truth! All of you know me. Everyone who survived Maury High School since the very beginning knows me. I am the being you summoned in pairs and larger groups through the use of my mystic board. I am the one who provided answers to your deepest, most urgent questions in letters, symbols and directions through directing the heart-shaped pointer that two held lightly above my board while keeping your knees close together. When you were engrossed in my game, the board was not your board, but my board, the Ouija Board. And, yes! I am the goddess of Ouija herself.
Once you wondered who would ask you for a date, and I provided the first initial of his name.
On another occasion, you wondered which of your friends was going to knife you in the back when you were most vulnerable. Did I not reveal the rat absolutely, even when she was holding the other end of my pointer?
Then too, you asked whether you would ever achieve true happiness, but when the answer was Yes, you forgot to ask whether happiness might be connected to love or achieved after considerable pain. Poor you.
You were perplexed that I always knew what you were thinking. You could not always countenance my answers or accept the idea of fate that was expressed in our dialogs. Sometimes you treated me like some ghost at a séance. Sometimes you acted the fool and derided my sage advice. Sometimes you were the fool and purposely misinterpreted my wisdom for petty personal ends.
I think the most exasperating thing about me was my intangibility. You could not see or touch me. You could only begin to discover me through your sixth sense, your intuition, yet you never systematically undertook the development of that sixth sense. My, my, what a waste. How inadequate are the five so-called wits. You knew the truth, but you did not pursue it. That is the very definition of the fool.
The reason I am serving as the Prolog to this novel is to set the record straight. You are a fool to read the work at all, but if you persist in finishing the work, you would be a fool to treat its substance as you have treated me all these years.
Mind you, I do not exactly cause the actions that befall the four young men and four young women in this book. You all know that young lovers will come together in odd combinations and with great confusion, yet with all earnest intentions and strong feelings whether or not I am consulted through my board. As I am not a male fairy but a goddess, Shakespeare’s Oberon I am definitively not. Yet my role as a goddess is circumscribed: I can know and reveal, but not otherwise interfere in human affairs. Believe this: you determine your own outcomes, and you alone are responsible for your lives. So it is with the eight lovers depicted hereafter. That they are fools is not my never mind.
You may object that I am not very clear in my advisements. You may say that you have known many a Reader/Advisor whose physical presence gave you something more palpable by way of understanding, perhaps because they were fellow-humans. Fellow fools! I can only provide indicators and likelihoods when I am evoked. Of course, in amphibology I am well versed, and double meanings can lead young and old astray. Just consider how your outcomes match your high school dreams of what you might become. Just think back of your young loves, each one in turn. Can you even begin to express why your heart turned out as it did? Have you reached a state of such perfected happiness in love that you are now as wise as this very goddess? If so, I invite you to take my place in this novel. Perhaps then things would turn out well for everyone involved instead of just for some. Perhaps all these fools might be a little wiser for their experience.
I see you draw back from the invitation. The awesome responsibility that the goddess of Ouija carries is perhaps apparent to you. Maybe you are not as foolish as you seemed so long ago when you consulted me through my Ouija board. Maybe time and trial in love and life have taken their toll. I feel the pain in you today just as I felt it in your trembling fingertips. You, Mable, when you knocked knees with Roxanne and searched for Johnnie but came up with “G” for, you thought, gangling George. You Francine, who played fast and loose with Jane, discovering that “J” would betray your love of Ferdinand to your steady Ralph. Poor Ralph, for Jane would fall for him then dump him when he returned her favor, and you were spurned by Ferdinand, who after all was such a bull and no intellectual companion.
Snickering you are, I see, boys, but the girls are well aware of how you watched the game, and how some of you secretly played it too, just to see how much of it worked out in fact. You, Sam, were locked in a closet with Pat, no light on and the wild board singing. What did you learn when the light came on and you saw your love was “P”? And you, Mike, did you know that your mother met your father through his emergence in her consciousness by means of the letter “M” coming under my pointer? Can you guess why your name is what it is today? Such is the power of Ouija. Generations have come under this goddess’s sway.
I do not, I say, take credit for my power. Well, I cannot take all the credit for impulses and suggestions that arise in the minds of fickle youth. Mutability is the very essence of young love. And I am constant only in that what I mirror in an instant is at that moment true. The same thing may not be true before or after that moment. You have sometimes accused me of being inconstant when you asked the same question on three consecutive days and gotten three different answers. You never considered that you were three consecutive yous on those three consecutive days. You also unjustly accused me of predicting what never did occur when you changed the terms of our minds” meeting by a new encounter crossing old intents.
If you are inconstant and demand such constancy as must allow for salutary changes if such changes better your position and only if they do, what can a poor goddess do but allow such bettering to be a possibility? Yet since you often changed your mind without consulting this discerning goddess and since you consulted me without sufficient attention and understanding, I could not be a beacon always in your dark hours. I could not walk you through the maze to the altar and the sacrifice. I could not puzzle out your struggles to accommodate to evolving possibilities. I could not let you know about trouble on the way. You simply outgrew me. Or you thought you did.
When was the last time you had a friend you would sit knee-to-knee with unafraid to ask deep questions? When was the last time you opened yourself to the possibilities of love without boundaries? When was the last time you really wanted to believe in the paradox that you wanted a free choice to bind yourself in a settled situation? Alas, the goddess of Ouija reigns in the hearts of young people for three or five years, and then she is banished to the next generation. You leave your goddess Ouija behind like old shoes, your prom dress or tuxedo, the photograph of you and your date at the club party. As a goddess I fully understand, and I forgive you. I am not without a soul.
Yet can you find it in your soul to forgive the goddess Ouija for caring after you have lost all heart for her? For knowing and not revealing because she was never asked? Where is your Ouija board right now? Have you thrown it away or cast it aside? Does your son or daughter, your grandson or granddaughter even know the goddess Ouija’s name?
My name was invoked very recently at a table where a grandmother confessed she knew the goddess Ouija intimately and the daughter did not, but the son-in-law definitely did know her, and the daughter’s niece did too. Such is the fate of goddess-hood. I can live with that. I am not, thank goodness, a figure of any organized religion. I have no Taliban enforcing my rule. Things are both better and worse than that. My devotees come to me because they have genuine questions of deepest significance to work out in their own lives. These questions are not the questions of the schools, but the essential questions of love and life itself. Particularly love because in my experience, love is life, and vice-versa. Perhaps you agree?
Anyway, I am the Prolog, so let me introduce the four young men whose travails you are to witness--their names have been altered and details scrambled so that the action makes some sort of sense. Chief among the young men is the character known simply as “the boy.” Around him the action of the other males, James, Saul and Dan, takes shape. All the men are admirable, handsome, intelligent, caring and utter FOOLS.
And let me also introduce the four young women whose entanglements with this goddess and the aforementioned four young men give rise to the complications of the action--as with the males, their names have been altered and details scrambled so that the action makes some sort of sense. Chief among the young women is the character known simply as “the girl.” Around her the action of the other females, Shirl, Donna and Lizzy, takes shape. All the women are virtuous, beautiful, shrewd, caring and utter FOOLS.
I wish I could report that all the boys and all the girls were destined to become involved with one and only one of their opposite sex, but I cannot. I also wish I could report that at the end of the work every one is happily matched with the perfect mate, but I cannot do that either. In fact, I have to report that the slice of life shown in this work is, well, a work in progress that now many years afterward is still just that--a work in progress. I can say with certainty that I, the goddess Ouija, have not been consulted in decades by any of the eight principal characters. I can also say that I am definitively NOT the author or the instigator of this work, that the author is himself a FOOL and unlikely ever to gain wisdom since he considers himself to be HAPPY. In my entire experience as a goddess, I have never encountered the like.
Anyhow, the action of this work is complicated somewhat by the fact that “the boy” is a poet-in-process, that “the girl” is a muse-in-process, that an automated bowling alley becomes a virtual environment and a model for strategic defense, that a student newspaper becomes something like the National Security Agency and that four young men and four young women ring every possible change of relationship that healthy heterosexual people can ring between the covers of one discreet novel (Mind your dirty minds!) without once committing an indecent act, breaking a law or (Can you believe it?) violating a moral code. If he were still alive, the censorious Rev. Bowdler would be exceedingly proud since the book will not raise a blush in a 16 year old maid.
Mix A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dream of a Red Chamber, and Eugene Onegin without once being serious about the literary associations, and there you have it! Yes, I was there. Yes, I attest to the truth of what you are about to read--scene by scene from start to finish. Yes, I deny any culpable involvement. And yes, I am still available for free consultation at my board. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So here goes! I give you: the boy.
G.S. 1 I remember as a teenager going next door to my neighbors” home. They were an older couple, and she had an Ouija board, and we'd sit at her kitchen table and ask it questions. †I always thought she was moving the dial so never really gave it much thought until I used one that I bought many years later. †When the dial actually did start moving, I thought it was kind of neat. †It wasn't until I saw a movie where the Ouija entity took over the body of one of the players that I stopped using it. †No sense in tempting fate! †I don't think I ever used it again, and finally I threw it away.
Chapter 1. Colonial Spillway
“On and on through leaves of gold, I wander, homeward bound.”
--Opening Line of “Leaves of Gold,” 1962 (G.S. 1)
Alone the boy made his way tentatively through unfamiliar streets looking for either the railroad tracks or Colonial Avenue since his final itinerary to his goal lay at the perpendicular intersection of the tracks and that street. The walk was not going to take him very far from Maury High School, and the boy was confident that he could find the place in time to sign up for a team. Probably those in charge would find a way to let him play on a team. He was not sure, but he was confident. The boy leaned into the wind.
On the reflecting surface of a display window, the boy saw a figure like himself with exceedingly long legs covered by light blue lined trousers below a calf-length jacket, a short stocky mid-section and brown hair brushed up in a wave, held fast not by greasy Brylcream or oily Vitalis but by dry and invisible hairspray like a bow wave above a ruddy wind-chapped sea of face. The boy recalled the statement made by his hero Abe Lincoln, another man cursed with extra-long legs, that a man’s legs should be “long enough to reach from his body to the ground,” and the boy smiled. Some day, perhaps, the boy’s body would put on a spurt of growth to even out his proportions. Perhaps too, he would be normal more generally. Or, then again, maybe he would not be normal. He could live with either outcome, he thought. Anyhow, being normal did not seem to him just now to be the end goal of life. Just what the end goal of his life was to be, he pondered often, sometimes almost desperately, without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. He did not force the issue, but his family seemed set on his becoming a medical doctor.
It was mid-afternoon in late autumn, and the “Navy gray” Norfolk skies promised rain to accompany the permeating damp and chilly air. Wind cut through the streets giving an occasional scrap of paper a tumultuous ride up from the curb into the sky and then down the street on high. Fallen leaves stirred in rapid hurricanes as the traffic passed the boy. He heard the leaves rattle as they scraped the ground. They flew like small frantic birds. Low threatening clouds whipped at his clothes and streaked overhead. An extremely light spray issued now and then portending a deluge. But you never knew in Norfolk whether the “real rain” would come inland and flood low parts of the city or instead push outward over the low mud flats and reedy estuaries and beyond those, out into the Chesapeake Bay--or farther still over the broad, profound, dark and unpredictable Atlantic Ocean. Except for his time in Massachusetts, the boy had always lived very near the sea.
The boy dug his right hand into the pocket of the maroon winter coat that his grandmother had bought for him in Massachusetts. Norfolk was a long way from Pittsfield, but in these southern climes, the coat was still a good idea in autumn. In his left hand and under that arm was a deft arrangement of schoolbooks and notebooks, covered with a light plastic sheet to protect them from moisture. Inevitably, his evening would be devoted to his doing his homework at his painted plywood desk. His father had made the desk in California from scratch. The boy liked to work within a small cone of light emanating from the crook-necked lamp that he could adjust below his eyes and direct it right on the page. That way the page became the entirety of his world for the moment and he could concentrate. The idea of that warm, comfortable study place in his small room at home contrasted sharply with the raw environment of this still unreal and sprawling city.
The boy knew this all-enveloping and all-invasive savage gray better than he knew his own mind. He knew it as the bringer of his severe headaches, of mind-blocking colds and sometimes the dull contagion of the flu. He also knew it as the harbinger of, well, his poetry. Nothing drew out the natural colors of the Norfolk landscape like this gray, these torches for trees, this sough for streets, those stipplings for sheets of standing water. Nothing reduced the world to cold reflection more readily or completely than this neon gray.
And this enveloping and sometimes all-encompassing gray was explicitly “Navy gray” for the boy. It was the gray of warships and their support ships, the gray of rectangular official Navy buildings, the gray of his father’s Shipyard hard hat, the gray in which things associated with the Navy seemed always to lie, and the profundity of the proximate Navy gray sea. The boy both loved and hated this gray that was sometime the enforced occupier of his mind and spirit. He was curious about the underlying connected-ness of the streams of his ancestry and his own life that ran inexorably to the Navy and the sea. His consciousness was transformed by the gray days and even by the thought of all that gray, and all the gray humans that populated the universal gray.
Now, however, the boy was looking for the Colonial Spillway, the unmistakable rectangular gray building just before the railroad tracks a block or so on the right side of Colonial Avenue. That was what the announcement in his school newspaper the Maury News had stated. There, according to the paper, he would find others interested in joining the duckpin bowling league. The boy was looking forward to joining a team as his second extra-curricular activity at the high school. He took violin lessons and played in the Norfolk Youth Symphony Orchestra, and he played Pony League Baseball, but those were entirely unrelated to school, so they were in another category entirely even though some of his fellow-players were classmates and some were new friends from other high schools in the area--Norfolk Academy, Maury’s rival Granby, Great Bridge, Norview and the rest.
The boy’s first extra-curricular adventure was his recruitment as sports photographer for the Maury News. That was working out fairly well in spite of the fact that his one requisite for the task was his personal experience with his favorite grand-uncle’s old Leica T/L camera. The boy had no idea that this initial project for the paper would blossom in one year to the assistant editorship and in two years to the editorship itself. At the time, as a mere photographer, he prowled his school’s sports events as a loner, taking exposures which he developed in a classmate’s home darkroom, then improved when necessary with a pencil liner. He thought that being behind his camera rendered himself invisible to others. He was wrong; in fact, his mission gave him a singular aura of being important and aloof.
Perhaps, the boy thought today, on a bowling league team he might make new friends. Generally, though, he did not know what to expect. He was “going it alone” as he always had since he was a newcomer, an outsider in these parts, and, worse, a Navy brat. Born in California just after World War II, he had no real geographical roots, only family roots. And his own nuclear family, now six including four children, had moved from coast to coast all his life. This lateral rotation from East to West and back again brought him back this time not to rural Portsmouth where his family had lived on their last tour in the East in the very early Fifties after their three prior years near Walden Pond, but to suburban Norfolk. He had, then, experienced the South, but always as a temporary citizen, a kind of foreigner, not as a “local” and never as a teenager.
The boy had never rolled duckpins before. He had, however, rolled tenpins not long ago, in the days when his father had bowled on a Navy team. His memories of his father’s bowling afternoon and evenings at the ancient, run-down Navy lanes in San Diego were vivid. He remembered the distinctly masculine atmosphere of the team, the close companionship of the pipe-smoking men, the low-keyed intensity of the play, the strong, bitter Navy coffee. He remembered a man named Ashley among his father’s friends particularly. A man with acerbic wit, keen intelligence and omnivorous curiosity. Where his dad was a mechanical engineer, Ashley was an “electron,” an electrical engineer, an EE. Later he would be the first commander of the Navy’s new telecommunication command.
The boy recalled going into the long, low inevitably gray building, full of the noise of falling pins and the balls” crude gravity conveyor systems. He recalled the care the bowlers took not to bowl until the pin setter had reset the pins manually after every roll. The pin setter worked for nickels per line per player and small-change tips. The boy was told that the pin setter was the son of a Navy enlisted man. All the bowlers were officers or warrant officers. Class distinctions are absolute in the military, and they are marked by rank. The son of an enlisted man would not have an easy time in life. The bowlers all looked out for the pin setter, who in silent appreciation never let them down by slacking off. The pin setter was all hustle and no nonsense.
As for his own bowling, the boy remembered his earliest crude attempts to keep the giant ball lined up as he prepared to bowl it down the lane. His fingers would search the balls available successively until he found the one that he could manage by the spread of the three holes and the heft of the ball. The boy recalled adjusting his stance and release to fit the weight of the ball and the arrangement of the remaining pins. He also recalled the way his arm had to adjust and the pain in his elbow and shoulder that resulted after every frame. Sometimes his arm and shoulder ached long after he had finished bowling, often for days. He remembered hours of practicing his approach and studying the rules. He had struggled to learn not to loft the ball but to deliver it smoothly “in synch” with the arcing movement of his right arm, to lay it down smoothly, almost silently into a roll that ended somewhere near the center of the clustered pins.
Yet he had learned to bowl fairly well for his age, even with the heaviest balls. He had learned about bias and spin and angle of attack and coordinated motion. He had even overcome his propensity to foul on account of his super-large size-thirteen feet. And he had learned how to put just the right spin on the ball to gain the slight left hook that led to the right of the kingpin and took down all ten pins for a strike. He also remembered the joy of rolling his first line over 150, finishing with three strikes in a row and with the dream of one day throwing the perfect line of 300 like a professional. The discipline, concentration and practice it would take to bowl a perfect game daunted him.
For all the many differences between tenpins and duckpins, the boy was fairly sure he could pick up this (for him) new game of duckpins readily enough not to look the fool but rather to be a better-than-average team player.
The boy was not as much concerned about his immediate performance in bowling duckpins as about his making friends in this strange new place. That the boy was a “non-local,” not a “local,” showed to any “local” with eyes. He did not act, talk, walk, dress or even think like anyone he had met at his high school. He was somewhat numbed by the experience of adapting to his third school in seven months. His junior high had been completed in California and he had been fully committed to attending Kearny High School there when the Navy’s orders came. His family was required in Norfolk, Virginia, but they would not go there directly. Instead they would proceed immediately to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where they would stay for the summer with the boy’s grandmother, then they would drive in mid-fall to Virginia. Necessarily the boy’s senior high start in Massachusetts was cut short in the early weeks of the fall semester by the family’s second move to Norfolk. He had been obliged to pick up as well as he could in the middle of the semester at Maury High.
Now in Virginia, he was beginning to understand that the United States was united most in its differences not in its similarities. This was 1960 in the American South, a hundred years since the outbreak of the American Civil War yet still before the South’s Great Transition as a growth engine of the newly imperial nation. The boy was a sophomore, a “wise fool,” of the class of 1963, and, just about to celebrate his fourteenth birthday, he was to be the youngest member of his graduating class. Although he could not know it yet, he was embarked on a five-year phased discovery of the South that would end at Duke University, “the Harvard of the South,” in the autumn of 1963 when the world changed utterly, at least for him.
Vehicular traffic was light that afternoon, pedestrian traffic was even lighter on account of the weather, and the boy was lucky. He found Colonial Avenue sooner than he had anticipated, made the correct turn to the left on Colonial, located the railroad tracks and, just before the tracks, found the Colonial Spillway. The sad appearance of the place was inauspicious. The building looked like a converted warehouse with a glassed front. If it had not been for the neon sign configuration thrusting out from the top of the building and curling down its facade, it would not have been recognizable as a public place.
Paint was peeling inside and outside the building. The Spillway’s cavernous interior smelled musty, and its empty lanes looked well-worn--to bare wood, in fact, as if they had not been refinished since at least the early Fifties. The familiar bowling sounds echoed like distant thunder against the far walls, and the place was nearly unpopulated. Edward Hopper would have felt right at home here. A short, elderly gentleman in a checkered shirt placed bowling shoes in their cubby holes back of the check-in counter. An aproned woman, who may have been the man’s wife, wiped a striped rag listlessly at the refreshment counter, her great body shaking as she cycled her fat arm out slowly in wide circles. Playing customers could be counted on one hand: one adult female group of four was desultorily rolling a line in Lane 2 near the front window. Sounds of encouragement peppered their sounds of bowling. They used a lot of body language as they bowled, and around the scoring table they struck poses or whispered among themselves. Theirs was a friendly game, not part of a league, perhaps part of a routine, perhaps played one day a week, carefully timed so that they could finish well before their children were scheduled to arrive at home from school. Three middle-class boys of high school age loitered near the check-in desk. Clearly, the call for duckpins had been heeded only by these few, but who might they be? The boy pressed forward.
“Hello. Are you here for the Maury duckpin team formation?” the boy directed his question at a tall, thin person with a round head, delicate features and wire-rimmed glasses.
“Call me Ishmael. Just kidding. Yes, and with you we now have four--enough for a team even if we do not have an alternate. Welcome to the Colonial Spillway--and to Maury High. I am Saul. This is Dan, and that is James.” All shook hands and began sizing each other up.
Dan was a carrot-topped Connaught-faced dynamo, his eyes always moving left and right, his head always moving up and down, and his mind seemed active in every way possible. The boy’s initial impression was of quicksilver, of the Greek god Mercury, of activity looking for purpose, of mischief in the conception stage. “Trouble” some might have said, but the boy saw nothing but potentiality. Dan’s handshake was firm, and when he shook he dipped his head low and came right up close with earnest, penetrating brown eyes. The boy thought Dan, carelessly dressed and all motion, was the type who would have trouble gaining trust or respect easily.
“Haven’t I seen you lurking around the basketball court with your camera?” Dan asked. “Do you get to choose the models for the fashion ads in the Maury News? Now that is a job I would like to handle personally. I have never seen such beautiful girls as we have at Maury. I can hardly keep my hands to myself.” (G.S. 2)
“Struggle to contain yourself--the results are better. Yes, I do photography for the paper, mostly sports but the models too, but the editor chooses the models for the ads. He also chooses what will be printed and what will not. He does know how to pick the models, but the photography is handled like a real business--very formal. The girls are very nice, but distant, at least to me. I particularly liked shooting a girl named Georgia Peach.”
James was quite the other thing to Dan. He was stylishly dressed, somewhat formal and careful to make a good impression. He had a solid bearing, and a cultivated stage presence. He was struggling to convey, “I am an adult. I am to be taken seriously at your peril. I know what is good, and I know just the right things to do. Respect me. Follow my example.” Paris, perhaps, thought the boy, and destined to choose Helen some day. “Solid” some might have said on first impression, but the boy saw an endearing vulnerability, a fundamental insecurity.
“Georgia Peach sounds like a stage name. I know the girl, not personally, though. She may be the most beautiful girl on earth. I cannot imagine her ever looking like the women who are bowling over there. Some days I think she may even be a goddess. Coming down to earth, maybe we could plan to take a few pictures of the duckpins team for the Maury News? “James asked hopefully.
“I’ll bet you will know just what we all should wear for the occasion,” the boy said, turning to Saul with a quick wink as Dan stifled a laugh and James outright smiled with a shrewd look. The boy gauged James’s good humored, self-deprecating reaction as positive. “But we will have to be pretty good bowlers to make real news. We would have to be the league champions, or one of us would have to roll a 200 game.”
“Neither of those prospects is very likely,” Saul soberly opined. “But let’s get organized. We don’t have much afternoon left today. In fact, we are only supposed to meet and get acquainted this time. Our next gathering here will be for the first league game.”
The boys exchanged information so that they could be in touch--school home room numbers, phone numbers, and activities. Coincidentally, all four young men were members of the Class of 1963, all were white Anglo-Saxon, Christian, heterosexual males approaching six feet tall, all were college-bound and aiming at a pre-med college degree after high school then Medical School and a profession as medical doctor in the “real world.” Just now that “real world” was a distant dream; its current manifestation was extremely limited, circumscribed by the Colonial Spillway and the new Maury duckpin team.
The boy discovered in ensuing conversation that Dan was another Navy brat but Catholic not interdenominational, James was another foreigner, but not a Navy brat, and Saul was a “local” through-and-through, son of a store owner and a school teacher. Saul clearly knew his way around town like the prince of the realm he seemed to be. Only much later did the boy realize that Saul had probably catalyzed the formation of the Maury bowling league team. At this stage, how things worked in Norfolk was opaque to the boy. He was gathering data, not drawing conclusions.
“As no one else seems to be coming, let’s roll one line just to get acquainted,” the boy suggested.
“That’s fine with me,” Saul said, “as long as we make it quick since I have a couple of errands to run before I go home. And I have agreed to drop Dan and James off before I do those.”
“Yeah, let’s roll a few,” agreed Dan, gesticulating wildly and heading for the check-in desk to rent his bowling shoes.
“Okay by me,” said James, “all we have to look forward to tonight is homework. So let’s have some fun. Gentlemen’s bet?”
So the four classmates agreed to roll a practice line that afternoon, then to review the league schedule and finally to determine a general plan of attack. They agreed that bowling was more important than winning, but they were natural competitors even rolling that first line together. They agreed to play against each other so as to increase the probability that their combined performances would beat their opponents’ total score. As James prescribed, today’s was a “gentleman’s bet” game. No money would change hands though each person’s honor would be at stake so that he should try doing his very best.
Much can be learned from observing a bowler through an entire line of play. Especially in behavior between frames, personalities can emerge quite clearly that might be ambiguous in a classroom or in a school hallway or at a locker at the end of day or in the crowded din of the lunchroom. High school students are great posers, and they instinctively protect their dynamic internal, private lives. Yet it is difficult if not impossible to hide one’s essential self entirely when operating in the context of a mutually engaging athletic enterprise like bowling, where no player is perfect and many faults have to be acknowledged and forgiven in a kind of evolving ritual of group accommodation and understanding.
Clearly Saul was going to be the precise bowler, every move measured and every point calculated in advance. Imagine a stick figure drawn on a chalk board, as in the Disney cartoons where Goofy is the coach and his chalkboard figures come to life as he explains their motions. Saul was one of Goofy’s chalkboard figures come to life, as thin as a stick, bowling duckpins. Observing his stilted motions almost made the boy laugh out loud until he figured out Saul’s secret--that Saul’s rational approach gave him a consistency that all the others lacked. He could vary what he did by small calculated changes he could memorize exactly, then he could repeat a winning formula whenever he liked. Saul had a special gift of self-control. How might that extrapolate to working with others less gifted in that way? Saul had tremendous confidence in his method, and he never varied from it.
Dan, in contrast, was going to bowl all over the place, sometimes rolling three or four brilliant frames followed by strange rolls into and out of the gutter on either side of the lane. He could cut right through the center two pins (pin 1 and pin 5) and leave all the others standing, and then roll the next ball in exactly the same place, for a frame score of two. The cruel dimensions of the ball and the “hole” make this ignominious performance possible where the same feat is impossible in tenpins! Thing was, Dan did not intend to place the ball where it had landed on either throw. Yet the same Dan actually made an “impossible” spare on a 7-10 split in the same line by spinning across the full lane, banking the 7 pin off the left wall, and sliding the 7 to take the 10 pin and the spare. Worse than incompetent, then utterly brilliant--but Dan could never be consistent. Still he had verve and an infectious joy in the game. He smiled a lot and talked incessantly, sometimes to himself. And he sometimes took the game so seriously, the boy feared Dan would have an apoplectic fit.
James was going to be grace in movement towards the line and decorum in everything. He was supremely conscious of how he looked, as if he were perpetually before a rolling movie camera, and he had the looks, proportions and bearing of a movie star. He wore a stylish Madras shirt, perfectly ironed and pleated, and the boy noticed that he had pennies in his penny loafers before he changed them for the bowling shoes, which he tied fussily with a double bow. Whether selecting a ball or reacting to a bowl, Dan was honing his prime time skills. The boy could already see him--as later actually he appeared for real--stepping effortlessly from his motorboat to a pier in the Inland Waterways or in a rented tuxedo leading a procession into a formal ball. He was as keen on looking good as Saul was on being good, and if you put Saul’s acumen and James’s grace together, the boy thought, you would have had something close to mechanical perfection.
The boy himself was intuitive rather than meticulous, keeping his final scores steady or steadily rising, but not too far above the 100 he managed to bowl today. The boy’s large feet had the nasty habit of sliding over the line and causing the foul light to flash, but he could roll straight and fast or curve the ball in interesting ways to make unusual splits. When he concentrated, he could do exactly what he wanted to do. Yet concentration was most difficult since he became distracted, for example, by the sudden rain that darkened the skies and threw gales of water at the wide glass windows and by the increased silence when the four women had finished their game and departed in a flurry laughing and running, holding newspapers over their heads, their soaked skirts clinging to their knees, through the downpour to their old Ford. His concentration was also impeded by his need to study his teammates and to react to their play with nuances in his own game.
The boy was particularly fascinated--and distracted--by the automatic machinery that set and reset the pins. His former experience with bowling having involved pin setters rather than machinery, the boy tried to visualize what was happening behind the lane to send the ball back automatically down the gravity shute and to position the scattered pins in the descending rack so that they remained in place when the rack was mechanically removed. James and Saul took this marvel in stride as given; they had no curiosity whatsoever about the matter reasoning that they could probably figure out how it worked if they examined it. They had no delight in invention per se. Dan right away caught the drift of the boy’s interest and pushed it to the limit, conceptualizing the system he would build to do the same functions, pointing out the small imperfections of the system installed here at the Colonial Spillway.
“Where I bowled before, a boy climbed down from a small platform back of the lane and set the pins each time and rolled the ball down the track to the ball collection style,” the boy said to Dan. “Here, it appears, everything is accomplished automatically. No pin setter is necessary. Probably some technical expertise is needed, and any complex system needs maintenance, parts replacement and sometimes overhaul.”
“You sound like my father,” Dan blurted out. “Imagine a day when you will go through all the motions you do now, only there will be no real lane, no real ball, no real duckpins. But you will have all the sensations of the game, including the atmosphere and the camaraderie, and nothing will be physical at all.”
“You can do that now,” Saul replied with a sneer, “in your dreams.”
“Let’s not mock Dan,” the boy advised. “I think I understand what you are saying because I do something like it before I undertake any complex physical exercise, particularly bowling. Saul here seems to like to work out problems while he is actually playing. I could not do that exclusively. I have to go through every move in my imagination beforehand. What interests me, though, Dan, is that you think the game might be induced imaginatively in such a way that it could be shared.”
“Impossible,” joined James. “To each his own dreams.”
“‘We are such things as dreams are made of . . .’” the boy alluded hopefully.
“Thank you, William Shakespeare!” said Saul, pleased with the boy’s appeal to great literature.
But Dan was not finished. “You will see! One day these lanes, those balls, duckpins, the flashing pin indicator, these score sheets, this cave of a place, we ourselves, all not only will be possible to each of us, but to us all collectively, all at once wherever we happen to be.” Alive with his vision, Dan had become beet red, and his brown eyes flashed.
“Consensual ubiquity,” the boy said, engaged.
“And how will all this be possible--outside of poetry, that is?” Saul sought to bring Dan down to earth and to restore a more comfortable atmosphere of common sense.
“I don’t know yet. I just do not know. But I know it will be so. I know it.”
“I rather feel that it is so, than know it. My conviction is the same. But, Dan, to realize--literally to make this dream a reality--we will have to make things very practical for the likes of James and Saul. No offense to the two of you, but invention begins in air and ends either in engineering or in engine-erring.”
The boys all laughed, and Dan calmed down so that his face was only a bright neon pink. Although he felt somewhat humiliated, Dan had made the ideational breakthrough. The boy tried to award him points for that, but the boy was captivated by the very idea of what he himself very much later reconceptualized and built as a shared virtual environment.
“Dan, we two are going to have to talk about this idea seriously at some length.”
“Please don’t laugh at my ideas. I can’t stand that. And don’t patronize me. I can go wrong, I know, and sometimes I cannot connect my ideas to things that work. I blew up my family’s toilet once with a cherry bomb.”
When the laughter had almost stopped, the boy said, “I cannot think of the practical application evolving from that experiment. You see, Dan, if you are going to do something ‘on the cutting edge” or, better, a little beyond it, you should have a reason for doing it. You should be able to provide an answer to the inevitable question, Why? Further, you should be able to build upon your idea with other experiments in a sequence.”
“Amen,” said Saul.
“Okay,” said James, “What if she seems to want the kiss, and you go for it and you get smacked--hard?”
“That sounds like personal experience. Wait a minute! Did Donna finally smack you? Did she? Did she? I’ll bet you deserved it. Didn’t you? Huh?” Dan pressed in rapid fire, his facial color rising with excitement.
James ignored Dan’s importuning and focused on his question, pressing further: “Do you say why you did it? Do you demand of the girl why she smacked you? You just did it, and she just did it. And maybe it seemed to be a good idea at the time to both of you. And maybe now that you didn’t discuss it, you are at an impasse. She is not speaking with you. You are not speaking with her. Nothing but chill and distance. What have you gained, what lost?”
“You lost a tease and a flirt--good riddance,” said Dan without hesitation, “and you gained your freedom.”
“Freedom is the last thing I want from her or for her!” James rejoined despondently.
“What do you think of that, Saul?” the boy asked.
“Sounds like a soap opera to me. Sponsored by Tide? Edge of Night? Search for Tomorrow? I think it is Dan’s roll. So let’s get back to it.”
“And Dan,” the boy said with a wink, “let’s try using the real lane this time.”
As Dan stepped up to enter the zone, the boy turned to James and, sotto voce, asked, “Why not give her a call? Apologize--not too abjectly. Ask for a fresh start, another chance?”
“We’ll talk about it sometime tomorrow. There’s more. Lots more.”
“Amour,” said Saul somewhat testily to himself, unconvinced that this line of conversation had any ultimate significance. In fact, the boy learned that behind Saul’s studied avoidance of any mention of the opposite sex lay an abiding concern and, well, fear of how to proceed in love with methods remotely like those he used to master bowling.
So it was that the boy quickly became the arbiter of the group’s variegated personalities. In corporate-speak he would be termed “the operator” or “the glue.” Saul was the immediately acknowledged master of the rules of the game itself. He was “the judge” or “the reasoner.” Dan and James never developed a closeness to each other, but Dan, “the wit,” gravitated to the boy and James, “the dandy,” to Saul by magnetic attraction.
None of the four young men swore or cursed as a practice. Yet they were highly verbal. And they were avid readers well beyond the confines of the school’s curriculum. They used “Ain’t” correctly (with first person singular) but infrequently, and they rarely used contractions in speech, never in writing. None drank or smoked. None ever dreamed of using illicit drugs. No one abused even the idea of the opposite sex--willfully, though to be sure both sexes knew how to wound and to pine and to search busily. Further none of the four countenanced anyone who did any of the forbidden things. So it was this first day, and so it went during the next three years. Looking back much later, the boy marveled at the innocence of those young men in those long, slow-growth, formative years. Growing up in the golden age offered trouble aplenty without the vices of this latter iron age of AIDS, Anthrax, Extremist Islamics and the wild, wide-open Internet.
Put simply, at the Colonial Spillway that day everyone got the gauge of everyone else in that first rolled line. The team’s combined final score was well below 350, but the boys agreed that they could probably average somewhere closer to 390 in “real league play,” and that might just be competitive. More importantly, they agreed that they “could play together.” This meant far more than merely rolling duckpins at the Colonial Spillway. Each boy saw that the others could take any game seriously. Each saw athletic potential in the others--and this was extremely important for teenagers. Each implicitly understood their shared competitive drive. Further, each suspected that their four personalities meshed as a team--indeed, that their four capabilities might be aimed at almost any task successfully. This early suspicion in the fall of 1960 was not voiced by any of the four at the time, but the boy later found the outcomes (at least through the summer of 1963) strikingly consistent with his earliest impressions at the Spillway.
The boy’s bowling adventure accomplished his aim of finding three new friends. It also gave him a physical context for relationships outside of the classroom. When the four had completed their line, they each paid a quarter and turned in their rented bowling shoes. The rain had stopped, and the late afternoon gloom had begun. The street was a sheet of standing water.
Saul was the only qualified driver with a car, so he took Dan and James home. The boy, however, lived in Marsh Meadows, so he walked to the city bus stop and bussed to his neighborhood without transfer on an almost empty bus. For the past hour engrossed in new company, the boy now retreated into himself watching his reflection in the beaded windows, viewing the low buildings and the bare armed knobbly trees as the bus sloshed through the empty street pushing waves to either side of its passage like a ship. After crossing the little bridge to Marsh Meadows, the boy counted two crossing streets, and then pulled the chord, and the bus stopped with a lurch. The boy was now within three blocks of home.
He looked at the hands of the Swiss watch his grandfather had given him the year before he had died, and he noticed that he had arrived in his neighborhood half an hour earlier than he had anticipated. As the clouds had largely disappeared and further rain seemed unlikely, the boy turned right to take a circuit of the little square named Marsh Meadows Park where the river comes right up to the cement enclosure and you can kick through fall leaves six inches high and look out over water to see winking lights all along the shore. The wind was sharp and steady now, and the water ran in successive lapping waves against the adamantine wall. Early stars were out in the clearing late afternoon sky, and the golden street lights were just coming on. The boy reflected on his day and decided he would remember it in small detail as he remembered paradigms for Miss Angel’s Latin class.
He would remember Dan’s habit of smoothing back his ears with both his hands. This was, he later learned, because Dan felt his ears stuck out too much like jug handles and made him look a freak. Dan even taped his ears back every night after one cruel enemy made a thoughtless remark about them.
He would remember Saul’s fastidious handwriting and the way he hesitated before inscribing anything. What might such hesitation mean if rapid decisions must be made upon which lives depended? Saul later required careful scripting and rehearsal prior to calling a girl for a date, even Lizzy, who became his confidant and friend as well as his special girl.
He would remember James’s discomfort at violating the slightest rule of decorum--even a rule that the boy was convinced only James would know. How might this tendency at self-flagellation translate to others? Especially to women? James’s girls needed to be reassured that he did actually feel a strong attraction to them and esteemed them, particularly stormy Donna.
The wind changed key suddenly. In Norfolk the saying goes, “If you do not like the weather now, wait a few minutes and it will change.” So now the cold wind was softer, warmer than before, and the clouds vanished. The lights became dominant, and the deep blue of the skies faded from neon blue to velvety black. The cold snap that had in a single day torn all the deciduous leaves from the trees had itself snapped. The boy mused that this was like the change in his life that was marked by his coming to Virginia.
Ankle-deep in wide, wet, golden leaves, the boy was mesmerized by reflections on the surface of the water, spun out in evolving patterns by the stippling wind. How like a figuration of bowling duckpins these patterns seemed.
So this was home now, this windy, watery place. And now that the boy had three friends, Maury High School was his school now too. This thought made him feel warm all over. He waited long enough to let the moment settle. Two years later the tranquil recollection of this moment, coupled with a burgeoning relationship with a very special girl, engendered a poem with the title “Leaves of Gold.” Fifteen minutes later, the boy arrived at home just in time for sharing the day over dinner and for enjoying an evening of homework among his family.
G. S.1 I got my first copy of Leaves of Gold when I was going with Woody before we got married. †What a beautiful book!!! †Unfortunately, the book lasted longer
than he did! LOL Joking, of course. I kept him around for 18 years, but I do still have the book! †:)
G. S. 2 I remember modeling some clothes from Lerners for the MN. †I thought I was really something then--right up there with the cheerleaders and such! †FUNNY!!
Chapter 2. The Leviathan Taken at Oregon Inlet
For one brief, shining moment, there was a place known as Camelot--and this 1961 recording is the only document available of JFK's favorite musical, the one that's been used to describe his presidential administration ever since. Truthfully, Lerner and Loewe's musical score for this retelling of the King Arthur story doesn't measure up to My Fair Lady, which was still playing when Camelot opened on December 3, 1960. That being said, the three principals here were stronger musically than their 1968 film counterparts--Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet (who became a star as Lancelot, thanks to "If Ever I Would Leave You") could sing, while the pre-Liz Richard Burton could recite those great lines with Shakespearean flair, even if he never scored a hit with "MacArthur Park."
Camelot, a new page in history, the Age of Aquarius, Planetary Alignments, the New Age of Peace and Understanding. Yes, well enough and true, yet at Maury, matters of much greater moment were distilling since they centered on love.
The end of that special day when the boy would be going to the radio station to record a song with the darling of the class and another male student, was longer than most, and the boy’s imagination worked best when time opened, and the mind roamed free. This day, from the very start, the magic happened, not by the boy’s contrivance. And it started with a fish. Well, not just “a” fish--”the” fish. (M.W. 1)
The boy’s fish was the enormous aquatic creature that had been stuffed and then stuck on a plaque above Mrs. Black’s blackboard, which stood just behind her desk. The fish was poised over her hoary head like the sword of Damocles. An inscription on a brass plaque below the fish let every member of Mrs. Black’s Home Room, including the boy, know that the bespoke leviathan was caught in the Oregon Inlet around the turn of the century. That was no mean feat of angling since the prize fish was nearly as long as a fully grown human. It was rumored that such a prize was not rare in the 1900s--but becoming so. Even then the previous hundred years had decimated the abundance with which these shores were blessed. Now that heroic creatures were nearly fished out of American waters, the exploit took on mythic qualities and epic proportions.
The boy often had difficulty dealing with long intervals of sitting quietly, and since his mind was active even while his body was inert, he took up a silent dialog with the monster on the wall. The fish never did say anything explicit, but the boy felt that no matter what human activity transpired in that third floor room in the period of the previous sixty-odd years had escaped the monster’s omniscient gaze. Dull silver, with scales the size of silver dollars and with grime and dust layered even over its artificial eyes, the monster impressed upon the boy a mystic presence that still lingers today.
If the fish could speak, what might that fish impart? When the school had emptied and the janitorial staff had perfumed the stairwells and the halls and the floors of every room and the late afternoon sun streamed through the motes that rose and dipped the evening in, perhaps the inert thing then sprang to life and did a vaudeville routine like the cartoon singing frog--you know, “Hello, My Baby “? No, probably not. And just as unlikely, “Hic Haec Hoc.” Something rather more profound and to the point, like “I am a symbol of everything that is captured and is lost, everything that was free and now is in chains, everything once naturally marvelous that has been fettered by the devises of mere man. I know the past and the future, and I am recording the present too. I know, for example, that you will not marry a graduate of Maury but a woman whose parents, uncles and aunts all were Maury grads. I know the sufferings to come of all who are in your class in a time of great change and transformation. I know, but here on the wall I have little power to change events. I have had my moments in the deep, and now I haunt forever the depths of eternity.”
When the boy considered the impaled fish, he considered how definitively compartmentalized and hygienic the whole high school seemed. The rooms were institutional sanitized boxes, the halls the conduits to those cells as in a hospital or a laboratory. Sometimes, the boy thought, this was the kind of place that the poet thought of when he wrote about the patient, “etherized upon a table.”
In the late afternoon after everyone but a few had departed the school and grounds, the boy would walk the halls to get a breather from working on the Maury News. He would consider the emptiness of that great shell of a school and how it reflected the human soul. The soul, more than the intellect or the heart, is what most concerned the boy at this stage of his growth. And in the boy’s Home Room, the microcosm that signified the macrocosm of his universe was the inimitable representative of Pisces, looking every bit as much alive for the boy as Browning’s portrait of the Duke’s last Duchess. Who precisely the fisher was, was not as important as the life contained in the artifact whose armor and eye lay not in the bounding main but up against that wall.
The fish had a private life and a fantasy life for all the students who knew the piscatorial peregrinations of the imagination. In fact, the thing was an entity whose mysterious past led to a single passage to the mighty ocean, which Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, namesake of the school, zealously figured as a divine program working within physical laws as yet undetermined, yet fixed, still vast. Just how many denizens of Maury’s deep figured forth global sentiments and designs in tune with Commodore Maury’s? The boy wondered.
More than one classmate had remarked to the boy how the ancient fish seemed to be just as old and stuffy as the faculty, who were for the most part products of the educational system that thrived in the Nineteen Thirties. Many were graduates of Columbia University’s renowned graduate Teachers College. Old they may have seemed at the time--and many were white-haired, yet their views were broad, their rectitude unimpeachable and their judgments generally valid. You laugh? They were more than merely learned, they were wise, and, for all the fun the students had mocking them in private, they were far more progressive than their students socially and intellectually, and in general radically different from teachers since their timeless time. The boy then felt that none of the students, himself included, deserved these wise teachers. He lived in awe of them.
Exceptions proved the rule. Miss Flora, for example, was no stodgy taxidermist’s specimen on a wall or patient etherized on a table. She somersaulted into the school as a dynamic and ambitious classroom teacher. In contrast to her female colleagues, she was young, vivacious and, well, just plain as beautiful as the girls on the cheerleading squad (perhaps not quite) or on the majorettes (have to consider that one too). But she had style--and she took her stand at the leading edge. She wore miniskirts. And bright colors! No demure pink pillbox hats or angel-hair sweaters were for her; rather she frolicked in flame red, skin tight clothing that moved about her like a shimmy. You must know that she had her entire class singing. No kidding! She taught the boy to sing backwards like the Trapp family singers. She was rumored to be fluent in Russian, Da, and her promised future class in the language was fully booked when she decided to run off with the male choir instructor--for keeps.
Miss Flora’s behavior was atypical in the extreme, and it stood in bold contrast to Miss Cornpone’s. (Miss Cornpone first taught the boy to spell “y’all” and “pshaw” and introduced him to East Tennessee elocution.) One could hardly imagine Miss Angel or Miss Worldly, the august Latin teachers, running off in a similar fashion to Miss Flora with anyone at any time in their lives--or running anywhere, for that matter. They were veritable exemplars of the Roman feminine virtues--they lived what they taught, to the letter. You entered their classes careful not to trip over the virtuous spinning equipment that surely must be situated just inside the threshold. And they knew their subject in such frightening detail that students trembled to stand for their recitations. All, of course, except for Kathleen Breiter, the blind wonder and sister to Cicero Breiter, whose brilliance and insight eclipsed all the rest. The boy anticipated Kathleen’s translations with delight because he had met only one other with her gift of sensitive understanding and rendering. She would never hear, “Miss Garden, that was an atrocious translation. ATROCIOUS. For that you will receive an F minus, minus, minus, minus . . . minus! Now please be seated, and stop bawling--here, use my tissue. Next translator please.” Poor Miss Garden, never prepared, always in tears after recitation, always the bad example, always so pretty it hurt the boy to see her cry.
Aside from Miss Flora, the English teachers were, like their Latin counterparts, paragons of rectitude and stability--and vestals in everything but the chaste white robes and taeda, the flickering pine-torch flames. Writing and reading were for them sacred charges, and they clearly were totally devoted to their calling. Miss Chipper and Miss Cafree were particularly memorable to the boy for allowing their students to express any view that they could prove on the basis of the literary work currently being studied. This was then a revolutionary approach--and it would be considered such even today. What if everyone were taught to seek the truth and not just regurgitate the tired lies? Of course, what you wrote, you had to believe, and you had to be able to defend what you wrote standing up. You were often called upon to stand and read out loud in class what you had written right before.
We must have an example. When Miss Chipper assigned her class to prove that Percy Shelley, the early Nineteenth-Century English second-generation Romantic poet (spouse of the creator of Frankenstein) who drowned on a lake in a storm, could not possibly have been an atheist, she discovered that one student--the boy--had written (not the night before but during the previous lunch period in a white heat of belated and truant creativity) a paper titled “P. B. Shelley--Atheist.” One of his classmates who had observed him writing immediately leaked the fact to Miss Chipper. She was thus forewarned. But instead of criticizing this direct challenge to her authority, when the class began, she immediately asked the boy to stand and read his paper. The boy did so, perforce. When he had finished, there was silence and a great anticipation that an axe might momentarily be whistling through the air towards the boy’s neck. Instead of using the moment to crush the boy’s apparently rebellious spirit, she rather praised the author’s independence and style of argumentation while challenging the others not to be sheep, but find their own ways. The boy learned a lesson that stuck. It was a lesson that later almost won a championship for Maury in the state debate tournaments, but that is another story for another time.
At Maury, then, learning was full of such dramatic incidents. “Shock and Awe” meant anything but “Fear and Loathing” for the boy. Later when himself a teacher, he would employ in his classes strategies he had experienced at Maury. Yet it was not just strategy and accompanying techniques that counted. It was the moral consequence, even conviction, of every action that mattered. This is what every teacher at the school taught at the core level. This emphasis was entirely consistent, and later the boy discovered that it had been consistent as far back as Maury graduates of previous years could recall. Culturally, over many years, the school taught “doing the right thing in the right way while keeping a balance between the heart and the head.” The boy always associated this refined, rational and human approach with Virginia, his second home.
Miss Chipper also told her class--repeatedly--that “the old colored man who sat on her step when she was a little girl” was one of the wisest men in the world, and she would often quote his words with respect and admiration. “The old colored man” was no one in particular to the class. Pictures of him were never produced to show that he actually lived. Miss Chipper never named him--she may not have known his name, and he may never have existed in a form anything like the imaginative figure she brought to life in her classes. And talking about blacks as if their opinions mattered and as if they could be wise was unusual to say the least. This was curious to the boy since he had experienced the ethnic mix of Southern California. He had had a rich experience with a brilliant black male school counselor, and he had been in the homes of many of his friends who had lived for generations in the Norfolk area where blacks were not only servants but also parent-surrogates. What the boy learned later was that the closing of the schools on account of segregation was a line of historical demarcation--Norfolk never was the same afterward. But Maury in the early 1960s was still “white bread city”; only much later did you have to make peace with black gang members not to be hassled on the gym floor or on the grounds after school. That too has passed, by now.
Anyway, our diminutive, small-boned and refined Miss Chipper introduced her class to the book Cry, the Beloved Country, to the politics of South Africa, to the racial challenges of the South, to the ideas of social equity and religious freedom. She did more than spout platitudes--and her classes knew it. She fought for the right of a Jew to become a member of a “Christian” country club--”because the Jew was more ‘Christian” than any of the club’s members.” And when she finished her final class of the year, she received a standing ovation and a solid silver plate that Ruth Kerstein’s family had arranged as a final gift. As a footnote, at least two of her students became college English professors--and both had also been staff members of the Maury News. One of those was the boy. Most important, though, and the thing the boy liked to remember: every student passing through her classes could write a coherent paragraph since each class, without exception, began with the exercise (some thought the torture) of writing a coherent paragraph with a solid thesis sentence. (M.W. 4)
The boy marveled then at how vastly female instructors outnumbered their male colleagues, a statistic that seems to carry over to today. The boy had just the previous year experienced junior high in Southern California where well over eighty percent of the teachers in his school were male, and all the teachers and counselors in the “post-Sputnik track” were male. The character of Maury’s male instructors, outside the coaches and administrators where males were in the majority and the pattern of rectitude held firm, was different from that of the females. Don’t get me wrong, they were not all as wild as the choir master mentioned above.
Few of the male instructors, for example, behaved like Mr. Pistil the errant and overtly virile male gym teacher whose brilliant extracurricular female tutee Gerta Surtass, intelligent beyond measure and wild beyond her years and clearly infatuated (and more) in public at Pistil’s presence, suddenly took a trip to New York while her gallant was rushed out of the school’s employ. Mr. Pistil was, in fact, a charismatic and dynamic personality, and his loss was deeply felt by students in his history class. Miss Surtass, a brilliant student with a marvelous future ahead of her, fortunately went on to achieve her potential. And the pattern of rising from a fall seems consistent with equity if not with justice. The boy had always liked Gerta--in fact had known her and her family for many years, and one of his very best friends was very much impressed with Mr. Pistil. He was glad that life went on for both; indeed, they thrived. (M.W. 2)
Then there was Mr. Gauss the portly physics teacher, legendary for his disappearances to his adjacent room--allegedly to smoke cigarettes. He was especially fond of retiring to his den of privacy, or iniquity, during testing. In fact, his teaching must have been effectual in some mysterious manner since while the boy never penetrated the subject as it was presented by Mr. Gauss, he never had trouble afterwards understanding any level of physics even to the far frontiers of the subject in discussions with national assets many years later.
Some allowances had to be made for sports and sciences, it seemed, but the backbone of the faculty were solid, indomitable and inscrutable. Next to the Latin vestals and the English mavens, Maury’s mathematics teachers, in the boy’s experience all females, were not only adept at their trade, but they were among the most long-suffering teachers. In fact, Miss Grouch (M.W. 3) and Miss Harper were world-class task masters. It was said in jest that they had sat at Euclid’s feet when he escorted the elect over the pons asinorum for the first time, but that might not have been true since both were DAR and FFV.
Dan decided to test his theory that Miss Grouch, rumored to be a nonagenerian, could be startled into indiscretion. Dan had found a flexible plastic device that, when situated in an odd light, gave the distinct impression of being a recent eructation--chunks of half-digested food in a pool of brownish vomit without the noxious odor. He placed an ungentlemanly gentleman’s wager with his classmates that Miss Grouch would react to seeing the device with a distinct and immediate sign of activity, most probably characterized by revulsion, alarms and flight. He placed the device on her chair and won half his wager.
Miss Grouch saw the device immediately upon her entering the classroom. Revolted, she nevertheless kept her demeanor, lifted the shivering device with two fingers at full arm’s length, placed it in the top drawer of her desk and announced to the class that the owner might care to retrieve the item after class. Then she turned to the blackboard and proceeded to conduct her class without missing a beat. No one could have done better at defusing a potentially disruptive situation by getting right down to business and by focusing on the lesson of the day.
Rather than puffing up with triumph, Dan turned beet-red with mortification and shame, and the whole class was on alert for a denouement that never came. It occurred to the boy that Miss Grouch cared less for emphasizing the sick practical joke than for making sure that her class received what they had come to her class for in the first place. More importantly, she had demonstrated grace under pressure and wisdom in the presence of folly.
If you think that math was not exciting at Maury, imagine a time when the most energetic student demonstration on the front steps of Maury High School, complete with signs and bullhorns and all the paraphernalia of a pep rally, began with the chant, “A minus B divided by C”! The obscure mathematician Mollweide would have been proud that students at Maury would devote an entire week to his honor--”National Mollweide Week” it was. (L.M. Note 1)
Incidentally, Maury was among the last high schools in the country to abandon Solid Geometry as a semester course, to allow calculus into the curriculum (well after the boy’s time) and to anneal the iron tripartite division of mathematics into college prep, business and general. Male and female students also achieved top scores in the national standardized tests that were already entrenched in California but were just then sweeping the Eastern educational establishment and are still in vogue today. Looking back, the boy wondered whether the reason for Maury’s reluctance to embrace change had something to do with the fully integrated nature of its enterprise. Just now, however, the integrating principle of the day was a wild and wonderful creature, not the fish, and certainly nothing that could be explained by any august scientific or humanistic reasoning.
That afternoon, after wandering the vast halls and putting the paper to bed for the day, the boy went to the very small confines of the radio station and, with the blonde dream and the football star, recorded on two-reel tape for posterity “We’re Old Cowhands from the Rio Grande.” Why was he chosen to sing? No mystery. She had chosen him, and she invited him to go with her and her friend. It was one of two occasions in their lives that he and she could be said to have “a date.” Later during his restive, almost sleepless night, the boy had this vision of a green-eyed girl:
The Boy’s Dream Vision, That Evening
She did not take but rather cleared the mint juleps pitcher straight off Matilda's silver tray, and with one continuous motion hurled its contents straight up the shirtfront and ruffles and beard and mustache and brow of Master Jed. †And he, well he just stood there dripping juleps, his face set and stern, his eyes locked on hers like fixed bayonets. † Said Jed without a hint of irony, "Miss Blondie, if it were not for sudden squalls, how would our tobacco thrive?" †
With that, she shook her golden ringlets with such bravado that he could not help but smile. †"Master Jed, you are . . . you are . . . well, you are the coolest man I have ever had the pleasure of hurling a pitcher of juleps at. † And you will please me in no way better than to exit this plantation straight away and never set foot on it again." †Forthwith she picked up her skirts, pirouetted, and, with the dignity befitting her Colonial heritage, she ascended the winding stair. † Her every footfall was echoed by the sound of Master Jed's boots as he passed towards the door, where Old Black Smather just held the golden handle, shaking his head as if he had seen it all before--and would again, sooner than later.
Combing out her naturally golden hair in her upstairs room, Miss Blondie looked in the mirror, smiled and admired her pearly white teeth and flashing emerald eyes. “Pshaw, y’all will be back, Sir, yes indeed. Y’all will not be able to stay away. And tomorrow is another day.”
M.W. 1 I am having problems with “the fish.” It seems to have a lot of real, or symbolic, importance for the author. However, this importance is not communicated, or not well communicated from my point of view. If the fish is intended to be a metaphor for the age of the staff (The author actually states this.), I think the author needed to work on this a little more. If the fish could speak, wouldn’t it want to comment on the students that have come before, more than “Hello, My Baby”? Seems the author missed an opportunity to develop some sort of bonding, or agelessness of Maury or some such that makes the amount of material about the fish meaningful. The Camelot reference is better than the fish. I remember going to Richmond with my family in 1962 to see Camelot on stage. Goulet and Andrews were in the cast--as it happens, it was Andrews” last performance. I still have the ticket in my yearbook. Do look forward to the development of the “love” themes here. I didn’t date much in high school. I did go out with one girl during my senior year. While “romance” was not in the cards for me as a high school senior, I did find myself “involved.” I was a little more than disappointed to see that her name appeared on the list of deceased in our class. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a few fantasies at the time, but I was too much of a boy to do anything about them. I suppose that playing out some of these fantasies at this late date might be interesting.
2 This event, and the
killing of the football player, were probably the most “scandalous” events
during the year. However, I suspect that
there were many that didn’t get much visibility. From trying to locate classmate MIAs, I was
able to find out that at least one girl got married before she graduated. There must have been more. Our class’s deceased list is pretty
high. Not certain what the exact
percentage is at the moment, but it might
be as high as 8%.
M.W. 3 One of the definitions of the word “pedagogy” is “activities which impart knowledge.” †Every child who goes to school is affected by “pedagogy” although most of us are unaware of this most important English word needed for our educations.
The role of the teacher has evolved over time, moving from
the “font of knowledge” role to more of a "facilitator’s”
role in the modern educational
settings. †The role of student moving from someone who “learns from a teacher” to someone who “teaches” himself/herself with the aid of a teacher.
While education is certainly one of “the oldest professions,” no standardized method of teaching has evolved over the ages. †Each teacher’s personality emerges, and his/her students are either aided, or hindered, by each teacher’s pedagogy.
Ms. Grouch taught solid geometry, which was just an extension of plane geometry. †Ms. Grouch’s approach to teaching solid geometry involved having students describe the various solid figures, and the solutions to the various mathematical problems involving them, verbally. †Many students found that their verbal skills were not sufficient to provide adequate verbal descriptions required by Ms. Grouch -- and would begin to “talk with their hands,” augmenting their answers with physical examples. †Ms. Grouch was not impressed, or pleased, with students who would resort to this approach, rather than thinking through the answer and using the appropriate words to express the correct answer. †From time to time, she would allow a student to go on a bit, making gestures with his/her hands. Then at some point, she would shout out: “Mr. X!” This outburst would be so unexpected that the less-than-articulate student would stop mid-word and await her next pronouncement. †Ms. Grouch would then bark her next order: “Sit on your hands, and try to answer the question again!” †The now totally embarrassed student would comply, and work a lot harder to find the words to explain to Ms. Grouch the solution to her question.
A mean lady? †A test of wills? †A confrontational style? †Well, maybe a little of each. †However, learning to think through an answer and provide an accurate verbal response was not something that a teacher can teach with “text book” methods. †Ms. Grouch had found a simple and effective way, to deal with students who needed a little help finding the right words, a skill that students who eventually turn out to be “people” need for the rest of their lives.
M.W. 4 Well, this addresses the liberal view of the politics of South Africa. The teacher in question lived in Ballentine Place. She was on one of my paper routes, which I had during my High School days. Hers was a typical two-story wood frame (sort of Victorian) that pre-dated the 1950s style housing of Ballentine Place. She was not very different at home than in the classroom. She had looked gaunt--I don’t remember that she tipped me. I think she was obsessed with race. It would be truly fascinating to have known more about her when she was alive. She died in the 1980s as I remember. Someone sent me a clipping of her Obit. She was certainly a bit on the leading edge for public school. I remember being uncomfortable reading Paton’s book--presumably it was the experience of looking in a mirror and not liking what I saw. But, I didn’t cause the problem, so what was I supposed to do about it?I am not certain about the number of future English professors coming out of her class, but the coherent paragraph sentiment I will vouch for. Sometimes I wonder what my writing would have been like if I had not been fortunate enough to have taken her class. This business of writing every day, tedious for me at the time, certainly paid off over time.
L.M. 1 I was one of the founders of National Mollweide Week. It all started at Gray's Pharmacy one night. †Several of us had gone to the Old Dominion College library to do research on some English or social studies papers. If you remember, Gray's was on Hampton Boulevard, across the street from the library. Unfortunately I don't remember who I was sitting with at the counter, but we decided that Mr. Mollweide needed to be honored for some reason. †I think one of our slogans was" Mollweide eats half angles" which we put on some posters to announce the celebration. †It seemed funny back then.
My best memory of the celebration week was starting a rally on the fourth floor before school that moved out to the front steps, gathering students and a few teachers as we marched down from floor to floor. †I remember Marvin Miller giving a speech about Mollweide. The speech made no sense but had everyone laughing. I think we later went into our Trig class where we had a cupcake with a candle on it that we gave to Miss Davis as we sang "Happy Birthday, Mollweide.”
As for the physics teacher, that was Mr. Williams, and yes, he spent a lot of time back in his office smoking or whatever. †I was one of the group that built the Focault Pendulum as our physics project. †It was a large wooden-framed device that remained in the lab for many years after we graduated although I'm not sure if anyone ever got it to work. All I remember is that every time we turned on the DC power for the electromagnet, we would blow a fuse. That was my legacy to Maury!
Chapter 3. Little Palestine
--Publius Virgilius Maro
We were the generation that would defeat all dragons, solve all problems, and change the course of human events. We were tasked in a programmatic way from coast to coast to embrace the change and to participate fully in it. Practically, we were told to expect not one or two career changes, but as many as five or six. We were told that the nature of work, even the nature of mankind would change within our lifetime. We were told that we would all retire at age 50 and live the “Life of Riley.” Women were told they would be considered the equals of men in all things, and all races were assured that they would sooner rather than later interact in perfect harmony. And, of course, technology would pave the way for better lives and greater prosperity. Amen. The boy had heard these lofty goals expressed in schools in San Diego, California, in the late Fifties, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1960, and in Norfolk, Virginia, throughout his high school years. He understood them--it would have been difficult not to be attracted to the humanitarian appeal. What he did not see clearly was the full set of implications of this national program. Put another way, once you knew the roadmap, how did you then proceed to live your own life? (M.W. 1)
Presumably American schools were about preparation for life, yet the vast majority seemed to be destined for middle class lives very much like the lives of their parents. Weren’t they? (M.W. 2) Oink--wrong! “The times, they were a-changin’”! Still the high school experience has some features that do not change, no matter where you enter it across America. In the boy’s experience, Maury was not very exceptional in the trappings of an early Sixties high school. The cartoons in John McPherson’s cartoon book High School Isn’t Pretty come to mind, but the boy was extremely earnest about the contradictions. How could the continuity of the educational institution accommodate the dynamic change portended when the communities into which the graduates were programmed to enter remained largely untouched by the sweep of Sixties rhetoric? Students during the Sixties posed an increasingly serious challenge to their grandparents, parents, homes, churches and communities, first by their conviction in a new way of thinking and acting, then by their performances in Technicolor on the World Stage in a new way of protesting, loving, fighting and dying. Themes that were the result of post-World War II Mozartian bursts of prodigious genius, have now played into far more subtle and resonating strains like Beethoven’s late sonatas.
In the early Sixties, though, high school was only a subset of a teenager’s life although it seemed to be the whole in terms of emphasis. Eisenhower informed Kennedy of the implications of a place called Laos when the younger man took office, but the secret war did not go public until many years later after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Maury grads were involved in the secret war in Laos and in Vietnam. Anyhow, back home ordinary life went on in patterns that were recognizable, acceptable and, well, profitable. While the boy was bombarded by the national propaganda in ways that Sinclair Lewis only dreamed of in writing Babbitt, he had a daily routine to run, including whatever plans his own family devised and whatever extracurricular activities he managed to squeeze in. Looking back much later, he would marvel at the range of activities he had managed to cram into three high school years. Where at Maury it seemed as if the time could never be filled up, the sheer dint of energy of the enterprise, in retrospect, seems to him daunting. No matter what transpired during the school day, from the morning bus in, to the afternoon bus home, the beginning and the end of the day were tied to Marsh Meadows, or “Little Palestine” as it was called locally by anti-Semites or “that slum” by some of the boy’s envious classmates.
In fact, the boy saw where he lived as a tremendous opportunity--and it was, but not for snobbishness. The boy was not preppy in the least though; he had even rejected the opportunity to attend Lawrenceville Academy to remain at Maury. His family was decidedly not rich, and he worked at least as hard as anyone he knew to earn his own money. With his next-eldest brother, he built both a thriving lawn care business and an enterprise newspaper delivery business that covered not only Marsh Meadows but also the adjoining suburban subdivisions. These were the two best ways for a teen to make money, followed by washing cars and collecting bottles for refunding, all of which the boy also did. You laugh? Five large ginger ale bottles could be returned for a quarter of a dollar; that quarter could then buy one nine-hole round of golf at Shorty Oatman’s course on the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk! Another quarter could get you there on a bus.
You want to care for a fine green? Shorty had the solution. The consolation for braving the winds that ripped incessantly through the broad flat Par 5 farthest out from the club house, next to the road and the water beyond that, was the exquisite emerald green with its brave flag flying. What a joy to hit a second drive low and fast with a gentle hook so that it hit the pole and fell not three inches from the cup. The boy, who was a long ball hitter of variable accuracy, had done it once, and the very thought of being so close to a double eagle makes his heart race with excitement even today!
Mowing lawns was supplemented by shoveling snow after the few times it actually did snow. But you had to get out and shovel as fast as possible since the sun or the rain would remove your source of income rapidly. His neighborhood’s penchant for frugality meant that tips were never to be expected--and they were not forthcoming. In fact, pricing had to account for exacting demands and end-work modifications in a way not dissimilar to fixed-price Government contract work. Anyhow, these morning, afternoon and weekend “cash cows” were a constant, and they provided somewhat flexible means to fund activities like golfing and, in the boy’s junior and senior years, dating. (M.W. 3)
Another opportunity offered by Marsh Meadows was close proximity to the waterways that actually define Hampton Roads. Only after reflection upon the matter did the boy discover that the layout of the area stemmed directly from the work at the waterfront--trade, naval activity, fishing, ferry service, shipbuilding, oystering, crabbing, boating and the rest. Looked at from the landward side, things looked oddly spread out. Having to attend games and activities across the region, the boy came to know the very special qualities that many of the natives seemed to take for granted. One example was the Feldstein’s’ long pier into the river, visible from the back of the boy’s home but lying between two estates with considerable greenswards. With permission from the Feldsteins each time out, the boy’s family went crabbing off their pier, particularly during the summer.
The boy’s youngest brother became so adept at the art of slinging out a chicken neck, fiddling the beautiful swimmers close to the pier and netting the prey in all seasons, that it was not unusual for him to haul into the kitchen a bushel of crabs for shucking almost any weekend afternoon or evening. This was especially true in the summer, even during the jellyfish month of July. As a result, most months of the year fresh crab was on the family’s menu and frozen crab was always available. This included frequent meals with fried soft shell crabs, brought in straight from the brackish river. Because the entire family shucked the crabs for freezing, the freezer was always full of crab. Nature’s bounty in a shell. (M.W. 4)
Another advantage of Hampton Roads was the opportunity for recreation on the waterways. Here learning to swim early was a requirement, and sailing was a religion. The water’s presence could be felt on every drive, under every bridge, on the long low, marshy horizons, in the clean salty air, in the ever changing weather (“If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes!”), and in the ever-blue background of a lush and green land that did what it wanted in spite of the human presence. Back then the extensions to bridges and tunnels were just being planned, and they would provide the infrastructure for Hampton Roads” expansion. In the early Sixties, the beaches and major estuaries were wider and wilder and the atmosphere of the Oceanside less commercial than today, and teens could do things that would not be permitted today at east and west Ocean View, the north end of Virginia Beach, Sandbridge, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and the rest.
If you had wheels or access to them, this wide flat watery land was a paradise for the young. After taking Joan and Molly to a drive-in movie, the boy and Dan enjoyed roasting steaks over an open fire at a narrow point at Sandbridge. With Joan or Molly or Donna or Sally or Jane or Ruthie or Sandra or Cerise or Candice or whomever, the boy and Dan and James and Saul or Bill or Sonny or Bosco or whomever, would course at breakneck speed down the natural drag way that led to that now-over-settled and much imperiled beach, and walk together or lounge and stargaze in the soft part of the sand above the dry line or watch flames rise up and fly out over the everlasting surf. The boy recalled much later that Eunice had done the unforgivable sin of divulging what passed between a boy and a girl in private. She put it all over school that the boy was “the world’s best kisser.” The boy never dated her again, so Eunice naturally spread the word more boldly than at first until she and everyone else just got tired of the line. (M.W. 5)
Stop. I must digress from my digression for a side note. Sex at that time was both innocent (intercourse just did not happen) and perilous (consequences were condign punishments that changed the course of lives). This was the time before the general use of “the Pill” and “the morning after Pill”; it was the time before HIV and AIDS but it was definitely the time of the scourge of syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes. Pregnancy had three possible outcomes--sordid and shameful abortion, shameful out-of-wedlock childbirth and semi-respectable early wedding, sometimes “by shotgun.” It was a difficult time to be a woman, much less a young woman with normal urges in the South. In California in the seventh grade the boy had sex education that went into very graphic, clinical detail about nearly every aspect of sexuality--to the point that the boy’s later experience of Dr. Klopfer’s famous lectures on sexuality were “old hat” to him. In some ways, the boy, like others in his class who had been educated in California after Sputnik, was sophisticated above the norm. Yet the boy’s sense of honor and decency was very Southern. The lady’s reputation to him was paramount. The boy felt that consequences must be considered in every action.
An example will help.
John and Jim were football players, heroes in the boy’s pantheon because they were leaders in the class above his own. They wore crew cuts, and they had swagger held in check by a certain aloof coolness. Clearly intending to be overheard, they carried on this dialog in hearing distance of the boy:
John: Well, tonight’s the night!
Jim: Y’all have got to be joking. For Chrissake, she will be Homecoming Queen. You mean you’re goin” for it.
John (with a wink and a nod): Yes, Sir, I am GOIN” FOR IT. With capitals.
Jim: No more just makin’ out.
John: Done that.
Jim: Damn. Y’all’ll make history tonight.
John: Damn straight. I’m man enough, and you know damn well she is woman enough too.
Exeunt, pursued by the boy’s cold stare.
This tableaux needs a gloss. Sex was a major taboo, but guys and girls, when “getting serious,” liked to go right up to the line of propriety and there establish a DMZ. If the guy did not know where the line was, the girl had to make it clear. Inebriation was not an excuse, and this was a time when alcohol, not drugs, was the main substance for abuse. Further, there was no “date rape” back then. Rape was just plain rape, and because the penalty for rape was terminal, rape could transform into a very different animal called “gang rape.” This unfortunate consequence of Southern custom, law and unnatural proclivity produced one spectacular example of opprobrium that colored every sexual encounter the boy had at Maury. The girl, it was sworn by each of seven in a court of law, had “willfully” had sexual relations with all seven--she was still alive, was she not? She had to leave school in disgrace, and her story became a legend, her tale a sad reminder. The boy relived her tale repeatedly, and each time he was emotionally drained on account of the suffering that the girl had endured and of the inevitability that it would happen after the first move. William Faulkner, that peerless and often excoriating critic of the seamy side of Southern culture, who conceived of the soulless and sadistic character named Popeye, never ventured to explore this phenomenon in any detail.
So you can understand the boy’s perplexity when he overheard two of his high school heroes casually and openly discussing the imminent violation of a girl who was to him and all the school a goddess. It will also be helpful for you to know that “make out” in California meant “go all the way” or “engage in sexual intercourse” while in Virginia at the time, it meant “kiss, hug, touch and perhaps fondle but within boundaries” (better expressed as “outside of certain anatomical areas”). As it turned out in this case, the goddess had been herself and issued the slap heard ‘round the school. The rogue who had bragged of his plan to deflower her was brought low, yet he remained a hero, and she was what? Well, transfigured--at least the boy thought so. (M.W. 6)
Though his family never joined a yacht club or entered a regatta or even owned a one-man Sailfish sailboat, the boy set sail in nearly every size boat in all the rivers that fed into the Chesapeake Bay and the rim of the wide Atlantic Ocean. Later he would sail the seas of all the Western world, but that is a story of different character for another time. The Atlantic may not have had the sweep and scope of the Pacific Ocean, beside which the boy had been born and sometimes lived, but it did have the most marvelous natural bay in the world, and the beaches and many rivers were not the only waters for sport. One time the boy and James, Cecily and Donna, boated down the Inland Waterway and ate Cecily’s offering: largest picnic lunch the boy had ever eaten set on a red-and-white checked cloth laid right on the bank of the waterway. The boy tended to remember occasions like this anyway--and he never forgot Cecily, but this time in the middle of the repast, the largest cottonmouth snake any of the party had ever seen slithered out of the moist bank from a spot not thirty inches from the boy’s foot, daintily entered the water and swam away without a backward glance. On the motorboat ride to the picnic area, the group had discussed the tragedy of the girl who had fallen off her water skis in these very waters into a swimming group of young cottonmouths. She had not stood a chance of survival, and she had died. The story, true or false, resonates for the boy even today. (M.W. 7)
About the Hampton Roads, tales and traditions abound, and one day the boy might write those that are not generally known. Somehow such tales are current among teens, and I do not mean just the Goat Killer nonsense, which everyone considered a chilling joke until the grisly figure was considered while “parking” on a dark lane or, better, under the umbra of an isolated street lamp. “Parking” was, of course, the euphemism for a couple’s engaging in petting in the front seat of a parked vehicle at night. “Parking” could be done either at specific locations where many cars could be seen late any Friday or Saturday night, or at novel locations where others might not venture. At one of the latter such place, James and Donna were interrupted by the bobbling beam of a flashlight and a deep voice asking, “Just what do you two think you are doing?” To this query by an officer of the law, Donna, retorted with a shy smile, “Why, officer, if y’all don’t know by now, I guess y’all never will.” Then the custom was for the police to nudge and for the couple to move to another venue. In those days, an audience might reveal itself at any time. (M. W. 8)
Not much was made public about the possible pregnancies, the actual pregnancies, the abortions, the venereal diseases contracted, the rapes, the attempted rapes and attacks or the moves and transfers that were occasioned by any sexual transgression. Except for the example already given, you will not read of them here. The Churches and Synagogues were much stronger then than now, and the Southern schools were not only extremely careful not to make public what was not a matter of court record, but also anxious to keep quiet whatever did filter into the public domain.
This predilection to deny the existence of taboo behavior was doubly true for homosexual activity since this time was well before “gay liberation.” The boy knew that Homer received brown-wrapped books at his home and hid them behind his library so that his family would not discover them. Outside the hallowed halls of Maury, the boy knew musicians and physicians and dentists and artists and writers and photographers and thinkers and notables and professional prostitutes and a host of other figures whose very existence and mode of living was denied existence by the circle of the school, except obliquely. He knew of the daughter of a school administrator of another school who used to hide under bushes and call to sailors as they passed by. He knew of the son of a churchman who used to hide in bushes naked and call to passing girls and who was beaten with a belt for it often. The boy knew that the Beacon Book Store had a special stock of books that were kept under the counter for special customers and that were passed in brown paper over the counter once sold. When he first saw an undercover transaction at the Beacon, he was amused that sinister books, like bottled liquor, wore light brown bags in Virginia. The boy was schooled the Constitution’s First Amendment, but on a community level, the situation was not much different from the Catholic Church’s employment of a proscribed book list, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which for some of the boy’s lapsed-Catholic friends was a convenient required reading list. (The symbolic show rectitude today is the parental block on their children’s use of the World Wide Web, which for many intelligent would-be hackers is the key to their kinky form of heaven.)
The boy numbered among his friends and acquaintances a mix of people with extremely diverse interests and personal tastes, and he and they respected each other’s private lives--still do so today, in fact. The boy knew the necessity for secrets and for keeping them private, some private to the grave. The boy mused in his time outside of school in his long walks around the marshes, on the seashore, down the long flat green-tangled highways or in the patterned march of a mowing ritual, that the area called the Tidewater is broad and flat, affording it a broad, seemingly limitless sky and a deep, even profound system of undercurrents that, against a constant background, ebb and flow like the tides themselves, rocking to and fro, touching sometimes the very depths of the human soul. (M. W. 9)
The boy knew death in a classmate’s demise, the tragedy of a football player senselessly cut down in youth, a grim reminder, memento mori, which pun the boy never forgot afterwards. And this man-child was only first of the boy’s class to pass. Ubi sunt? Where are they now?
In a vision comes to the boy a parade of shadows--
--The girl in Biology class who smiled so broadly and was so large of soul that she provoked the boy’s first smile in braces.
--The girl who went to Scotland who went on the hayride that autumn night and had golden spears of hay in her hair afterward.
--The boy’s friend who suggested that they form a Maury string quartet, and the boy and three other musicians, two female, did so and played in the gym.
--The girl who forgot her lines in the school play, and the boy, an actor, being overheard giving her the lines in an onstage aside.
--The boy’s friend who got into Harvard University but was awarded a scholarship so small he could not afford to attend.
--The boy who wanted to know the limits of the human mind since so little of the cranium seemed to be used compared to its potential.
--The girl who said, “Don’t you think that this is enough kissing for one night?” under a street lamp, insects flying bright around her hair, like fairies.
--The California boy who said that his sister had not made the Maury cheerleading squad just because of the way she held her hands.
--The friend who allowed the boy to use his tiny home darkroom to develop sports and fashion photographs for the school newspaper.
--The female administrator who said repeatedly until the boy ‘got it,” “Not just ‘Yes,” but ‘Yes, Ma’am.”
--The male parent of a female classmate who said, “Blacks are all right--in their own place.”
--The female parent of a classmate who arranged the mirrors so that she could see from her chair in her sitting room her daughter’s and caller’s every move on the couch.
--The girl who was most like “Paula” of one song, and the other who was most like “Sheila” of another song.
--The two big men on campus who were running for the same office each importuning the boy to award to him exclusively the newspaper’s endorsement.
--The girl who drove a marvelous white car.
--The boy whose face had undergone major reconstructive surgery only you would never have known it.
--The girl who went to the first game of the year with the boy, her gaze straightforward and true and her hand moist and gentle in the autumn night.
--The girl who said, “I sewed it shut,” not to the boy but to the boy’s artist friend, she meaning the top button of her blouse, of course, anticipating correctly that he would be “fast.” (Their first date was their last.)
--The boy who had to be coached how to call a girl for a date including full scripting, with variants based on responses.
--The Girl Friday who held the newspaper staff together for three and forty years.
--The boy’s friend who said, “If you are a follower, please follow that gentleman out the door.”
--The boy’s friend who, during a violation in the back seat of a moving car, said, “Where is it. It is in here. I know it is. I will find it.”
--The boy’s friend who loved to read and whose brilliance led the boy to make him the newspaper’s reviewer.
--The boy’s friend with one eye.
--The boy’s friend who took the boy’s beautiful sister in her green gown to the prom.
-- The boy’s Jewish friend whose father was forced into bankruptcy and out of shame took his meals separate from his family.
--The boy’s Catholic friend who had to get dispensation from his priest to attend a Methodist Youth Fellowship retreat that the boy had made into an ecumenical event.
--The boy’s two friends who went on a drive with him to the Blue Ridge Mountains at the height of fall color, and he had exactly 19 cents in his pocket.
--All those who endured riding in the boy’s family’s Rambler station wagon.
--All those who modeled clothing for the school paper on the school steps.
--The Debate Team coach who tolerated the boy’s and Dan’s switching sides in the middle of the debate season to debate, “Whether the United States Should Join in the Forming of a Common Market with the Nations of the Western Hemisphere.”
--The female newspaper advisor who tolerated the ad hoc publication of the first issue of the school paper in the fall of 1962.
--The genuine poet, also a Navy brat and sailor himself to boot, who played a major role in building the Maury Homecoming float back of the boy’s family’s garage in Marsh Meadows.Notes
M.W. 1 The term “Baby Boomer” might be used for our generation. Technically, we are a year or so outside the date range for this group, but many of us see ourselves as “boomers”. We ought to be asking where did our “teachers” come by the vision that they preached in their classrooms? The 1939 World’s Fair in New York provided any number of visions of peace and prosperity through technology, even though there was a black cloud over all of Europe and an on-going war in China. None of the visionaries either had a clue, or were willing to talk to the issues. So, only twenty years later, with 55M dead and most of the world struggling under the yoke of Communism, why would people rooted in reality and history be inclined to convince children of something that was not true at the time, and would require vast changes in society ever to come true?
M.W. 2 American schools probably have never been a preparation for life. Schools do not teach economics, personal finance or municipal finance. Schools do not teach even rudimentary legal concepts. How many times have we heard, “We are a nation of laws”? A Nation of Lawyers, perhaps, but hardly a Nation that has any idea what law is all about.
M.W. 3 Same regimen for me. I collected newspapers rather than bottles though. Occasionally, I would also pick up a painting job.M.W. 4 Same here too, although we had to travel to Knotts Island to find someone we knew on the water who would let us go crabbin’. As early as six A.M. my parents used to take me over to our “cousin’s” and leave me there with a crab net, a bushel basket, a burlap bag to cover the basket and a stinky chicken neck tied to a string. My aunt used to keep them in a can for that very purpose. Michener, in his epic novel Chesapeake, spends a lot of time talking about the blue fin crab from the point-of-view of the Indians. He has the Indians claiming that the crab was “God’s gift to man.” http://www.robertmorrisinn.com/crabcakes.shtml
These days, a bushel of crabs costs about 100 dollars. Then, all it took was a young boy’s dedication to filling the basket before dinnertime. Sadly, the blue fin crabs have been so over-fished that the State has stepped in and so highly regulated crabbing commercially that the practice is almost banned at the moment. Hopefully the crab population will be restored so that people will be able to eat as many of these wonderful creatures as they want. Eating crab, family style--big table (outdoors), beer, a big pot, water and crab boil, and wooden mallets for cracking the crab was certainly a ritual that many, many Chesapeake Bay area families enjoyed and passed on to their children and grandchildren. I don’t remember Mother making crab cakes, although I’m sure that she must have. If she did, they had too much filler and just were not memorable. In fact, it wasn’t until I left home that I discovered the Eastern Shore and the Northern Chesapeake cuisine. Not that the food was that much different, but it sticks out in my memory that seafood was more predominant in the “culture” there than in Norfolk. This was particularly true in Baltimore. The best crab cakes I ever ate were in the Baltimore Inner Harbor in 1976 when the Tall Ships were visiting the Washington/Baltimore areas in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial. There was a Polish Festival at Fell’s Point, whose history goes back to 1640. My girlfriend’s mother was dating a man who lived on a barge in the Baltimore Harbor at the time. His barge was tied up to the wharf where this festival was going on. He had made a deal with the person running this little crab cake stand to provide free electricity to power the cooker, if we could get free crab cakes in return. The crab cakes in question did not have any filler, which most crab cakes do. These crab cakes just melted in my mouth. I asked about the recipe: just lumpy crab meat, the yoke of an egg (for binding) and very clean oil. I had not read Michener’s book at that point, but this experience came to mind when I read the sections dwelling on the Chesapeake Bay Crab. I came across another book on the Chesapeake which you might want to chase down one of these days: Rivers of the Eastern Shore: http://www.cornellmaritimepress.com/0926.htm Last time I was home, I had something called Crab Norfolk--a dish of crab meat, with melted butter and lemon. I am looking forward to eating crabs a la Chesapeake again.
M. W. 5 This beach thing cannot be overstated. Of course, having a car was the only way to get to the less inhabited portions of the coast--but very much worth it. When I was but a very young child, Dad used to take his car to Sandbridge by letting the air out of the tires a bit so that the car would not sink in the sand. One time he almost lost the car when he got too close to the water and the tires cut into the wet sand. As the tide was coming in, he actually was worried. Luckily, a man driving a truck came along and offered to pull him back to the dry sand. We would have been in much trouble had Dad lost the car, as Dad was still recovering from the injuries he sustained during WWII and not very employable at that time.
At that time, there were almost no homes on the Beach below Rudee Inlet. There were some shanties, and every twenty miles or so a Coast Guard lifesaving station. Now, there are homes from Rudee Inlet south. We used to go down the beach a few miles, stop, set up “camp” and spend the day having a ball. We would pick up driftwood and build a fire to cook our food. My favorite was corn-on-the-cob, wrapped in aluminum foil with butter and pepper inside. The fire would get going, and then we would throw wet sand over it to kill the flames. The food would then be put on the sand. Sometimes we put more sand on top, sometimes not. This was a great way to cook, and the flavors were unforgettable. After dark, we would take all of the remaining firewood, build a pyre, and let it burn, burn, burn. The flames could be very high -- or so it seemed to someone who was only six or seven years old. Right after graduation, a few of us went to Sandbridge to whoop and holler a bit. We built a big fire, and not long after it got going, the Shore Patrol showed up to let us know that fires like ours were “discouraged.” They didn’t make us put the fire out, as I remember, but I never went there with the aim of building a big, beach fire again.
M.W. 6 I am uncomfortable with the section on sex. Maybe it’s my Southern heritage, or maybe I don’t think that this fits at this point, or maybe I think that it’s just too graphic and qualifies as the “sex scene” needed to sell this script to a TV producer. I can’t imagine doing a teenager-comes-to-terms-with-the-world book and not get into this area, but it seems to me that it should be tasteful (or unique). It’s just that the sex theme has been dragged out of the closet and into the parlor since we were at Maury, and I am, as the author is chronicling, a creature of my upbringing.
There were no sex classes at Maury, as I remember. Although there was a home economics class where preparation for marriage no doubt was taught. Seems to me that getting a female’s point-of-view woven into this otherwise testosterone-laden reprise of puberty might be interesting. I don’t remember that any rapes occurred to any of the girls in our class. Black men raping white women was a big social taboo--and could end up with a death sentence for the black man (guilty or not).
M. W. 7 The author has drifted into a Marsh Meadows-only mindset here. If I had not started hanging out with kids from Marsh Meadows, I would not have much of an idea of what the author is writing about. For instance, the Sailfish reference is well-known in Marsh Meadows, but I doubt very many kids from other parts of town would know what he is talking about. The Collins Boys--Walt and James--built Sailfish boats in their side yards. Walt still sails them and wins continuously in his class to this day.
M. W. 8 This goes on in every high school in America. What makes it worth inclusion here? There were a few places in the Tidewater area where ghosts were thought to inhabit--but none in the Maury area as I remember.
M. W. 9 I’m uncomfortable with this section. I don’t remember coming across a gay person until after finishing at Old Dominion University. A math teacher who had been very close during my undergrad days came onto me one night. I did not know what to make of him at first. He lived alone and had done so for the most of his life. I scowled at him, and he stopped advancing. He was never very friendly towards me after that. However, it might be interesting to know how the boy knew about “the books in the brown paper covers under the counter”? Or the other people referenced above? Was this information revealed over a bottle of vodka? Too many opportunities for how we kids communicated about taboo issues amongst ourselves and what we did with that information when it “did not compute.”
Chapter 4. Youth Fellowship(s)
There is a time for every purpose under Heaven.
As with all American public schools, Maury’s mission was not to advance religion, but that did not keep the boy from developing his spirituality outside of the classroom. So what? Well, maybe more than you ever thought. A school is set in a context, and that context is bigger than the school or its community. By extrapolation it is set in the world. Just as Commodore Maury imagined the mighty ocean, so too the boy became to see the world as a web-work of dynamic, obscure but intelligible patterns that, once interpreted, showed nothing but good for humankind. Religion is one dimension of the Maury experience even if it is a parallel dimension, and we cannot avoid it or exclude it peremptorily. We simply must examine it head-on! And we may be very surprised at our conclusion. Let me say that this is NOT a sermon, or a pitch for a particular brand of religion. The boy lived through something while he was at Maury that simply must be brought into account, or else we lose something essential in the picture we are trying to portray.
Hold on now, you say! Why should a potentially divisive exposition on religion be used in a book about the secular exploits of a secular boy interacting with secular individuals who happen to be classmates of a secular high school in a secular state that fosters religious freedom, one nation under God (sometimes) for all? Well now, maybe that is just the opening we need. And we will not need a fish prop this time to make our point.
As a Navy brat and a WASP, the boy had been brought up in an interdenominational Christian religious context. The boy’s family moved around a lot, and they were not Roman Catholic. Continuity of religious connections under the circumstances was impossible. In practice, his family had sent out search parties each Sunday in each new neighborhood to see which might serve the family best. The Methodist church in Marsh Meadows served best after the family’s move to Norfolk. In fact, no other church came close. Their single visit to the closest American Episcopal Church, in which denomination the boy’s mother had been confirmed and the boy himself baptized, resulted in a cold initial reception and an equally cold reminder of choir practice schedules fully two years after the test visit. The boy’s family landed instead in a Methodist church where the deaconess, Miss Biscuit, explained in open meetings why among Christians “only Methodists would go to Heaven.” All persons of all other Christian denominations and all non-Protestants, who were by definition infidels, were destined for the flames of Hell, she said. Truly. Yet the Sunday school monitors said of the boy after he had delivered a homily at an evening session, “Won’t it be nice to have a minister who as a child attended our own church!”
I raise the issue of religion and particularly of Methodism because in that time, which coincides with unprecedented Vatican II measures opening the Roman Catholic Church to other Christians, the spirit of ecumenism in the Christian faith was concentrated most dramatically through the United Methodist movement. Maury High School, of course, was a secular educational institution, but religious values if not religious implications informed everything that was done or said there. (M.W. 1) Don’t get me wrong--I do not mean the “Born Again” movement as we have come to know it.
The boy was witness to the scope of change in the Methodist Church at the seminary level and to the effects of ecumenism on the culture and values of the many splinter churches that had been forced to unify on economic as well as religious grounds. Later as a college teacher on a Catholic college under the administration of the General of a special Order that reported directly to His Holiness in Rome, the boy, by then a man, was witness to the first signs of closure of the epoch of ecumenism. He also learned to appreciate and honor, but not to join, the Catholic communion. His final act upon leaving that heroic little Catholic college to which he had devoted four of the best years of his academic life was to embrace the General heartily and state, “Is not it great and good that we can agree to disagree and be friends.”
The openness of the Catholic Church at that time seems miraculous in the context of history. The boy had attended Catholic services off and on since he was five years old, and he had been to high school in Massachusetts where only he of a full bus of students remained on board on Thursday afternoons after dropping off the Catholic catechism students attending Pittsfield High School. He had in California completed Luther’s small catechism with all five stars awarded, but he had not elected then to become confirmed as a Lutheran. The boy was a student of the faith during his Maury years, but he was not committed to an institution of religion until much later.
The astonishing thing to the boy about openness--religious as well as political--is how much more one is enriched, rather than diminished by its inherent goodness. The boy had friends with many religious backgrounds in his time at Maury, and he has had additional friendships extending too many other faiths since then. In a few years of ecumenism and, later in the Seventies, detente, how many of his generation were affected? Hard to tell, but the breakdown of the artificial wall posed by the constitutional ideal of religious freedom in the United States was the only way to have a meaningful dialog on religious values across cultural boundaries. In the United States sectarian interests were not a substitute for religion, but a guarantor of equity in dealing with religion. We are not Germany with its state-declared Lutheranism, or even the United Kingdom with its Church of England. As Walt Whitman said of himself, we are large, we contain multitudes. Our ecumenism is one of our enduring strengths. The myth of separation of Church and State is another strength. (M. W. 2)
Methodist Youth Fellowship, admittedly, was also a way to meet moral, refined, pretty and often intellectually engaging girls who, the boy found, were prime dating candidates. The boy loved the circuit riding of Methodism, only in reverse. Instead of the best preacher riding his horse from church to church with a different church benefiting from the best sermonizer each Sunday, the boy felt that the congregant should ride from church to church to hear the best preaching. In the father of a pair of brilliant Maury-classmate female twins at an associated Methodist Church, the boy found both sound doctrine and excellent preaching. He also found in the twins two of the most well-rounded and intelligent women of his generation, and he wished he could have proven worthy of either of them. Much later he remembered the tremendous, positive example of his own Marsh Meadows church and its “rival” church at Bay Plantation, and, of course, the beautiful girls that made all things possible, especially tuna-fish sandwiches at a Thursday evening youth-oriented religious session.
That having been said, the boy had a religious life that overlapped his high school life at Maury, one that would ultimately infuse his marriage and his family. In fact, his wife was one of the youth leaders of the UMC movement, friend to the twins, date of the President of the MYF of the boy’s church and connected in so many ways to the friendships of the boy’s high school years, it is hard to believe they never met until much later. The boy reflects that we pretend to know a lot about the context where we live and work, but we actually know very little about it. How much we overlook--how much we might have appreciated and enjoyed, we may never know!
Anyway, girls. You know it! And the twins had an idea that no one could find fault with--a Christian retreat for high school students! And their father the Methodist minister bought the idea because it was theirs, and he made it happen. The twins with their subtle charms (the two were the best ballroom dancers, by far, in the class if not in Virginia) gathered the opinion leaders and forged a plan. Aside from the twins, the boy was not sure whether any of the young participants had ever been to a religious retreat before. The invitees came from many Protestant Christian denominations, and a Catholic was invited too, but that was OKAY! Even Catholic Dan could come if he could get dispensation from his priest to do so.
Well, the retreat did come off with excellent attendance, the usual good food and excellent company, spirited singing of hymns and religious edification of all the right kinds in a spirit of genuine fellowship. Dan and James were there, as well as the boy. Oops, but there was youth to figure.
It all started with a quarter, a piece of surgical tape and an alarm system. Exactly who planned the event was unclear in the aftermath--the boy recalls that James generated the initial plan, but the idea was simple: in the dead of night, SOMEONE would find the Retreat’s fire alarm system and set it off by means of closing the tape with the quarter centered in it over the switch. Who would “bell the cat”? As it turned out, no one wanted to follow through, so the boy said that he would do the deed, and in the middle of that night the alarm did raucously sound, and everyone had to evacuate the building in his or her nightclothes.
The next morning, the leader of the retreat said that whoever owned the quarter that he held up between two fingers could come around to retrieve it whenever he or she liked. He made no reference to the use to which the coin had been put. So after that announcement at the nearest opportunity, the boy appeared to claim the quarter and acknowledge sole responsibility. In true Methodist fashion, the proctor returned the quarter with stern silence, reproving the act but approving the acknowledgement of responsibility. The boy did not think the proctor was surprised, but he was convinced that, if he had not stepped forward to claim the coin, none of the organizers could have even begun to guess who had set off the alarm and everyone would have been held in suspicion unjustly. The boy was not particularly pleased to have been the culprit, but there were no consequences except for recurrent pangs of conscience. Only two or three of the retreat attendees knew who had done the deed and how it had been done; nevertheless, the boy learned that stealth and audacity could accomplish anything that was possible--a lesson for a particular kind of life, but not for traditional ministry.
Another event, reinforcing the lesson of the first, occurred after a Thursday evening Youth Fellowship meeting--the boy thought of it as “Tuna-Fish Thursday,” an opportunity to eke out a third or even the fourth date in a week! After the normal meal and worship services, the boy had planned an aquatic invasion of a particularly nasty waterhole at Cottonmouth Woodland Golf Course. So the plan was to meet after Fellowship to dredge the waterhole of golf balls, which act was not really stealing because no one ever dredged the waterhole, many of the golf balls in the waterhole were hit there by members of the Maury golfers (the boy chief among the duffers who landed balls in the water), and when asked, the golf course staff stated that they did not really care about balls that had landed more than a club’s length from the shore. And who was to know anyway?
So the usual suspects met at the waterhole in a darkness that Hades would have brightened, stripped to their briefs and began to extract the mud-covered balls from the mire. The boy and the others stood knee-deep and then waist-deep in the cool murky waters, feeling balls with their bare toes, then reaching down and grasping and cleaning the balls with their fingers, finally depositing them in a capacious hip boot that had been brought along for the purpose. Scouting had indicated that no lookouts or alarms had been placed. The reconnaissance had been valid. Only the distant baying of a hound dog indicated our presence on the course. What southern countryside does not feature the distant baying of at least one hound?
At a couple of points, jocular whispered warnings of incoming cottonmouths cleared the waterhole of everyone in a hurry, but the operation booted up over a hundred and fifty golf balls of all description. The boy split the “take” among the conspirators and, dressed again, the conspirators returned to normalcy before anyone had noticed what might be holding them up. As it turned out, the boy discovered that over half the balls were scarred or waterlogged, and many others had range markings on them (circles of painted color around the ball to indicate that it was property of a driving range). Only a very few were useful in a game--Titleists, Wilsons and such. But the point was not the “take” but the adventure. A special operation, conducted under darkness in familiar but uncertain territory, was accomplished flawlessly.
The boy not much later informed the Woodland golfing establishment of exactly what had been accomplished, and he asked whether he should make appropriate restitution. To this startling query, the club staff replied that the event was frowned upon but that no plans existed to clear those balls out anyway, and since any player could in daylight spend as long as he or she wished to fish out balls and there being no prohibition to fishing out balls at night, our exploit needed no further discussion and would be forgotten. Besides, the value of the balls was deemed to be no more than $8.00. And ultimate consolation to the Cottonmouth Woodland establishment lay in the fact that many of the “good” balls returned to the same waterhole from which they were taken. Possibly they still lie in the muck at the bottom of that same waterhole today, a lurking challenge to a new generation, perhaps, but with a caution. If extracting the balls should be contemplated by contemporary imps, the boy would like to warn that defensive measures are likely to be nothing like the crude display that the boy and his friends defeated in ages past. Forty years afterwards, current generations of fledgling special forces will have to nurture other means of measuring their prowess. In any case, why foolishly follow established patterns?
So much for religion, you will say. To tell the truth, since then the boy has had pangs of conscience from time to time over his mischief making, but the lesson for him at the time was clear--a simple mission, a “black” operation planned for immediate execution with previous reconnaissance, available tools and audacious personnel, could succeed--and impress even the people who were the caretakers. This is not a lesson Maury High would admit to having engendered--nor should it. Yet every participant in that late-night raid was later an honor graduate of the school. And right afterwards, though the event never might have been detected, the leader of the raid confessed as his own doing the entire scheme, unprovoked, to the appropriate authorities, and he was thanked for pointing out a deficiency in the golf course’s overnight security.
The boy has ever since felt extremely lucky that cottonmouths were not active that night since a swimming cottonmouth will die of drowning rather than not attack an apparent threat in his or her watercourse. The threat was real since the development of Hampton Roads brought more than just people into the area. It forced the wildlife, including snakes, to adapt and appear in new contexts.
The boy also learned from his odd and personal fellowship experiences that Cover and Deception, rather than clandestine means, under carefully considered circumstances, achieve a variety of strategic objectives. What the boy could never account for was the fact that at all occasions during the operation, he could not shake a tune from his mind: Elvis Presley’s “Jail-house Rock,” of course! Almost since his earliest memory, the boy had recurrent fears of dying in the Electric Chair with some unidentifiable clear liquid streaming down his legs and smoke coming out of his unhearing ears, his back arched and breaking against the strain of the leathern straps and the harsh wooden chair. And why not? Living “under the mushroom cloud in the year of the roach,” as we all were in those days--poetess Denise Levertov among us, perhaps the easiest way out of our cosmic predicament was “The Chair.”
During his years at Maury and since then too, the boy has been accosted by people who wanted to find fault with anything untoward that he planned or accomplished. This apparently natural nay-saying and fault-finding by others is always accompanied by a kind of pusillanimity the boy always loathed. He could never hide his revulsion at the idea that people would not have the conviction to follow their ideas to their natural conclusions in action. The boy felt that doing something, rather than talking about doing something, was extremely important, even crucial, and that the scope of things accomplished was often more important than the ends of things that are planned. Further, he believed that in the grand sweep of events, America needed most for its security those who could think outside the box and perform difficult (that is, never-before-performed) missions flawlessly in small, dedicated teams.
The blend of religious zeal and practicable operations was incipient at this stage of the boy’s development, but clear in its direction. Whether pulling together a newspaper staff, making a planned religious retreat work or liberating a boot full of abandoned golf balls from a waterhole on a lonely golf course in the dead of night, the boy learned the lesson that John and Charles Wesley’s mother taught her children--it takes only leadership and five totally dedicated, capable people to change the world.
Christian Youth Fellowships, then, provided an alternative path running in parallel to secular Maury.
Conscience: Ahem, were new friendships forged through your Christian fellowship experiences?
The Boy: Definitely. For example, at MYF, I met John Standfast, who was the President of the fellowship, dated my wife-to-be and became a firm friend for the rest of my life. He served in Vietnam and later he became sheriff of a small California town.
Conscience: Were existing friendships strengthened?
The Boy: Again, yes! Many of my friends were there--the twins, James, Dan and many others, and we all had to reconsider our relationships in this new context. Rethinking relationships from the ground up is often a way of self-discovery. It helps when that happens in groups.
Conscience: Did anything happen at Youth Fellowship that changed your life?
The Boy: Well, yes, witness the events involving the alarm and the golf balls, but not as the institution intended. Outside of the fellowship, the events would not have occurred. The lessons would not have been learned. Further, as you know, for all my antics I am a spiritual being and I am also a poet. And I find it hard to separate my roles as a spiritual person and as a poet. Where in the high school context I could not extend my thinking to ultimate things, in fellowship I could. I see the fellowship as a necessary way to achieve my ultimate end of self-knowledge and fulfillment through service to humankind.
Conscience: Does the role of girls have something to do with the outcomes of such groups?
The Boy (brightening): Unquestionably. One of the important aspects of fellowship is the interaction with the opposite sex on all age levels. The rules allow such interaction to be chaste and controlled. But holding hands in church is not beyond the bounds of propriety. And Petrarch first saw his beloved Laura in a church setting after all.
Conscience: And you think your own family was strengthened because of your connection to the Church?
The Boy: Yes. My wife was raised as a Methodist. She and her family attended the same church as the twins and knew the twins and their family well. She also knows that I have always loved both of the twins as she has done, one of the twins especially. We have no secrets. My sister was then and now still is a Methodist. My parents are long-time members of their own Methodist congregation in Northern Virginia. Although as interdenominational Protestants, we have many strains of Christianity in our background, the Methodist influence was most compelling during our Maury years, and it continues to be strong.
In fact, the boy thought at the time that the best way to engage youth in such fellowship was first to engage girls as pretty and intelligent as the twins, make a plan, and then let things fall however they may. The fact that the fellowship’s leadership was comprised entirely of Maury students indicated the kind of overlapping of high school and Sunday school that the boy found fascinating at the time. In parallel with the boy’s discovery of literary criticism, but invisible at his high school even by allusion, ran the boy’s enjoyment of the Higher Criticism of the Bible.
M.W. 1 I have a problem with this. I don’t remember this to be true. Virginia was certainly the northern end of the “Bible belt.” Christianity certainly oozed out of the “cracks” here and there. There was the celebration of Christmas. No doubt there were Christmas trees about the building, and there was a Christmas Student Convocation with Choral/Religious music. The Band usually had a Christmas concert, but I don’t remember any “seepage” of religion beyond those events. Ok, Easter vacation, but I don’t remember anything that was formal that accompanied Easter other than “Good Friday.” I left the church when I was twelve, and never went back (with the exception of having to accommodate the women in my life from tome-to- time). I do like the ceremony of Christmas, however. Christmas music is wonderful. Religion has been squeezed out of Christmas, pretty much. So, it is now a secular/religious holiday that lots of people can partake of and enjoy. I did reconnect with religion during college when I took a course in comparative religions. I really enjoyed learning about religion free of the constraints of a given religion. I was amazed at the vast collection of writings that were saved for seminary, but never even alluded to in church. Billy Graham explained this once when he said, “I couldn’t wait to finish seminary, and then go out and teach the gospels!”
There is a lot of religion in Virginia’s history. The author has opened the door to that in a couple of his memories. When I was a child, Virginia was ensnared in Blue Laws. For those markets that did open on Sundays, there were sheets over the produce, and only prepared foods could be sold. It was odd--you could buy beer, but not food that needed to be cooked. The Blue Laws (which originated in Massachusetts in the 1690s and so-called because they were printed on blue paper) disappeared by the late 1950s. However, the mentality (Puritan/Baptist) which foisted them on many communities on the East Coast remained. It took me most of my life to read enough to know that this was all Puritan in source and that the Puritans wanted to rid themselves of the corruption of the Catholic Church and turn time back to the time that Jesus lived, a time when Jewish law prevailed--and Jewish Law was very specific about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. One of my Great-Great Grandfathers was a devout practicing Methodist in the 1830s on Knotts Island. He was influential in building the Methodist Church there. The funeral services for both of my parents were held in that Church. The ministers were of the Hellfire and Brimstone school. I was a little angry with some of the comments delivered during the services--a little too much Hellfire for my tastes. In much of the 1950s in the South there was a tension between the culture imposed by “old time religion” and the culture that was rapidly evolving--accelerated by television and the mobility created by the automobile and an extensive highway system. Perhaps the author was more sensitive to this tension than others, but I don’t think that this was a significant aspect of our daily life at Maury.
M.W. 2 The Roanoke Colony was most certainly secular, as was the Virginia Colony. † Roger Williams of Rhode Island knew all about “religious freedom” in
Massachusetts. The Mormons got run out of just about every place they found themselves--except the Utah desert. And Catholics were never very popular in the US--some alarm, in fact, was raised by Kennedy’s becoming the first Catholic President.
Chapter 5. Cottonmouth Woodland Rhapsody
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is.
--Shelley, “Ode on the West Wind”
One of the boy’s early passions was baseball. He was almost totally devoted to the game while in junior high in San Diego. He wrote about his passion in a book much later. He would have liked to continue playing ball when he returned to Virginia, but he did not get past one year of Pony League play. The game was just not the same for him for a wide range of reasons. For one thing, the rain in Virginia made playing an iffy, messy affair. The boy did not think that soggy fields with wide splash areas in the outfield and mud holes around the bases made for much of a setting. He was used to a perfectly manicured Little League field that was designed for water drainage when in fact “it never rained in California” for the majority of the three years his family had last been there. In contrast, the Pony League park was an unkempt, open, uneven field that had only been imperfectly fenced and never leveled or shaped. Then there was the imperfect night lighting and the boy’s incipient near sightedness, astigmatism and night blindness. And finally, there was golf. Golf is what set the boy on a new aesthetic as well as athletic trail and opened new vistas for his poetry. It also allowed him and his friends to elude formal gym classes even though they never were awarded a sports letter for golf.
The boy and his brother, both right handed with some ambidexterity, learned to play golf using the hand-me-down left handed set of clubs once owned by their paternal grandfather in Minnesota. They duffed, sliced and topped the balls around the nine-hole golf course at the Naval Base until they got the hang of the game; then they shifted to right-handed clubs they bought used. The boy still uses the clubs he used as a Maury golfer; his brother, who became a college champion golfer and later was associated with professional golf oversight, changed over his equipment many times. Anyway, when the call went out for the Maury golfers, the boy was ready.
In fact, Saul, Dan, James and the boy chose golf in the same way that they had chosen bowling earlier, and they made the cut because no one else showed up. The boy was never called up to play in a match for the school’s honor, but being on the team meant afternoon golf through the week at the Cottonmouth Woodland course. Saul was the duty driver, and he meticulously ferried us at exactly four miles over all speed limits from the school to the course for practice. Since all four comrades were extremely busy with school activities, homework, extracurricular matters and their own families” routines, the boy marveled at how often they managed to play golf. The boy also marveled at how much like the Pony League field the Cottonmouth Woodland course actually was. The foursome figured that if they could play reasonably well at Cottonmouth, they could probably do very well on a “real course.” Water was everywhere. Old tree stumps and remains stuck up through adjacent swamplands. The ground was mostly level, and the rough not very challenging, so the problem was keeping the ball in bounds and out of water hazards, out of dense trees and out of sand traps that were likely to resemble water hazards some days.
Out on that low, lush, wet, green course, the boy enjoyed even more than the game of golf the uncanny stillness of the Southern woodland. He would concentrate in spurts on a game that requires constant attention to every detail, and he was prone to use his considerable natural ability rather than to focus on honing his technique. Once in a while he would pull off a tremendously long drive or sink a long put or chip one into the hole, and once he did put together an eagle combination on a par five hole. Generally, though his scores were execrable, approaching his bowling scores on his best days bowling. The four kept score cards current hole by hole, with not many gimmies and with all penalty strokes included, and the boy earnestly hopes those records have not survived the ravages of time.
Increasingly, the boy golfed for the companionship, the fellowship and the communion with nature and his soul. The pattern was a ritual. The boy would start with determination to keep his focus on the game. Around the third hole, his concentration would flag. He would notice a certain grayness in the sky or see a flock of birds fly up and around in synchrony. At times like that, his ball would fly off the tee in a sweeping roundhouse hook to the left or a long, woods-bound slice to the right. He would be forced into the rough and even into the woods. As if hitting a tripwire, his mind’s transition would occur. The boy would consciously become lost in unheard music, lost in the surrounding wood, or lost in the intricacy of a rhythmic pattern of poetry or problem involving mathematics. He would become irretrievably lost. Then his mind wandered free, and he often thought of the turn of her long and small arm, the graceful movement of her tiny hand, the bounce of her hair as she turned the corner. Yes. Always the girl.
You can tell a lot about a person by his or her golf performance. With the four, the patterns evident were the same at Cottonmouth as everywhere else. Here is the boy’s take on his three companions.
Saul was the mechanic, careful about every detail of his play, a stick figure in motion. Saul golfing was like Saul bowling or dancing. You wanted to say, “Loosen up!” but you knew it would not work. Learning to do the Twist was not easy for him that summer evening in 1962, but he did get the hang of it eventually. The boy suspected that once Saul put his combination together, he would be very good at the game of golf. He would probably not be a long ball hitter, but he would be steady and dependable. He would ultimately have what the others lacked consistency with measures of performance in every detail. Having such an analytical approach did pay off in a way none of the four suspected. One of Saul’s best papers for English class his senior year was on the subject of playing one hole of golf. It was concise, complete and clear. Frighteningly clear. The boy could see Saul moving through that play vividly. His vision of Saul and Saul’s vision of himself were coincident, it seemed to him then.
Dan was an earnest, yet wild player, his balls flying off in all directions or scudding along towards some hidden hollow or a tuft of rank green onions or some high bank of last year’s leaves or skipping across three jumps in a water hole. He was the procurer of the international orange ball, which he kept in his bag to use in case of snow. Of the foursome, he was the most emotional about his game and the most physically demonstrative when things did not go exactly right‚ which was quite often. Dan was also intrusive on the others’ games. He was always nervous, edgy, anxious and quick to challenge, quick to dare or offer a wager. Dan was so involved in everyone’s game, he could not gain perspective on his own game at the time. But he clearly did enjoy golf, and his enthusiasm was always infectious. The boy wondered whether Dan wouldn’t be happier coaching golf than playing it.
James was a stylish player, whose attention to form was absolute in golf as it was in everything else. Function would follow form, or so he thought, and, to his credit, he had a natural athlete’s grace in movement. His form was perfect in every respect. How he looked on the course how he arrived, what he did in each stroke and each circumstance of play, in fact, everything he did was for the hidden cameras in his mind’s eye. He would play golf in his madras shirts, and he would be fastidious about how he looked on a tee or how he washed his golf balls or cleaned his club with a rag after a shot, whether well or badly played. The boy could envision James becoming a top surgeon (were not they all headed for pre-Med studies in college?), playing golf on his off-day, probably Wednesday, for gentlemen’s bets or a drink with lunch at the clubhouse turn.
If the characteristics listed above for reflect the styles given before for bowling, that is because the young men were consistently themselves whether at the bowling alley, on the golf course, doing homework or interacting with the opposite sex. The boy enjoyed the symmetry of their relationship, the way they had grown together, yet remained free agents too. Not much in the way of goings-on at Maury was not discussed during these golf outings. The boy mused that if a transcript had been made of the discussions on those excursions, little by way of secrets would be secret any more.
“So how are things going with Shirl, Dan?” the boy asked.
“Isn’t she beautiful? Don’t you just shiver thinking about her? I know I do. If I had to choose one girl, one among all the gorgeous girls in Maury, she would be the one. Not that a few others aren’t in her class. All the cheerleaders, to name a few. Then a couple of the Clefettes. And beyond Maury, there is that girl Bobbie I told you about--you know the one who is so mature for her age. Yes, she is a little young. A little young. Wow. But, no, to answer the question, things are not going well.”
“Have you asked her yet?”
“Well, no, but come on, give me a chance. We still have time, weeks even. After all, I want to do this right. And what if she says no?”
“What if she needs to have a firm idea of going at all? What if she needs to order a gown? What if she tires waiting for the phone to ring and makes plans that preclude her going at all? What if someone else calls her first and she, in desperation says, ‘Yes.’”
“She can’t do that. Can she? She wouldn’t. No. . . . No. All right, so what have you heard?”
“Bob is going to make a move.”
“No kidding? Bob? He has never taken her out.”
“Neither have you, Dan.” James chimed in, “I heard that too.”
“Oh yeah, from whom?”
“The horse. I told him that you were planning to make your move.”
“So he will hurry up. Thanks a lot, James. Just what I needed. )&I(*! Now what am I going to do? We have six more holes to play, then the drive home, finally the phone.” “Relax, Dan. Use the phone in the clubhouse. If you want, you can run over now; we’ll keep playing, and you can catch up. If you think she might have reached home by now, you might give it a try.”
“Think so? Yes. Yes. That is what I will do. Anyone have a dime? Thanks, Saul, you owed me that one anyway. I’m off. Just put me down for par on every hole till I get back.”
“Yeah, right. In your dreams. Off he goes. Think it will work?”
“Hard to guess, but I think so unless Bob has already made his move, or someone else has, or she is going to be out of town on prom night. Anyhow, imagine his not having asked the girl till now. James, you have that look. Don’t tell me. No. You haven’t asked Donna out? Look, it’s Saul’s tee. That couple ahead is moving now--they are waving us to drive. We’ll stroke out and discuss this. You guys.”
“Nice hit Saul. Right down the middle, true to form. If you put a little more behind the ball, you would be down in two guaranteed.”
“Oops, James. Looks like you are going to be in the left rough. Ouch. Well, if you have trouble over there, one of us will be over after we find ours.”
“Now it’s my turn. I am headed out towards yours, James. Let’s head out. Okay, let’s have it. What is the score? I mean with Donna.”
“She has such a temper. I cannot believe we have been through so much and have such a hard time making a simple thing work. She is in a dither about the prom. Her Wolf Pack Dad is involved in this, I know it. He’s a wry old dog actually, and he is worried that Donna and I might go a little too far and I might get her pregnant. She is his only daughter, and he has been very explicit with her as to what she is to do and not do. What she has told me, I must believe simply because she could not have made it up. Anyway, now she is talking about going to the prom with someone else ‘just for a change.’”
“Translation: her father sees trouble coming, and she has been ordered to look elsewhere, or else. Could be a problem. Hard to deal with a father if it is the way you think. Are you sure? Can you ask Donna what is going on?”
“She and I are very busy now, and we are not seeing much of each other. Not like before. Here is my ball. Stand back and watch the heir to Sammy Snead work his magic. I am going to use the seven iron.”
“Good out. Nice lie. Look! Saul is right up the center with his second, a little shy of the frog hair, within easy chipping distance. He is pleased with his performance. Look at him wave. Good shot, Saul! Down in two, maybe even one. Let me hit now. There, within striking distance. So maybe when Dan returns, you should run over and make your call. Oh, I forgot, she won’t be available until after dark. Well, you can call her from home. Do it. Any chance, though, that she is set to go with someone else? Like Ralph, or that football player, Jason? Both have been hanging around her locker lately. Yes, and neither has made a date for the prom. How available do you think Donna has made herself?”
“Now you have me thinking. I am going to Hi-Y tonight. I will give her a call beforehand. I do hope she can clear things up. Both Ralph and Jason will be at the meeting, and I can nose around, get the sense of things.”
“Bet you that Saul has got his affairs all squared away with Lizzy.”
“You have a good point there. He probably asked her four months ago, and he already knows exactly how he will pin the corsage on. Bet he has been practicing?”
“I would not bet against. Anyhow, you might think about alternatives. Look, you may not like it, but families can get in the way, and this is decidedly not Romeo and Juliet! Not that you aren’t up to Romeo and she isn’t as beautiful as Juliet. You know what I mean.”
“I do indeed. In fact, there is no one else I would like to take to the prom. And I simply will not go if she cannot attend or if she goes with someone else. Rats! The very thought turns my stomach. After all we have been through.”
“Hey, Saul, we were just saying that you and Lizzy probably have all your prom details worked out to the Nth degree. Are we right?”
“Don’t hurt my concentration. Wait until I make this shot. Whoa, looks like I am past the pin and to the left around 14 feet. Tough, breaking putt. Oh. Yes, except she may not be able to go after all.”
“Her parents want to leave on vacation, and she is trying to get them to agree to her meeting them later. That way she can attend the prom. Hard to say now what is going to happen, but I am hopeful things will work out. Yes, everything has been planned, except for the critical part. I even have the corsage picked out. How do you pin those things on without, well, you know what I mean? I wonder whether her parents are trying to avoid complications.”
James and the boy exchanged glances.
“Who can tell? Here comes Dan. Take your shot, James.”
“Guys, I ran all the way there and back. Uh, oh. Sorry, James, but you were close anyway. I got her Mom. Shirl is out with some of her Tri-Hi-Y friends, but she is expected back by dark. I left a message that I would be calling about the prom. What? Okay, so I took a little precaution, but her Mom did not say that she was or was not going. Whew. Good putt. Lipped the cup. Can’t believe I made it back so fast.”
“Let’s get a move on. Looks like rain. Threatening all afternoon. James, you would not want your madras shirt to bleed? Saul has got a golf umbrella. The rest of us will have to take turns getting under it.”
The boy was glad that no one raised the issue of his prom date. He had none, and he had no plans. He had asked the girl too far in advance, perhaps, and she had been ambiguous. What move should he make? He had arranged for another classmate to take his own sister to the prom. That was set in stone. No one was going to be allowed to play games with her.
What girl would believe the gymnastics it took to arrange a simple date? On the other hand, the boy thought, how difficult it must be for a girl to sit by the phone waiting for someone to call, hoping it would be the right someone, or at least an acceptable someone. Anyone? He had a hard time understanding what it must be like to be so vulnerable. He had absolutely no trouble understanding why his male friends seemed so lax about the very thing they were so anxious to be good at relationships with the opposite sex.
The foursome grouped on the next tee just as the skies opened and the deluge began. Huddling under Saul’s umbrella, they looked at each other and made an instant decision. Time to tee up and move out? Perfect weather on a perfect day for golf!
“Hey,” said Saul, “Don’t you all have enough sense to get
out of the rain? I am going to make a run for the car. Anyone who wants a ride back had better be
with me when I start up.”
Chapter 6. Printer at the Docks
The manse is a great gray hulk now, and the plantation fields are stubble after the Union cavalry’s plunder and provisioning. General Sherman’s men have moved on, continuing to ravage the Confederacy.
Against this backdrop Blondie’s brother Cal returns to find is sister despondent--he has arrived just in time to help her gather her remaining belongings before their journey to distant family relations well out of the hell that their home, indeed their whole way of life, had become. Cal was somewhat haggard from hiding and dodging Union troops, and he had news, but not all the news was bad.
Jed had been made brevet Brigadier, and he now worked directly under General Lee doing special dangerous things. Word was, Jed had been quietly decorated by General Lee for acts of bravery that he will probably won’t talk about when the war is over, win or lose. He had risked his life a dozen times, and he had saved Cal’s life more than once. Cal said that Jed told him the end was near and sent him home in secret to help his sister to resettle--for Cal the war is over. He is beside himself to know that his sister is safe.
When Blondie recovers enough to understand him, Cal hands her a present from Jed--a locket with a rifle ball stuck in one side and a silver cross in the other. Cal said, “I promised Jed I would return this to its owner with a message. I think it must be yours. Since he gave it to me when I was very sick--for luck--and since he said it had saved his life one time and since it has a lock of hair that could have come from no one else’s head but yours, I am giving it to you.
Jed said that all he valued in life was like the twist of golden hair in that locket--caught between some leaden death and some final reward. He said he did not deserve even the scorn of the one whose hair this is.
“ It’s funny, Sis, but of all the men that I have ever known, Jed is the one man I would have wished for you to marry. Don’t cry, now, for he is a hero beyond tears. He is no longer the dashing young Lieutenant who waltzed you as a Debutant and got juleps head to toe for stealing one kiss. He is battle-hardened, even scary to men who have done such things as can never be told. Seeing as where he was going and what he is used to doing and the fact that he had a certain faraway look when he dispatched me here, I figure he will not ever be back again. Blondie, consider him dead--like Ike and little Sam and Calvin and Cousin Joe and Uncle Stephen and the rest of the gray raiders, all now dead and gone but me. I am the last alive, most likely, and least worthy.”
Cal brushed the tears from his sister’s eyes and waited until she had calmed. “Just as I was mounting up for home, Jed said one last thing. He said, ‘Tell Blondie that the worst she can imagine will not be as bad as things will be and that after all the evil is done, it will take a hundred years for the South to become whole again. It will never be the South we knew and loved. That South is gone forever, gone. Let her know,” he said, ‘that like the Phoenix, the South will rise again from its ashes and not be the same, but be better even than it ever was, a treasure in this country and the world, as she has always been for me.” And, Oh, Sis, I am so sorry to have to tell you all this, and I am so proud to have known this man so well.”
“Oh, my, Cal, my Jed just simply can't go! †What am I to do??! †I MUST go to him and see him one last time before it's too late. †But, wait . . . there must be something someone can do for him! †I just simply won't accept this! No, I simply won't!!”
-- from The Boy’s Recurrent Dream
Those were the days when Waterside was only a faint glimmer, when the docks lined the waterfront, wood structures lined with storage areas half turned into workshops, among them the printer’s shop where the completed camera-ready copy must be delivered on deadline. Not only the Maury paper, but all the surrounding high schools” papers were printed by one small enterprise, at a discount from the normal trade rates. When the news, the photos and the ads had been edited and corrected and after the remaining beads of rubber glue had been rubbed off, the four broad sheets, still sporting their blue lines (which would not photograph), were carried to the docks for delivery. The boy enjoyed the salt and tar and oil smells of the waterfront and the sense of permanence that lay behind the decay of the place. He noted the wood rotting in places, the peeling paint, and the litter--old rags and such--that had become a permanent part of the angles of the architecture.
Delivery was a ritual finally, but the boy never forgot his first time down to the docks with the copy under his arm on a gray day threatening rain. He had been sent down on foot to deliver the paper by his editor, and the delivery was a kind of message. After asking directions from many people who had never heard of a printing shop at the docks, he found a man with a patchwork beard and an unsteady gait who claimed to know it well and who took the boy to the very dark jaws of the establishment.
Inside the print shop it was as if the busy pier outside were in another world. Here the smells of the trade took over, and the air was dry and cool. Projects were stacked helter skelter everywhere, and a man in his late fifties or early sixties sat at a desk with a crook-necked lamp, scowling at some marked text under a green eyeshade. His blue pencil flew down the page, and he continued to work without looking up but acknowledging the boy’s presence with a “Hrumph.” The boy stood by for many minutes waiting the right opportunity to interrupt. He took in the shop with his eyes and his nose, as if he were alone in it. He saw an old printing press with a wheel device, a wooden rack with a flat stone, camera equipment, jobs to be done, jobs completed waiting to be picked up. Only when he was almost completely lost in the trade, did he notice that the grisly editor had stopped working and sat sizing him up.
“Been in the business long?” the gruff old man queried, amused, taking a pull at a cigarette whose smoke curled around his ears and reached into the eaves. The boy started to say something about having been involved in newspapers since starting a neighborhood paper from scratch in Portsmouth when he was eight years old and that he had been editor of school papers at his elementary and junior high schools. He wanted to say too that he was building a paper route business near his current home. He hesitated to get the message just right, and he appraised the unblinking eyes behind the drifting smoke. Finally he hit the mark, stating simply that he worked for Mark, the Editor-in-Chief of the Maury newspaper, and that Mark had asked him to walk the paper down today. The old man nodded and pushed the eraser end of his pencil at the top of some file cabinets in the far corner. “Just put the proofs right there. That’s right--no need to remove the plastic. And that’s all you have to do.” With that, he dropped his eyes under his shade and continued his work, a busy gnome with no time for extraneous discussions. It was the only time in the boy’s life that he ever saw anyone outside of film use the magic emerald shade.
When the boy emerged from the print shop, the clouds had drifted lower and a light drizzle had begun. The water painted the blonde wood dark brown, and the decking became slippery underfoot. The boy was glad he had worn his yellow raincoat and brown rubbers, for soon it began raining in earnest, pooling and running down the streets. This was not a worry for the boy. In fact, the rain was part of Norfolk, and the gray rainy days opened the boy’s door not on the cruel exactitude of news but on the creative wellspring of poetry. The contrast and the linkage of the wet piers with the dry print shop were to him profound. He mused that what finally passed under the editor’s pen came from a source he might not fully allow himself to understand. Anyway, for the boy, woolgathering moments like this one, stolen from time, eventually changed, and then ranged in end-stopped lines.
The boy afterward delivered the proofs to the piers on a number of occasions, but his relationship with Mr. Simon never warmed. The boy understood the character of the man, and he saw something of himself in Mr. Simon’s mannerisms--particularly the suggestion that very little needs to be said to communicate what is necessary. This was particularly true when communication involved face-to-face interaction.
The boy understood this efficiency of communication among men, but he doubted that the instincts of men for brevity and utility had much use in communicating across gender lines. If only, the boy thought, the powerful concentration of male communication could be combined with the intuitive, multidimensional communication normally associated with women! Robert Frost, the poet who in dazzling sunlight had eloquently described President Kennedy as the marriage of poetry and power, had also written that the poet should make his own language his constant study. Imagery, gesture, nuance, allusion, music--all these things, the boy then understood as part of language. Important American literary figures had at one time or another been involved as newspaper writers if only because they had to make enough money to keep doing what they did best--writing. Hemingway, for example, and Stephen Crane, and many others. Yet times had changed, and what worked before World War II probably would not work now. Or would it?
The boy made a note that day to communicate his desire for a literary review to a friend who not only read only the best books, but also talked and wrote intelligently about them. His literary friend, who also played the violin in the Norfolk Youth Symphony, wrote slowly--even painfully, so the boy figured he might have to provide a backup piece, but the wait would be well worth the management stress and potential duplication. As it turned out, the editor did get the copy he wanted at the very last moment, and he and his staff were able to type the review and paste it up for delivery. In fact, the boy made that delivery, as he always did, on time.
Heartened by this success, the boy had green thoughts of having some of his poet friends make contributions. These ideas were cut off the vine by the newspaper advisor, who said that poems belonged in the Maury literary magazine, not in the newspaper. She did have to admit that book reviews were fair copy--so along as the books reviewed had literary merit. So the idea of having a book review editor took firm root. The boy had thus done as much as he would be allowed officially to advance creative writing from his position of influence. This limitation did not prohibit or prevent him from encouraging the known poets among his peers or from stimulating new voices, both male and female. To an aspiring writer or artist, he gave the same advice he had learned while in California--start a journal and sketch or write something in that journal every day. Do not complain that you have no time to be a writer, but get in the habit of writing or drawing, and write or draw as if you were doing it for publication. Later, he modified his advice to “Write for publication every day.” That advice came from the editor of the National Geographic Magazine, and the boy gave him credit for that good idea when he passed it on.
As a sidebar, this book has shown the boy, now a man, that people have excellent stories to tell, but they do not know how to get their stories out. Further, they do not realize the lessons of the Maury newspaper where collaborative writing and consensual group editing was the only way that the product was going to get to press on time. Teamwork. The boy was pleased to discover that writing enterprise in America is at every level a collaboration and that Max Perkins had as much to do with Hemingway and Fitzgerald as the two heroic writers did. All three were geniuses, but the greatest of the three is the least accredited now. From one perspective, the reasons for Fitzgerald’s difficulties as a writer in Hollywood must include his lacking contact with the world’s best editor and mentor. What would Dreiser have been without his editor? Hard to say, but his works would have been three times as long, three times as dark and probably could not have been written on top of that icebox of his without his having a breakdown from stress.
You will say that the story has strayed, but the same concept of teamwork that puts a paper to bed also makes for good relationships. People working for a shared purpose under deadline can achieve monumental results. By this I do NOT mean committee work, which has justly been compared to a beast with many legs and no brain. The Maury newspaper was a mix of males and females where every person was a major contributor, and not only because the editor tried to slough off all the work, but also because people naturally wanted to pitch in. All they needed was someone to allocate a task and say, “Have it ready by Friday, noon!”
To get the many pieces and parts of the news ready by deadline was not a piece of cake, by any means. It was hard work requiring concentration and communication by all hands. It took dexterity, precision, guts and determination. It also took multi-tasking skills and task flexibility as well as the ability to work gracefully within a group that was always under pressure. If the group had been all males, the construct would not have worked. The boy had been involved in all male papers, and in the end, he would have to do all the work himself. In a mixed gender environment, the work always distributed well, and no one was so concerned with ownership of his or her ideas that the inevitable cuts and rearrangements, the rewording and the reprioritizing became impossible without fiat. Looking back over all the experiences of his life, the boy, now a man, stands in awe of what that staff managed to do given the constraints. He is struck now by the generosity of the newspaper’s sponsor and by the maturity of his staff’s collective judgments all judgments were made by all the staff and all work was gladly shared by all the staff. The news room was one of the happiest places in the school, with laughter, not tears the norm, and G. S. was the reason that it worked so smoothly or at all.
It is not Kindergarten that provides all the lessons of life, but a high school newspaper staff, he is convinced. (G. S. 1)
G. S. 1 The following is an insert in my Maury yearbook:
MAURY NEWS HALL OF FAME
Wilson Engel † † † † † † † † - Loudest
Becky Garrett † † † † † † † †- Fastest Typist
Don Gordon † † † † † † † † - Most Aggressive
Drew Gygi † † † † † † † † † † - Playboy
Dick White † † † † † † † † † †- Most Dilatory
Shirley Grissom † † † † † † - Sexiest
Pat Thomas † † † † † † † - Most Dependable †Rick Hausman † † † † † † † - Most Athletic
Ronnie Kauffman † † † † †- Poet Laureate
Nancy McAllister † † † † † †- Most Artistic
Jack Dorsey † † † † † † † † † - Most Important
Wayne Martin † † † † † † - Most Photogenic † † † † †
Chapter 7. From Russia with Love
Don’t love me,
Don’t love me,
Don’t love me too much,
Or I’ll die.
--trans. Turkish Popular Song
Who could forget the blossoming of Sean Connery as James Bond 007, “shaken not stirred” hero who was rarely shaken and often stirred by beautiful ladies but never put off by the scent of danger? A feature of the international political landscape during the boy’s time at Maury was a kind of preliminary to what became in the 1970s détente, the momentary lull in the Cold War, which was destined to run its course in the lifetime of most of his classmates. Insulated from the harsh implications of the battle of superpowers in those days, students not from military families were only awakened by tremors like the Bay of Pigs disgrace or the Cuban Missile crisis. Some of his classmates would have read David Cornford’s (aka John Le Carre’s) brilliant novel A Spy Who Came in from the Cold though none of the boy’s friends missed Burton in the movie version of the book. However the mainstream propaganda ran, for the boy’s family as for other Navy families, the Enduring Threat remained, and eternal vigilance was the price of liberty. Amen.
In the wake of the Bay of Pigs episode, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had a real job restoring the confidence of the American people. The Cuban fiasco colored everything that was later done by the Kennedy administration in foreign policy. It was to the beginning of that new crowd what the Francis Gary Powers U-2 scandal was to the end of the Eisenhower administration. Both events were national disgraces, unsettling reminders of the limits of power and the fallibility of elected officials. Because of these failures, some began to question the rightness of our actions abroad, and their negative feelings were supported by books like The Ugly American, which was, if not an outright indictment, at least an unflattering portrait of American behavior on the world stage.
Not long after the media attention died down, the Clef Club sponsored a talk by a male figure--average height, average build, regular hair cut and nondescript clothing--a former field operative of the CIA. The boy, now a man, remembers the talk he gave forty years later as vividly as if he were witnessing it now, fully alert. Nothing by way of overt propaganda, of classified material or of explicit recruiting was embedded in the operative’s talk. The man had evidently seen a lot of action abroad, he spoke a variety of languages fluently, including Spanish and German, and he talked about what he could of what he did and how he lived. It was not, however, the details of the agent’s account that interested the boy. What emerged was an impression of solidity, of genuinely patriotic dedication to the mission of serving the country, whatever the cost in human terms. What the man said was real, and he stood his ground well against a barrage of potentially embarrassing questions. This man was not a stereotype, and his deportment, speech and mannerisms exuded self-confidence and quiet pride.
Some of the boy’s classmates took courses in American government where contemporary events were examined in detail, but by and large, the current events show-and-tell sessions in Geography or Social Studies classes were the only formal windows on the world. The school’s United States history courses fell far short of the present day, and students were left with the impression of a gap between Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. It was assumed, perhaps correctly, that the students would get a version of recent and contemporary history from the observations of their parents and grandparents on the evening television news programs (NBC, CBS and ABC were the plain vanilla choices drawn through rabbit-ears antennae into living rooms) or the local newspapers, which the boy and his brother delivered but had little time to read. Weekend televised commentary reinforced the weekly lessons in politics and religion, and the keepers of the media culture--largely leaders in the wartime propaganda machine, kept “on message” so well that most students became oblivious of events outside their daily routine. And why not? What could they constructively do to alter situations that seemed to be endemic to the human condition?
In the boy’s junior year, this pattern and these attitudes began to change. Cynics would say that the nation was being re-programmed, and the boy felt that he was caught between two antithetical worlds. For example, the two brothers Robert and Dave whose beautiful sister Nan had tried out for cheerleader but was rejected for her California hand motions, would descend on the school lunchroom right near the end of the lunch period with clip boards on which were questionnaires about geography, historical trivia, people in the news and current events including bestselling books and recent films. With pencils poised above their forms, they would ask questions, look disappointed when no answer or the wrong answer was forthcoming, and they would take copious notes.
A pair of non-identical twins became interested in social issues in different ways. The girl began to play the guitar and sing folk songs while her brother, in stark contrast, began to reinforce his Southern prejudices. Another pair of brothers also sang for conscience, and one of them much later became a writer for The Village Voice. Overnight, it seemed, the class’s lurking social consciousness was evoked by singing and by imagery that necessitated a response. For example, the boy’s classmates might recall that on the back of one first floor classroom wall was spread a picture of hungry black African children with an unsettling message about prejudice and the relationship between the themes of deprivation and unrest. The contrast between this heart-rending image of emaciated children tacked to the wall and the heart-stopping kick-line of more-or-less synchronized swinging legs of front-row pneumatic beauties, all chewing gum at different rates, sums up the irony of the boy’s time.
Around the same time, the boy was identified as dangerously literary--and not only for his criticism, but also for his irrepressible penchant for writing verse. His poetry, in English and in Latin, was singled out to be read aloud by him standing before the class. One of his Latin creations, “proelio desisto,” was commanded to be read in Latin with its English translation in the author’s English class. Outside of classes the boy’s poetry was both a game and very serious to himself and his peers. He would write poems for special people. Some Maury classmates probably still have the evidence of this prolific strain (though he preferred that the very private poems might remain such), and one brown-haired lass may still harbor her seventy-odd separate poems, the record at the time. He did not limit himself to love poetry. Indeed, he would recite or write short satirical poems and epigrams, often impromptu. He experimented with sonnets, couplets, blank verse, free verse and haiku, which was a very popular form used mainly by the girls in his class. He began to play with adapted Latin forms in imitation of Classical models but with a contemporary twist. And he would also write long allegorical poems, one of which, he was told by the younger of the two Campana sisters, had three separate interpretive keys extant, all different and, the boy thought, all valid to about the same degree. The boy felt that interpretation was the province of the reader, not the writer, so he refused to provide a key to his own work. What would literature become if each writer tried to interpret his or her own work for the audience? Anyway, the divina rabies that afflicts the poet has a creative life of its own--even the poet has trouble understanding what is the secular equivalent of, well, revelation.
As a young literary figure, the boy, along with two of his male friends, was awarded the privilege of going to the book van to select any five new paperback books for free. Trouble was, the portly bookseller who genially ushered the boy into the dark van and heartily endorsed the boy’s choices--which included William Shirer’s book about the Third Reich--tried to rip the front covers off the new books the boy had chosen. Appalled, the boy stopped the desecration, told the man to put the books back on their shelves and fled from the van without the books. At his back came the bookseller’s words to the effect that he simply “had” to tear the covers off gift books, or students would sell the books for money. He bellowed that he had “orders”! Indeed. In fact, the thought of selling those prize books had never occurred to the boy, and his anger led to his crusade against the prize idea itself. Better than despoil a book, he reasoned, invite a scholar to select a book that might become a library holding that could serve many students in its original form.
As the boy’s tastes rapidly matured from Islandia and the poetry of E. A. Robinson and E. A. Poe in the summer of his sophomore year to Cry, The Beloved Country and The Wasteland in the summer of his junior year, his physical growth took a corresponding leap. In the resplendent fall of his senior year suddenly he was over six feet tall, his detested braces finally came off, and he was taking private driving lessons and looking forward to his first driving date. His poetry through all this change was one constant, and the boy was very pleased to learn that as a young man of many talents--which he later had the unusual good fortune to deploy in a variety of roles, John Milton had informed his father of his desire to be a poet.
What years to grow in wonder, the boy thought at the time at Maury. He guessed that he and his classmates would likely see the year 2000, the fabled Second Millennium. And Armageddon? Perhaps, perhaps not. Fire, or ice was the final choice Robert Frost’s poem portended, and that poet’s casual allowance for sufficiency, couched in light ironic verse, mingled humor with fate without rancor. Or would the boy witness “the fire next time”? In somber moments, he and his special friends, or he and his very special teachers would ponder what might come in cosmic terms. In his senior year, the boy learned how to spell “eschatology,” and as he coursed and careered intellectually between the first time and the end of time, he began to intuit the meaning of Existentialism and surmised time’s closing after all. He read Salinger and Kerouac and increasingly dark stories and poems, and he worried about his mortality. Some of his senior poems reveal a dark brooding over some vast abyss in his soul.
Chapter 8. Sandbridge
“Why, if it isn’t Blondie Stewart. You did come after all. Careful, darling, it is good to see you again and all, but be careful you don’t crush my corsage. Land sakes, it has been--how long? How the time flies and how the world has changed. Let me look at you. Turn around now. Again. You have not aged a day or changed one itty bit. Don’t you say a word! I know someone here you might like to say hello to. Wait here just a minute. Don’t move now. Stand there, turn your back--have I got a surprise for you. I’ll be right back. Don’t peek. I still can’t believe the luck.”
“Is it you, then, Miss Blondie? Can you imagine that in all the world we should meet at the Exposition? What are the chances? Turn around and look at me.”
“Jed, just stop now. Your sister is bringing someone to meet me, and you will spoil her fun.”
“Well, then, I’ll just come up behind you, seeing that you are a captive of Kitty’s pleasure and bite you right on the neck. Hasn’t a husband the right to bite his wife on the neck in the middle of this Exhibition floor?”
“Jed, stop. Unnnnngh. Oh, you bad man. Mmmmm. How you do that. Now stop it. Kitty will be scandalized. She will. You are an incorrigible beast. Where can she be?”
“Jed, Blondie, cut out that canoodling, turn around now and take a look. This is my husband, your brother Cal.”
“Hi, Sis! It has been much too long--two years? And Jed. You old swamp fox, you scalawag, you rapscallion, you mangy hound dog, what have you been up to? Shaved of your beard again, I see. Thought you looked too distinguished with it anyway. Last I heard, you had run off leaving Blondie alone so you could gamble and drink your way down the Mississippi on the River Boat Queen.”
“Lies, all despicable lies, Cal. But you have given me a good idea. Ow! Blondie, stop kicking me. I was just kidding.”
“Cal, you should be ashamed of yourself. Gosh, it is good to see you and Kitty. We’ll all have to sit down somewhere and enjoy the day, catch up on all the news. We are dying to hear what you have been doing to the old plantation grounds. Jed, you arrange for the refreshments. You know what I like.”
“Well, Blondie, as a wild guess, would that be a pitcher of mint juleps?”
“You never know when you just might need such a pitcher. And I know just the man I would cool down with a pitcher like that if he ever got out of line.”
“Sis, that is sure corny. But ain’t it good to have us all together again, with the kids all grown and out doing fine on their own, and the four of us, all alive and hale and hardy?”
“Not that we haven’t left a lot of good people behind.”
“Amen, brother, amen. Here is a shady table, and look at the flowers. Now, ahem, about those juleps, General. First round for departed friends!”
--Blondie’s Dream within the Boy’s Dream
When Blondie awakens from her dream of a distant, future, better time, she finds herself sore all over and still tired from sleeping on the ground. She is close by a campfire in a wood. She is covered by a horse blanket. Her brother and she are hiding from marauding Union forces. The closer the siblings have gotten to where they think they can pick up Jed's trail, the more difficult their effort becomes. Of course, Jed might be dead or, perhaps worse, captured and in some Yankee prison. But Blondie perseveres. She will die before giving up her quest. And Cal would rather die than abandon his sister or his best friend, fellow soldier and future brother in law.
Later that morning, brother and sister try to make a galloping break across a clearing, but they are stopped by two renegade blue suit soldiers, who make the mistake of trying to abuse Blondie. Cal overcomes one of the would-be rapists in a fury, and the other is about to shoot Cal in the back when he himself is shot in the forehead. Cal, surprised by the sudden collapse of his antagonist, looks all around for the unseen protector, but cannot see who it is. He does make out a distant rider, who is not in a Union uniform. The closer the rider gets, the more confused Cal and Blondie become. The man is dressed in a Confederate general’s uniform, but he has a wild beard with wisps of hay and long flowing locks that are matted like a hermit’s. When he closes with the pair, he vaults off his horse and stands at full attention, and winks.
"Miss Blondie, how beautiful you are even when you are in grave danger. And you have not changed one iota. She hasn't changed, has she, Cal?” Blondie replied, "Why, Sir, I shall always remain yours truly, and that will keep me forever young. As for yourself, I would say you have had better days. But I have not had a better in a very long time now that I have found you. Come here into my arms if you will, you big bear. And kiss me hard and hold me close. Even if I smell like a horse blanket and you smell like a Yankee mule--and you do, you are the very best vision I might have, ever. And I want to know that you are real and I want to see you every day for the rest of our lives. You are so noble and so fine, you make me proud to be in love with you."
Cal did a spin, picked up the pistols of their fallen foes, and drifted away from the spooning pair. He could not think of things ending any other way for either his sister or his brother-in-law to be. They belonged together always. But under the circumstances, he thought they should take cover.
"Jed and Blondie, carn sawn it, let's ride. If we don't, we might get a chance to kill a few more Yanks, but I won't get to be best man at the wedding."
As the brothers mounted up, Blondie said a silent prayer of thanks, and then aloud, she said, “Oh, be still my heart! †I just knew I would find my Jed, no matter how long it took or what I would have to go through or what condition I would find him in. †And, as God is my witness, rest assured, nothing will ever separate us again.”
--Thus Ended the Boy’s Recurrent Dream
One of the finest beach haunts in the Tidewater vicinity in those days was the isolated area known as Sandbridge. (M.W. 1) Erosion has taken its toll, and the expensive beach homes that lie closest to the incessant pounding surf are imperiled even when a hurricane is not upsetting the balance of nature, forcing the waters through fierce channels and rough rip tides that can sometimes drag a strong swimmer under to his or her death. If you turned left at the end of the road leading to the beach area, you soon found yourself in some exquisite and extremely expensive modern beach homes. The boy was fond of a girl named Janice whose family lived in Marsh Meadows, but vacationed in one of the grander homes at Sandbridge. She and her brother had been adopted, and she longed to know who her natural mother was. So the boy naturally saw a lot of that stretch of beach in the summer months, even after he and the girl drifted apart.
He and Janice had visited the Ouija board, and at the time it seemed to confirm their warm feelings for each other by calling out her initials. Yet he had carried other flames who had the same initials, and he wondered whether he might be part of a comical pattern of duplicitous repetition: the same initials, different girls, in infinite series. Janice later appeared at just the right moment in his life to make a difference, and many years after that called suddenly without warning to catch up on what he had done. At the time, she had a fine husband and four children, one of whom was a girl as wild and wonderful as she was. The boy, by then a man, and the girl, by then a wife in her prime, laughed how lucky they had both been together and apart. They picked up their conversation as they had when once they tried to reassert their love--in this very spot at Sandbridge--and as they had when after they had talked for hours in the front seat of his car, she, like a muse, had changed his life again. In their last phone conversation, they agreed not to meet again not only so that her husband could never have suspicion, but also so that they might remain forever young in their respective memories, as he had suggested long ago himself.
He would come to Sandbridge with other girls to walk barefoot in the sand and the sudsy edges of the surf on that steep-sloped slant of beach in daylight, at dusk and even after dark in all weather. Each time had its special charm because each girl was entirely different from the others, each charming in her own way, each with her unique potential. How they looked, what they said, how they flicked their wrist or threw their hair over their shoulder or knocked their knees when they walked or lay sunning or ran through the surf or chose to notice this flotsam, that piece of whitened bone or that rare crimson flower in the sand.
Sometimes he drove down to Sandbridge alone. On a clear day, he would watch the distant lights of the ships and listen to the ocean sounds and the sounds of sea fowl. In the fog and rain, he would let his body become drenched to the core and he would fancy that he was completely assimilated with the atmosphere. It was Charlotte who had taught him the marvel of standing unafraid in the pouring rain. “Why not,” she said, “it’s natural.” And she was off running, forward, and then backwards, her hair bouncing on her back, her hands flying all over like precocious tethered birds. He forever after thought of her as The Rain Queen.
Up on the low dune ridge that lined the beach, he would listen to the soft clatter of sea oats, and he would wonder about the warm winds that seemed never to stop running this way and that, bending the reeds this way and that and sometimes breaking them over if they were dry into fairy patterns. In places the vegetation appeared to have taken the impression of some huge beast that might have reclined there. In other places lay the ruins of bonfires that had kindled souls afire with young love.
--An heiress with bright golden eyes. Aristocratic, beyond reproach, unafraid.
--A girl with an encyclopedic mind and a soul to match. Careful and delicate.
--A nut brown girl who, winter and summer, looked as if she should be emerging like Venus from the sea. Proud and beautiful and free.
--A girl in tears, walking head down, unable to speak, uttering a low groaning sound. Inconsolable. Soulful, empathic, insightful.
The boy liked to stand in a bright windy spot, braving the hail of invisible sand that relentlessly wandered in a firestorm of gusts and burnished spikes of half-buried metal fencing or beat against the weathered sides of homes, speckling or removing the paint. He would watch the light veneer of dry sand fall over the wet brown swaths where the surf washed and bubbled. The sea restored the boy’s soul, and it gave him back to his poetry.
“We can’t go on like this.”
“Why not? The night has only just begun.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I mean not to know what you mean. I don’t believe you. I can’t believe us. Have you thought about what you are saying?”
“Incessantly. Obsessively. But we are young. I have, what, four years of college, three or four years of medical school, then interning and residency, setting up practice. That is if everything works out just right, which it never does. Add it up. Can’t you see?”
“All I see is what I love--you. I cannot understand all this. Look what you are doing to us. Look what you are doing to ME. Who’s crying now? Look at me, look! Have you found someone else? Tell me. Just tell me why? In plain language. This is no time for your comments. And no poetry.”
“No, no poetry just now. We start to fail. We must fall. Years from now, we will both know what we had together. And it will have been innocent and pure and good and whole, start to finish.”
“And so it’s over? Yes? You will miss me.”
“Yes, I have missed you already. I miss you now. I will never forget you.”
“You will come back.”
“I cannot say. No--I must say it. No, it will never be the same with us. It is not you--you are simply wonderful. It is not someone else either. There is no one else. What I see ahead for me is a kind of darkness with only the slightest sliver of light. What my soul tells me is that if I follow the light, I might emerge one day in a white paradise.”
“And while you follow your light, I fall into darkness. I am falling now. Can’t you see that this cannot be good. It is evil. Evil. And Hell. White Paradise, is that what you see? Why not for me? Why not for us? What demon is tormenting you now? Is it me, or is it something you mistake for me? Why do you visit it on me? Why did we ever fall in love? How, if all you say is true, can you look that way at me--still. No. Hate me. Heap scorn on me. Strike me. Abuse me. Do something terrible to me. Do it now. Make something happen that will stop my loving you.”
“It is simply what we must endure, but separately. And we have to break clean now and not simply drift apart. I could not bear the rancor or the pain of drifting slowly away without clarity. And this is best--my leaving you free and our selves intact. And I will always love you. Know it. As I have never lied to you, and you have always been true to me.”
“How could you! How dare you! Oh, how I love you. But I know you. Believe me, I do. Sometimes I think I know you better than anyone else on earth. Now, tonight, this minute, I don’t know you. You aren’t YOU tonight. But I feel I do deserve us. I don’t deserve THIS. I am confused. And angry. I don’t know what I should do or say. You are so stubborn sometimes and so blind. Don’t touch me now! Don’t! Why did we ever meet? Why do I feel such pain? And if we never see each other again, remember me.”
“Always. All ways. And we are lucky to have known each other in the springtime of our lives. So very, very lucky. Goodbye.”
M. W. 1 Sandbridge
“Just to the south of Dam Neck sits Sandbridge, its name was derived from the narrow sliver of land it is situated on that protects the Back Bay area from the encroachment of the sea. Developed in the sixties as a cottage resort community, the southernmost end of the area was once part of the Little Island Station community of 1881. Only a few buildings sprang up around this most remote of the stations and in 1933 the hurricane swept all but the main Coast Guard Station away.”
Sandbrige is a narrow strip of sand, five miles long, about nine miles south of Virginia Beach and about 25 miles from Norfolk. As late as the early 1950’s, the strip was uninhabited, except for the odd fishing shanty, and at the southernmost end of the area the Little Island Lifesaving Station, which was built in the 1880s.
Up until the beach houses arrived, the only word that really described this stretch of beach was desolate -- just sand, sea and sky. With the Atlantic on one side, and Back Bay on the other -- it’s probably not too difficult to guess how this stretch of beach got its name. Looking eastward, the next stop is mother England; spinning around and looking westward -- the rest of America.
In those days, Sandbridge was a place to be alone, to have a noisy party where all could whoop and holler into the wee hours, to fish or just to be one with ocean, the sun, the moon. It was not so far away from Norfolk that it was too difficult to access, but just far away enough that only those who appreciated this sort of beauty would make the effort to go. To get onto the beach at Sandbridge took an off-road vehicle of some sort (such as jeep or truck), or being adventurous enough to let the air out of your car’s tires so that they would better support the car’s weight as it ventured off the road’s hard surface and not sink into the sand.
One of the great pleasures afforded to people who live near the ocean is watching the sun come up. To do so requires being up and on the beach before dawn, of course. At that hour, the beach is damp and frequently cold. But there is light -- a pale, blue-green light emanates from the water as it crashes on the beach adding to the starlight, and depending on the time of month -- moonlight. Slowly, about thirty minutes before sunrise, there is a hint of red can be seen seeping over the horizon. As the minutes pass, the hint turns into an assertion, and the dark begins to recede. Little-by-little, an arc of red begins to emerge over the horizon. A band of light begins to occupy the sky above the horizon. The arc continues to rise. The red gives way to yellow. Within a matter of minutes, a red orb has been elevated above the horizon, so that there is now space between the sea and the sky. The air is not immediately warmed, but the skin does absorb some of energy of the sun. The new day has arrived. After a bit, the dampness is gone, and it’s time for a walk up (or down) the beach, or roll up in a blanket and go back to sleep (depending on what time you got up to be on the beach while it was still dark). Watching this simple, almost perfect, event adds to the list of things that makes one say: “Life is good.”
Swimming in the ocean along this stretch could be difficult, even for strong swimmers. There are strong rip tides that could drag a weak swimmer out to sea. Further, there is a vicious undertow that can drag someone underwater. Many swimmers were drowned in the rough surf that crashed down on the beach over the years. And as people began to appear in greater numbers, so did other predators -- such as sharks. Shark attacks on people now happen along this stretch of beach, in the surf and not too far off shore. Reports of such attacks during before the '60s did not occur.
By the time we were starting Maury as freshmen in 1959, people had long since begun to build homes on the strip, changing the place forever from a place of “nothingness” to a place of “somethingness”. While the changes at Sandbrige were really no different than those that happened all over the tidewater during the development of other parts of the coast, being the last untouched stretch of beach it was a profound change that we could watch during our formative high school years. We could go back in time to when America was young at Sandbridge.
Before the homes started popping up, the beach was both empty and unkempt. Debris washed up on the shore, and was half-buried -- here and there. Logs, tires, trees and tree parts as well as broken wooden shipping crates were not hard to find, especially after a storm. Local historians claim that almost 200 wrecks occurred along this stretch of coast; sooner or later the sea would return to the land that which it had taken so violently. Lifesaving stations were constructed at intervals from a place called Seatack, which eventually evolved into the city of Virginia Beach, south towards North Carolina. The men who served in the Lifesaving Service, would row large wooden boats out into the stormy ocean to where ships were grounded, or in distress. Survivors would be returned to terra firma at the risk of life and limb to the lifesavers. On occasion, the lifesavers would pay with their own lives, as the severity of a storm was such that even their large wooden boat was nothing more than a matchbox to be smashed by an angry ocean. The Coast Guard was created, the lifesaving stations came under its jurisdiction.
In the early days of colonies, pirates roamed up and down the Atlantic coast, and had to be dealt with. As early as 1627, the colonists debated the advisability of placing a lighthouse at nearby Cape Henry to guide ships into the Chesapeake Bay safely at night. The Bay, and its tributaries, was a favorite haunt for buccaneers who plied the Virginia coast. The plan for the lighthouse never materialized; so the colonists resorted to what we might today call “Plan B” -- building bonfires of pine knots, and having men keep these fires burning all night. The pirates, being equally innovative, turned this improvised lighthouse to their own advantage, and with true piratical cunning used their own signal fires to lure vessels aground, putting the cargoes and crews at their mercy. A lighthouse was not built at Cape Henry until 1792--after the Colonies had separated themselves from the motherland.
Beachcombers would come out in great numbers after big storms at Sandbridge, as all manner of things would wash up from the sea bottom. For the most part, it was all junk -- but walking the beach hoping to find a gold doubloon, or a piece-of-eight was always talked about by the kids in the back seat of the car as our family headed to Sandbridge for the day. Of course, the logs were the most valuable to find since it would become fuel for the fire to cook dinner. The Navy had purchased a piece of swamp land at the beginning of World War II not too far away as an auxiliary air strip. This base eventually expanded to about eight times its original size, becoming what is now called a Master Jet Base -- named NAS Oceana. This stretch of coast was used as a firing range. Expended brass .50 Cal casings by the thousands would wash up on the shore, to be dug up by beachcombers young and old. Occasionally an dud round would be found -- a real prize for us kids. Even though there were frequently con-trails crisscrossing the sky, I don’t ever remember seeing a plane flying over the beach. After a period of time, the beach would almost become clean, as the wood was burned by party-makers, and other items were hauled off by the beachcombers. When the next storm subsided, the beach would be littered--and the cycle would begin again.
After the people started building houses at Sandbridge, the pristine desolation disappeared. Having a place to go to build as big a bonfire as you like disappeared forever. While Sandbridge is still a very desirable place to visit, having this whole stretch of beach to yourself and your desires is not likely to happen again.
Chapter 9. Unheard Music
Where are the songs of spring, aye, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.
--John Keats, “Ode to Autumn”
The boy’s world was full of music. He studied the violin and played the instrument in the Norfolk Youth Symphony Orchestra with the black-haired Greek girl and the flame-haired Chiquita and the prim Don Esquala and Harold Black who later became an English Professor, and all of those were in his High School class. The boy’s home was full of music. One brother studied the trumpet and his other brother and sister played piano. The boy’s mother had come from a musical family--her brothers formed a band, and she played the violin and enjoyed classical music as well as “Elvin Pelvin.” In the morning while shaving the boy’s father listened to C&W, which was his private preserve, until he gained a son-in-law with the same tastes.
The boy also enjoyed singing. Song was a boundary-splitter. The boy enjoyed singing in Church and in neighborhood caroling parties and in special event singing for the Shut-Ins, a whole hidden world apart. And no one could stray far from the sounds of the radio. In fact, song has a way of invading the soul. Everywhere the boy went, the unheard music continued in his mind. The patterns as well as the specific strains fed inexorably into his poetry.
The boy also attended musical events at the school and in the city during one of the most exciting eras of music in Norfolk’s history--largely fostered by quiet wealthy patrons, like the Thrasher and Mrs. Strauss, who saw to it that the Norfolk Symphony and the Feldman Quartet attained a quality on par with the top regional groups in the country. And the McAllister family who were and are Class of ‘63 Angels. And, of course, this was the era, only recently ended by his death, of the legendary Sidney Berg. Students involved in the Maury Band had unparalleled instruction and encouragement that followed many into musical careers.
Music therefore did overlap traditional boundaries. Many of the boy’s fellow orchestra members were from Maury, Granby and Norfolk Academy. Some studied under Mr. Green, the boy’s virtuoso teacher, himself a member of the Norfolk Symphony, who recorded professionally and was married to an opera diva. The boy will never forget Mr. Green’s sobering advice, which was given over a period of three years and can be summarized in the following disjointed quotations:
“You simply must choose: baseball or the violin. I cannot bear to think of your crushing your fingers and spoiling your chances for life.”
“Your fingers have grown far too long. You play beautifully, but Heifitz has small, almost petite hands. And look at mine--put your hand up to mine. See? What is that, an inch over? Can you really palm a basketball as you said? Well, that confirms my suspicion. Maybe you should think of a transition to the viola, or the cello or the base?”
“We need for you to baby sit again. My wife has her performances and so do I. Would you mind? I am glad our son enjoys your company so much. He tells us all your stories. Someday, we will have to hear them from the source. Well, six o’clock?”
“I am not going to play this piece for you. You will sight read. I am afraid that when I play it first, all you do is play back because you have such a memory for the music. I want you to be able to interpret from the music on the page, all by yourself, as if I were not involved at all. You are simply too good at imitation. Brilliant. Inspired. I have never heard or witnessed anything like it. But your focus should be on the music as the composer conveyed it through his special code--that clef, these notes and measures. What I or anyone else does with those is only ONE interpretation. It may have nothing to do with the composer’s intent. What if you were Beethoven--and you are deaf like him--and you wanted somehow to convey your musical soul but could never hear what anyone made of what you wrote? Frustrating. But come now, bow up, elbow in. And one.”
“I cannot play with you today. It is the bursitis in my elbow. Bowling again. I have to save my arm for performance. Damn. Anyway, let’s start with the Kreutzer piece. Oh, but wait, we will start with the arpeggios to warm up a little. Oh, this elbow! My wife is furious with me when I do this. She wants me to quit bowling. Imagine.”
With one male friend and two female friends, the boy tried to start a Maury string quartet, but busy schedules could not be coordinated so the idea was short lived. The striking aspect of this attempt was the eagerness of the two violinists, the violist and the cellist to agree to the idea! And the boy was the wandering minstrel at the MYF spaghetti dinner where he both played popular favorites on his violin and sang.
So on one track, so to speak, he enjoyed playing Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and Hindemith, among other Classical composers” works. But for all his music friends and for all other students at Maury, there was ROCK “N” ROLL! Blondie wondered where the boy, now a many, would tuck this important aspect of his generation’s high school experience. At the time, there were no Walkman units, no CDs (and no computers), no snap-in tape recorders and not much FM radio. But AM radio was ubiquitous, and Norfolk’s music on radio at the time was on par with the best in the country. It was more than a mirror of the national soul--it was a sounding board for youth culture at Maury, and its foundation was definitely not classical in the usual sense.
As a musician associated with the rich tradition from the band (as opposed to the orchestra) perspective, M. W. has specific ideas relating to his experience of music at Maury, that the boy, now a man, and he have switched roles as writer and editor to present them verbatim. The following is from M. W. with R. V. and L. L. accompanying:
Music At Maury High
Before we try to talk about Music at Maury High, it might be worth setting the stage by presenting the briefest of overviews of music in our Western Culture from musicologist:
Music in the Western Culture is the result of various influences, including the formalization of improvised traditions; the growth of notation; the development of tuning systems; the treatment of text; innovative approaches to form; the role of patronage; the absorption of various cultures into the style; the growth of technology; investigations of performance practice; and various other factors.
Western music also benefits from various dualities: sacred and secular traditions; monophonic and polyphonic textures; conservative and progressive tendencies; popularism and elitism; canon and non-canonic works; and other polarities. The western tradition is complicated by these various influences and perspectives, and formal musicological study often becomes a point of departure for other, more individualized investigations of music.
Against the backdrop of teaching, conveying and honoring “Western music”, Maury High School offered students programs in music in all of the traditional areas: chorus, concert/marching band and orchestra. The depths of music and music appreciate suggested by musicology was not taught to students at Maury -- these insights and skills would have to wait for college and real life experiences. Setting the stage for this learning was the goal of the music programs available to Maury students.
The chorus was directed first by Mr. Henry Bernick, and then by Mrs. Hortense Pease; the Band and Orchestra were under the direction of Mr. C. Sidney Berg.
First Bell Chorus
The following narrative about the Maury Chorus comes from our 1963 yearbook (The Commodore) and the memories of members of the Chorus:
Who is there who does not have memories of the beautiful music produced by the First Bell Chorus? Students in the basement floor were often rewarded this year with the trains of lively folk tunes; weary teachers working after hours with absentees were entertained with the Madrigal group, who, too, worked after hours.
The chorus room was a busy place. Unlike most “homerooms”, the Chorus, freshmen through seniors, was assigned together in the Chorus room. It was a nurturing environment with the older students serving as mentors to the younger ones. The boys were at an advantage because they were outnumbered by the girls. Each section (alto, tenor, bass, and soprano) had section leaders to help with crowd control. Usually, they were the seniors. The officers also helped keep things focused on the music.
The Class of 1963 had two choral directors during its tenure. Henry Bernick was the director our sophomore year and had been the director at Maury since the legendary Mrs. Wood left. He was a fabulous director, in his thirties and had a great sense of humor. His taste in music was excellent leaning toward the classical. During his last year, the Chorus prepared for five different performances--one with the then Norfolk Symphony and the other with the Maury band directed by Sidney Berg. We had a very full plate. He left after that year because his marriage was falling apart, and after it became clear he had an affair with one of the teachers -- Principal Tonelson was not very understanding about that sort of thing.
Hortense Pease had been the music teacher at nearby Blair Junior High School for years. She had a real knack teaching students how to sing with proper use of their voice, and also breathing. She had been the musical director of "Patches" at Blair and always received rave reviews for the productions. The school board tapped her to replace Henry Burdick after he left in 1962.
Mrs. Pease was very petite, walked with a limp caused by a car accident and was very emotional. She had an artistic temperament. She depended greatly on two people--the chorus president and Miss Batten, our accompanist. Miss Batten had been there it seemed forever and really knew her stuff.
Mrs. Pease loved to pick more contemporary, crowd pleasing music, reviving the “musical” at Maury that had been discontinued when the schools had been integrated in 1957.
Christmas music, especially the beautiful program given for the entire student body, set the mood for the holidays and united all in a wonderful spirit for the holidays and united all in a wonderful spirit of fellowship. The annual community performance of the “Messiah” found them participating and piling up memories of compliments paid for their fine contribution.
At Old Saint Paul's Church, the Chorus always sang at the Feast of Lights celebrating the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. It was a beautiful ceremony where each Chorus member walked down the aisle singing with a candle burning.
Students wore robes which looked like those worn by choirs in the Episcopal churches -- black robes with a flowing white overshirt, difficult to keep clean and neat. Each member had to take them hope to wash and iron. Today, the Choral robes are flashier, using the Maury colors.
Mrs. Pease also started a small girls singing group (12-14 members), which sang at the Shriner's Temple, the Navy Y and other local businesses who invited the group to perform. Departing from the more formal music normally performed by the Chorus, this group also sang pop music for these engagements. Being high school girls, the trip to the Navy Y was exciting, and a lot of giggling was heard by all. Most of these "gigs" were around the holidays.
Twenty-four members attended Allstate and Workshop Choruses provided music for all graduation functions.
While instrumental music is frequently abstract, requiring mental gymnastics at times on the part of the listener to make any sense of the performance, the human voice is far less abstract because, well -- it’s human. Choral music, undoubtedly as old as human communication itself, provides a very easy-to-understand instrument for the purpose of interacting with another using the realm of music. Moreover, because choral music allows for the delivery of stories, historical incidents and human values, it becomes the mainstay for artists to convey our common culture from generation to generation.
Choral music is one of the most effective tools to convey the common values which we call “culture” between the generations. This cementing of our culture is evident from reviewing the Chorus program present during our senior year called: “Music in Our Heritage.”
The program included the following:
Music to Worship
Let Every Tongue Adore Thee -- Bach
Paper Reeds by the Brook -- Isaiah/Randal Thompson
Let all the Nations Praise the Lord -- Leisring
Music for the People
He’s Gone Away -- Southern Mountain Song
Hora/Song of Galilee -- Hebrew Songs
Nightfall in Skye -- Scottish Song
Comin’ Through the Rye -- Scottish Song
Out of the Silence -- American Art Song
Selections: Girl’s Chorus
Rondo Movement of the Beethoven Sonata in E Opus 14
Music from Broadway
Carousel/If I Loved You -- Rogers and Hammerstein
The King and I/Hello Young Lovers -- Rogers and Hammerstein
Oklahoma/Oklahoma -- Rogers and Hammerstein
Camelot/If Ever I Would Leave You -- Lerner & Lowe
Songs from West Side Story -- Bernstein
You’ll Never Walk Alone -- Rogers and Hammerstein
Music for Americans
America the Beautiful
The Nation’s Creed
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Music and our American culture --- based on Judeo/Christian values clearly shines through in the music taught, and performed, at Maury in those years.
Where are they now?
The sophomore Keyette who lived just over the bridge going into Larchmont who was the District winner of the Lion’s Club music contest?
The President of the Chorus?
Miss “Curtain Call” for 1963?
Mr. “Curtain Call” for 1963?
The Maury Band
The Maury Band was a marching band in the fall; when football season concluded after the Thanksgiving game, focus shifted to become a concert band for the rest of the year. Sidney Berg’s bands consistently earned superior ratings at Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association Concert Band Festivals and earned a reputation as having one of the most elite High School Band Programs -- not only within Virginia, but in the entire nation.
Based on the Band’s skills and reputation, Dr. Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted the Christmas Concert in 1954. Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman, composer/conductor and founder of the Goldman Band which drew New York City crowds as large as 25,000 and also founded of the American Bandmasters Association, was guest conductor twice before his death in 1956. In 1957, the Band presented the grand opening concert of the Mid-West National Band Clinic in Chicago replacing the US Marine Band of Washington, DC. In 1960, the Band was invited to Atlantic City to participate in the National Music Educators Conference competitions. During his nineteen years at Maury, the Band earned first division ratings in every district and state festival, performing in the most difficult music classification. The Maury Band was the only Virginia high school band of the 43 bands selected for the John Philip Sousa Foundation Historic Roll of Concert Bands from 1920-1960.
There were pictures on the walls of the Band room documenting these events, and as well as many others. Sidney did not dwell on these laurels, however. From time-to-time he looked backed and made mention of the past -- but for the most part, he always had the Band looking forward. This did have a small downside though, since many of us never understand the reputation of the Band which was then sitting on our shoulders to uphold and pass on to the class following ours.
But it was not until 1996, over fifty years after his coming to Maury, that Sidney Berg was elected to the American Bandmasters Association -- the most prestigious of the organizations of American music directors.
The Band produced records of their concerts for students to tuck away in their music collections -- to remember their high school achievements in later life. Someday, maybe someone will collect all of these records and re-release them on DVD.
Remembrances of Sidney Berg
Sidney Berg was the Bandmaster at Maury from 1944 until 1963. When he first arrived, Maury did not have a band room or a drill field or musical instruments. However, Maury was anxious to create a Band -- so Sidney decided to accept the job of their Bandmaster.
He was, for me, the most memorable of my teachers for reasons that might be difficult to fully state at this late date. Band members spent more time with Sidney than any of their other teachers -- sometimes spending as much as four-five hours a day practicing, practicing, practicing.
Each September, Sidney started the school year with one quarter of his band comprised of freshmen. Freshmen with two left feet, sometimes with little real talent for music, and no idea what four years “Before the Mast” was going to be like.
For most teachers, if their students did not perform well -- no one really knew. But for a Bandmaster, if his students did not perform well -- everyone knew. While the Band perhaps did not command the same “respect” that football and basketball did -- when the band was on the field, people watched. There was no room for mistakes, no room for screwups. Taking a hundred teenagers who did not know each other, and had never worked together before from the first day of the fall semester to the half-time activities of the first football game -- might not have been the domain of a miracle worker, but it seemed like it some years.
Sidney Berg was so prevalent in the lives of the Band Members that he might well have taken on more of a role than that most teachers do. He was always a source of strength, always leading by example, always recognizing that there were multiple solutions to most problems, and that hard work was the one resource that each of us possessed which would solve most of our problems. He was not one to let a mouthy student “get one over” on him. He usually had a snappy comeback when a student got a little feisty and challenged him verbally.
Musicians of Excellence
While many of the kids in the band were not particularly good musicians, there were a number who were excellent musicians -- whose talents and energies could not be understated. The fellow who sat as first trumpet was talented beyond his years. His father was a trumpet player, so he grew up “in the trade”. During his first year at Allstate Band, he was not awarded the highly prized “first chair”. After mulling this over for a short while, he began to hit some “triple high Cs” -- the sort of thing that jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson was want to do. The conductor immediately had this fellow moved to the “first” chair, which he was awarded each time that Allstate Band convened until he graduated.
A number of the student musicians went on to play in college, and then professionally after college. A Baritone player played in an Army Band, and a clarinet player became a recorder player in a historic setting in Williamsburg. A percussionist continued his association with Sidney after high school -- playing in the orchestras that Sidney directed. Others continue to play in church and volunteer bands, groups and orchestras to this day. There’s no telling how many student musicians took music as a vocation based on their experiences with music under the baton of Sidney Berg, but given the high levels of talent exhibited by these people -- it would not be surprising to find that a fairly high number ended up as musicians -- either amateur or professional -- later in life.
Sidney Berg Stories
Oddly, for all of the hundreds of hours spent in Sidney’s presence, I can only remember a couple of specific “stories” which highlight his character that are worthy of telling. He was forever making references to his days at the University of Michigan, and to the conductor: of the U. Michigan Band: William D Revelli. One piece of music being performed by the University of Michigan Band required tubular bells, which were to be struck very, very quietly at some point in the music. Revelli told that Sidney that his tap on the bells was too loud. Ravelli started the music up and when Sidney again failed to produce the softest of bell sounds, Ravelli apparently became agitated. Sidney then told us that he took a nickel out of his pocket so that Revelli could see it, and when it was time to strike the bells again, Sidney waved the nickel near the bells, but did not actually touch them. Revelli seemed happy with this result, and the story became yearly fare when a piece of music involving tubular bells was played by the Band.
The other memory that stands out of Sidney Berg was his dissatisfaction with students who did not make early morning band practice (which was almost every day). He would look around the room at sometimes a goodly number of empty chairs, and would say: “students, I can’t rehearse empty chairs”. Of course, the students whose chairs were empty were not around to hear his admonition.
During my sophomore year, I managed to break my arm near the ball socket of the upper arm. Surgery was required to insert a metal pin in the bone; in order to insure proper healing; a full body was required, which elevated the arm above the rest of my body. In order to continue playing in the band, I shifted my trumpet to my left hand, and continued playing. For ordinary band practice, this would not have been much of a problem -- but performing on stage required being clearly seen by the audience. The band uniform would not cover the large, plaster cast. Sidney Berg never said a word about my not participating, and the concert went on with my being a large white blob in an otherwise sea of blue uniforms. Actually, the only problem turned out to be turning music on the stand, and taking the mutes out of the bell of the trumpet. The person to my right helped out -- making my being able to perform possible.
Mr. Berg was a conservative man who thought all of his students should be ladies and gentlemen. One day, during 6th bell practice, a girl came into the band room from the alley door and asked to use the phone. Mr. Berg quickly ushered her into his office and let her make her call. He then ushered her out the door and back into the alley just as quickly. When he returned to the podium, he remarked that her mother may as well have sent her out naked--instead of with jeans that were that TIGHT! He was also against the shaggy look that boys started to wear and was often heard telling some of his students to "get a haircut". (Walt Collins, Maury Class of ‘62)
Band and the Opposite Sex
The band made high demand on every student’s time. This meant that there was little time in the mornings to “cruise” the halls, flirt and other wise practice those skills that would be needed later in life -- in the never-ending battle with the opposite sex. But that did not mean that the young men and women who spent those countless hours in the band room, and on the practice fields, did not notice each other. A number of romances blossomed; some even ended in marriage.
The girls seemed to gravitate to the woodwind sections while the boys seem to dominate the brass and percussion sections. There was a flute player than I was personally smitten with. After a year or so, the time demands were too much for her and she dropped band. Her only picture in the year book is in a group shot of a Tri-Hi-Y. There was another flute player that I was also attracted to -- a raven-haired beauty who easily could have passed for Elizabeth Taylor when she played the role of Rebecca in the film version of Scott’s Ivanhoe in the 1950s. The lead flute and a bass clarinet player were involved. A French horn player and a member of the clarinet section become involved and eventually married. It would take a time machine to be able to be able to travel back in time to investigate how many of us kids in the band had crushes, or unrequited love, for another band member.
We have to remember that this was still the “whitebread” south -- and the kids of that period were still operating under “southern rules” -- boys were taught to “respect” the girls, and the girls were taught to take full advantage of that fact. Holding hands and the occasional kiss was about the extent of the “sex in the band room” in the 1959-1963 timeframe.
Music for the Band
One of the obvious benefits of being in the Band was the ability to make, to become familiar with, and learn to appreciate, music -- music from the world’s great composers.
Stepping back a moment, we might want to return to the intellectual framework of musicology to review a couple of terms. Most of us might well consider the music that symphonies and concert bands perform as “classical”. However, this term is more time-constrained than most of us realize:
The Classic--term which, with its related forms such as 'classic' and 'classicism', has been applied to a variety of music from different cultures and is taken to mean any that does not belong to folk or popular traditions; it is also applied to any collection of music regarded as a model of excellence or formal discipline. But its chief application is to the Viennese Classical idiom which flourished in the late 18th century and the early 19th, above all in the hands of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Among its musical characteristics are the use of dynamics and orchestral color in a thematic way; the use of rhythm, including periodic structure and harmonic rhythm, to give definition to large-scale forms, along with the use of modulation to build longer spans of tension and release (most of the music is cast in sonata form or closely related forms); and the witty, typically Austrian mixture of comic and serious strains. It is no coincidence that this period was one of keen interest in classical antiquity; most of Gluck's 'reform' operas, composed at the beginning of this period, are based on classical subjects.
Musicologists have classified the various periods, or epochs, of musical style as follows:
Post-Modern (Since 1945)
Sidney’s musical choices for Band performances crossed all of these epochs. During the fall Marching Band phase of the year, marches, as well as tunes needed for the football halftime, were the primary fare. But after the final Thanksgiving football game between Maury and Granby, the Band’s attention was refocused on the music which was drawn from each of the epochs after the Baroque.
For example, the Winter Concert of 1959 included the following pieces: Festivals from “Three Nocturnes” by Debussy, Italian Caprice by Tchaikovsky, The Valdres March by Hanssen, Procession of the Nobles by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tubby the Tuba by Kisinsinger and Symphonic Suite by Williams.
The 1960 Spring Concert, following a few months later, offered up: Ides of March by Moore, Symphonic Songs by Bennett, Selections from “The Windjammer” by Gould, Dance with Swords from “Three Japanese Dances” by Rogers, Pavanne by Gould, The Rosenkavalier Waltzes by Strauss and a Symphonic Scenario from “Porgy and Bess.”
For those of us who were freshmen in 1959, most were unfamiliar with this music only three months earlier. It was almost unbelievable that we were able to create the music that we did. But, in reality, our music was the result of hard work, teamwork, and the vision of Sidney Berg--that kids like us could make music that was first class.
Music appreciation was not taught directly to the Band members, as it was later on in college courses. For most of us, such appreciation was acquired over the years by learning the pieces selected for performance by Bandmaster Berg. From time-to-time he would provide some historical context for a given piece -- but coming to terms with music as a cornerstone of our culture, as a means of escape during times of high stress or as a source of infinite pleasure in a world of chaos would have to wait until later in life for most of us. He seemed to enjoy telling us about how Gilbert and Sullivan, the British Opera artists of the Victorian age, eventually came to a point in their personal relationship that they did not speak to each other--but continued to turn out successful operas.
When the time was right to engage with “the music”--we who served in Sidney Berg’s bands were much farther down the road of “enlightenment” than those who just attended our concerts.
In other parts of the country (notably southern California), high schoolers were spending a lot of time in garages--making music--Rock & Roll music. The Class of 1963 did not seem to have many students who were so inclined to start Rock&Roll bands in their garages. On the other hand, Folk Music was in its heyday -- The Kingston Trio, the Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Brothers Four, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and even the Beach Boys gave us music that made us stop and think about the world, and the “good fight” needed to make it a better place. Some of this music that made us a little sad, some was fun, focusing on the foibles of everyday life, but this music generally had the effect of bringing us closer together.
Folk Music was usually sung using a single acoustic guitar as the sole source of instrumental accompaniment. Underclassman Lucia Wheary, who played the guitar, knew all of the best songs, loved to sail, and whose company usually meant that a group of people getting together was going to end up being a great party, frequently contributed her music and presence to our Class. Memories of close friends at the beach, after dark, with a fire in the middle of a group circle, with Lucia singing and playing “cum-baya” or “The Sloop John-B” makes for very warm memories of our senior year and the summer that followed. The American presence in Vietnam was small in 1963. It would be well into 1964 before the more strident protest music would replace Folk music on the radio and in our lives--for our generation would be called upon to fight in Vietnam. Still, at least one upperclassman was engaged in the secret war in Laos, so it is hard to say how many Maury grads were involved prior to the incident in the Tonkin Gulf that threw the country into overt war.
Of course, Rock & Roll blared out of every juke box in the “burger joints”-- like “Pop Hart’s”--which could be found on the on two sides of the school building, and from the car radios of the few students who were old enough to drive. Rock & Roll was everywhere. Too many songs, too many artists: The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes...all of Motown...Everything Elvis....Fats Domino, Dion and the Belmonts - Runaround Sue....Peppermint Twist....Otis Redding- Sitting on the Dock of the Bay....Jackson 5...Johnny Cash...The Four Tops Bobby Darin......Ferrante and Teicher....Buddy Holly...Stevie Wonder-Fingertips ...Mary Wells-My Guy....Stand By Me - Ben E King...Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire...Yakety - Yak The Dick Clark show.
+ (Laurel Lagoyda)
“Slow” music, romantic ballads for those rare times when a boy and a girl might actually be alone, frequently found the rich, silky tones of Johnny Mathis coming out of the phonograph. I doubt that one of us does not remember “Chances Are”, or “The Twelfth of Never” or “It’s Not for Me to Say” with their simple piano, or harp, accompaniments. From 1959 until 1963, Mathis recorded thirteen albums. There was plenty of Johnny Mathis to go around in those days. Remembering back, how many of us stole out first kiss dancing to a Johnny Mathis album? No telling how many couples got “pinned” with a Johnny Mathis song in the background? Johnny was the unrenowned “master of love” during that period of time.
Students also studied privately, on instruments like the piano and the pipe organ. It was not uncommon to hear students pounding away on the piano in the Auditorium before school.
Good music . . . good fun . . . good friends . . . good times.
Until 1968, Virginia was a “dry state”--liquor by the drink was illegal. While there were “beer bars” in the Maury High area, few Maury Students claimed to have made it past the “ID Check” and “hang out” in these establishments. As it got nearer to graduation, there were hints, and then bolder stories, about people going to this bar or that. Some of the kids turned eighteen before graduation -- but with or without a Fake ID -- the 3.2% beer that was served at the bars still tasted like salt water.
Virginia Beach, being a tourist town, had a goodly number of “night clubs” which hosted local and traveling bands. The name “Beach Band” seems to have been given to any band that played beach clubs. Since Virginia Beach was pretty much closed during the winter months, sneaking into even a Virginia Beach Club was reserved for summer time “adventures” -- which meant going with your parents, or knowing someone with access to a car. This was not all that common for us in our sophomore and junior years and really not that common in our senior year either.
One of the more colorful beach bands of the era was one called: “Doug Clark and the Hotnuts.” (G. S. 1) Clark and the Hotnuts, a black band home-based in the Raleigh, NC area, mostly played the college circuit. They also played in the clubs in Virginia Beach, and at private club performances in the area. They could be pretty risqué (or even raunchy). I never saw them perform, but rumor was that they would sometimes come on stage with see-thru plastic rain coats and jock straps -- as their only stage clothes. The Band is still playing today, although Doug Clark passed away a couple of years ago.
Beach bands were simple -- brass heavy (trumpet, trombone and Sax), snare drum set, electrified guitar and keyboard -- with a notable lead singer -- with a back beat that made the music easy to dance to, and fully intended to keep the “joint jumping” and the patrons drinking. Bands like Bill Deal and the Rhondels, which debuted in 1959, have been Beach favorites ever since.
The Virginia Beach / Norfolk / Chesapeake area offered clubs like the Casino, the Mecca, the Top Hat, the Surf Club, the Cavalier, the Ebb Tide, the 2:00 Club, the Triangle, the Latin Quarter and the Sand Bar. Patronizing these clubs would have to wait until after Maury for most of the Class of ‘63.
The dance of the day: “the Shag”. What is the "Shag" you ask? It's a phenomenal dance craze that started in Myrtle Beach in the 40’s and 50's. Local teens invented the dance step that is most suited to Rhythm & Blues music. But "Shag" is much more than a style of swing dancing; it is a way of life for people from Virginia Beach to Florida! Some may even refer to it as a "religion."
When the Jitterbug met R&B:
According to the Smithsonian Magazine:
Down here, the shag is a dance, a stylish, holding hands sort of dance, as old-time Southern as pouring salted peanuts into a sweating bottle of "co-cola." It evolved during the 1940s, at oceanfront pavilions from Virginia Beach to Savannah, Georgia. There, ducktailed hipsters in peg-legged pants shagged to throbbing jukeboxes, affecting an aloof style whose highest expression was cool. From the beach, the shag migrated inland and found fertile ground in country club and cotton crossroads alike. For years the shag was a fixture of Southern culture. You shagged at sock hops, debutante parties, fraternity dances. You shagged in abandoned parking lots and at the end of dead-end roads. And during the summers, you made a pilgrimage to the ramshackle bars and jukebox dives that dotted the Southern shore.
The shagger's fundamental move is "the basic," an eight-count step in which partners move into, then away from, one another. From there it's all Southern-fried jitterbug, highly improvisational, festooned on the fly with spins, fancy footwork and not-so-subtle brushes of hip and chest. Without missing a beat, men mop sweaty brows with white handkerchiefs pulled from the pockets of relaxed-fit jeans. The best seem to glide through the air from the waist up, but their feet are a blur. Shaggers can dance all night in the space of a hula hoop.
(Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts)
Bill Deal & Ammon Tharp (Rhondels) debuted 1959, Virginia Beach, VA
(Bill Deal Clips)
Southern Beach Music:
Opera, the apex of musical art, was beyond our scope and reach as high schoolers. Norfolk did not have an opera company at that time. It was not until a decade later that Edythe C. Harrison organized the Virginia Opera in the Norfolk Center Theater. Like many other aspects of music -- unless it was taught in the home, Opera would have to wait for college, or later in life.
Jazz (G. S. 2)
There were no live performance Jazz clubs in the Maury High “sphere of influence”. Virginia Beach’s Rathskeller Lounge did host groups which played live Jazz. Jazz was available on the radio, for those interested.
These days, kids using a desktop PC can write, perform, record and publish their musical creativity on a DVD. For the Class of 1963, these technologies were not available at the local computer store. It fell to them to move into the industries and universities which would create these technologies during the 1970s, 80s and 90s that allow personal creativity to flourish these forty years later.
Where are they now?
We can only wonder where the members of the Band ended up?
The Trumpet player who hit the “Triple High Cs” at All State Band, and was the First Chair Trumpet for four years at Maury?
The Timpanist who played in other Sidney Berg organizations?
The quiet, raven-haired, flute player who looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor?
The baritone player who also was a photographer for the Maury News?
The Bandmaster’s daughter, who played the Clarinet?
The Harp player with the “pug nose”?
Sidney Berg passed away in April of 2000.
Hortense Pease passed away in 1982.
G. S. 1 I DO remember the Hot Nuts! †I was going steady with D. N. who was two years ahead of me and attended Norfolk Academy. We went to his Valentine’s Day Dance, and the Hot Nuts were playing. †I remember they weren't as raunchy as they were later, but when they started to play one of their "naughty" songs, most of the guys (including D.) took their dates outside--they were embarrassed for us girls to hear it. †My, how times have changed!!! LOL I grew up going to garage sock hops and actually gave a few in my parents” garage. †What fun that was! †Just playing records in somebody’s garage and dancing. †Maybe sneaking outside with your boyfriend for a kiss but that was it! But it was our escape and no parents were there--of course, they were in the house, and I'm SURE they were peeking out the windows just to make sure everything was OK. †Ahhhhhhhh . . . those were the days! †Innocent and just plain fun!
G. S. 2 How about the coooool jazz of that time? I still have a Miles Davis ALBUM. And Dave Brubeck's--Take 5 or Kathy's waltz. I remember someone in the auditorium in the mornings before homeroom playing Ray Charles--What I Say and what about his I Can't Stop Loving You? Someone was playing a piano in the auditorium, if I remember correctly, and it is quite possible that I am wrong, but I think it was a piano that I remember. It was fabulous! I don't know of any dances or sock hops. I led a pretty sheltered life. C. and I attended a street dance at Poplar halls once. It was pretty tame. I didn't attend jazz or other clubs in high school. When I went to DePaul I did some dancing at the Top Hat in Virginia Beach and we had school dances with Navy guys, Midshipmen, etc. I still love the music of the times. Bill Deal and the Rhondells played in Virginia Beach at the Top Hat when I was at DePaul.Chapter 10. The Blockade Team
If ever I should leave you
It wouldn’t be in spring time
Seeing you in spring time,
I never could go.
One thing about the age of Camelot: there never was a dull moment in the news. While the Bay of Pigs episode was confusing and unsettling to the boy, the Cuban Missile Crisis topped the charts of international news events that hit prime time--and the boy’s father was right in the middle of the action. In fact, the crisis’s resolution has become a serious case study in crisis management at the highest levels of government--because things worked out, well, sort of. No nuclear war is always good news, but the victory, as all such, had a cost that was carefully overlooked in the reporting.
The boy, when a man, learned some of what his father had done as a key member of what was called “the blockade team.” He did not learn it from his father, who never mentioned his work at home, but from one of his father’s closest friends. That friend suggested that the boy encourage his father to publish a memoir for posterity’s sake. That may yet happen, and the resulting book will contribute much to the background of our dealing with the crisis in practical terms and how our national assets are mobilized to deal with such events. On the other hand, the book may not happen since some aspects of how our system works must remain behind closed doors forever.
At the time, the boy, though unaware of the extent and importance of his father’s contribution, was proud that his father was wearing the Naval uniform. He was increasingly aware of the role of the Navy in the unfolding events, and he had a new sense of the seriousness of the confrontation between the United States and the USSR.
Years later, the boy’s mother would remark that she found it hard to understand why the boy’s generation had been programmed so that they did not have a sense of romance. The boy, then a man, replied that his generation’s sense of romance was perhaps different from the prior World War II generation’s. He said that the nation had been subject to an unprecedented mortal threat--Communism. Consequently it mobilized the rising generation. This involved a concerted, integrated, fully planned set of processes, and the boy said that we were very lucky that we had fought a cultural as well as a military war, however “cold.”
The boy thought that children of military families were particularly affected since they were on the front lines of the fight. Navy “brats” moved with their families frequently, often from coast to coast and along either coast. Their constant uprooting produced people who eventually were not tied to any specific region but who were “non-locals” at home with family but alien everywhere outside it. They were quite literally strangers in a strange land. Not that they lived in a parallel universe precisely, but every move required adjustment and pain--for boys and girls.
She was a northern girl, transferring to Maury nine weeks into her
Freshman year. She was flotsam and jetsam on the sea of her father's Naval career, many random moves over the years, many schools, leaving suddenly, beginning late . . . again. She was brought to Mrs. Curry's English class after registering at the office. Class had started. All eyes were on her as she was introduced to the teacher, who asked her a question.
" Yes," the girl answered.
"What did you say?" said the teacher.
Uncomfortable before she ever spoke, the girl was now paralyzed with embarrassment, but again she whispered a desperate "Yes?"
There seemed a long pause as she struggled to comprehend what was happening. Mrs. Curry finally replied, "Well, in this classroom the answer should be ‘Yes, Ma'am.’”
The girl was given a seat. Struggling with her emotions, she spent the rest of the bell attempting to compose herself, a northern girl at Maury. After class a girl named Carrie came up to her and more or less rescued her. They were friends for all their days at Maury after that.
The new school was so large and intimidating. She had moved there from a small steel town in Pennsylvania where everyone was in pretty much the same social and economic soup--a melting pot of immigrants. She rode the bus from Poplar Halls. That first year rocks were thrown at the bus near Booker T. Washington High School. This was frightening. There had been black children in the school back home, but she had never seen and did not understand the violence she witnessed here.
There seemed to be little respect for the school. Spitballs were everywhere on the walls and ceilings of the classrooms. Her Home Room was chaos, and paper balls flew everywhere.
Socially there was a range with which she was unfamiliar. The boys with DA's and greased back hair in leather, smoking cigarettes with rough looking girls who wore a lot of make-up and looked mean. The preppy kids ruled the school. (M. W. 1) Lots of rich kids with all the right clothes--madras, Peter Pan collars, circle pins, Weejuns, Trotters.
“Once I wore a ‘Skort” to school. Several of us did. This was a new fashion of skirt with slits of material covering shorts (TO THE KNEE) of the same material. It looked like a skirt when you stood. The "Skort" was dispatched promptly by the administration--forbidden!
“Sometimes I would get a ride in with Christie Ehrens and Eril Cally, and we'd hang out in front of the school and occasionally go to the little eatery called Pop's right across the street from Maury with its juke box, french fries, great music and scents co-mingling.
“There were so many smart kids in the school.
“The school was not fully integrated.
“I remember one black girl, perhaps there were others. I felt sorry for her. She walked alone at Maury in the 60's. I do not remember seeing Asians or other ethnic students from India or elsewhere. “ (M. W. 2)
The boy marveled that, for all the talk about equality, America was carved up into regions with differentiating economic, political, cultural, linguistic and religious values. More, states, counties and cities contained huge enclaves, often gerrymandered for political effect, where in some neighborhoods West Side Story was reenacted for real every night. The boy had no trouble understanding the social undercurrents of the source for the musical, Romeo and Juliet--they were, in fact, very simple compared to the very different social and cultural undercurrents of San Diego, Pittsfield and Norfolk.
The boy noticed that the girls at Maury were carefully steered towards khaki. By that was meant, Naval officers or, the next best thing, Midshipmen. Although the Norfolk aristocracy depended on a hierarchy of social and economic beings, the presence of the port and the Navy was regarded with fear and apprehension if not loathing. The Blacks’ Titus Town with its raw brown ramshackle buildings was far enough from the Whites’ luxurious estates of Algonquin Park to allow for easy transit of servants. And food, entertainment and bus transportation in the city was inexpensive enough to keep wages at a manageable level. You get the picture. Although superficially a lot has changed, in substance not very much has changed in Norfolk since then. In fact, today as always, the Tidewater is one of the best target locations for starting up a business in America. That is one of the best-kept secrets too.
The boy was aware that the non-locals, like he, had to adapt to survive. They were never to be permanent but flow like the tides, into the area and out again at the whim of higher powers, known by insiders as “needs of the Navy,” which had significance in the same way as “the Navy way” and dozens of other half-cynical, half-reverential terms did for Navy children. The brats” associating in specific and identifiably “Navy dependents” groups at Maury would have been seen as a second Union invasion of the Confederacy. The boy was called “Carpetbagger” more than once while at Maury--”You, a YANKEE?” (M. W. 3)--often with surprise when someone discovered he had come from Pittsfield High School in Massachusetts. The boy was quick to point out that he was born and raised in the South--Southern California, that is, and he had lived over half his life in Norfolk and the rest in San Diego--that Pittsfield had been a stop-over location on one of the family’s numerous coast-to-coast relocations. So the boy and the girl were outsiders--Navy, THE NORTH, their classlessness, their lack of roots, their adaptability and survivability--and labeling was the one thing to avoid at almost any cost.
Naturally, though, the boy looked out for the other non-locals at a distance, and sometimes he felt that they were looking out for him. For example, when he was a sports photographer for the newspaper, it was Bruce, another Navy dependent, who watched his back. Much later when the boy was a man, that same Bruce was introduced to him as the man who had constructed an Arablc language script for one of the Department of Defense’s computer programs for the Saudis. Indeed the script was the first such in the world, and it later became a standard. During a lull in the meeting, the boy, now a man, quietly approached Bruce, who pulled from his wallet a picture the boy had taken for the newspaper, giving a sign that the boy should not divulge their prior friendship. Bruce had come up from the Projects in Norfolk, and the boy was extremely pleased to see raw talent succeed against significant societal odds. At some level beyond the boy’s reach, then, there was interference like the movement of an unseen hand. Much later he learned that not much that happened in Norfolk in those days escaped the notice of the authorities. And San Diego was no different. The country had a war to win, and it was not a war to be won with a capricious “on-call militia” attitude.
Was COINTELPRO active at Maury, you will ask? Remember this was a time before the injunction against intelligence operations against Americans who were thought to be involved in subversive activities. Back then priests, teachers, businessmen and patriotic groups were likely to have reporting responsibilities, so the informal as well as the formal reporting chains would have to be considered. The boy did not know then, and he does not know now whether COINTELPRO was active at Maury. He does not want to know, and he will not speculate. The important thing is that none of his classmates seemed at all constrained in their actions or speech, and the activism of certain teachers and students, which might be viewed by a stretch of the imagination as work of agent provocateurs, was never really dangerous because it was so general. Before you get the wrong idea, let me further say that both Norfolk and San Diego were and are considered--rightly--as strategic national vital interests, and no measures short of an overt police state would be out of line to protect them. So the boy thought then, and the man he became thinks so still.
Not only did the non-locals look out for each other, but key locals looked out for their welfare also either by inclination or direction. One example will serve here. The boy was invited to join the elite Clef Club, which was linked with the Norfolk branch of an international men’s service organization. A counterpart organization for girl students, but not really a “women’s auxiliary” was not surprisingly called the Clefettes. Sponsorship was a requirement, and the boy was sponsored by none other than Max Stein, a scion of the municipal aristocracy. Max had taken a great risk to put forward someone like the boy with no connections, no pretensions, no madras (as his mother made all his clothes) and no weejuns (his mother drew the line at making shoes, though she had attempted to do that too). Then too, the boy was a non-local, and he had not been born in or significantly affected by the time he lived in the South. The boy thought then that Max was “going vertical,” which phrase meant that he would one day be a controlling figure in the local community--a king and, if not a king, surely a kingmaker.
The boy did well enough to make the cut for the Clef Club--so did Saul, and the organization was one of the formative constructs of his life since through this key experience, he began to understand the nature of power and the means of using influence without detection to achieve what he desired. Anyway, where the boy had come up through the ranks from lowly photographer on the newspaper and from support of the two previous editors to himself, he became a Clef Club member through direct intervention by a friend, who became a mentor and a friend for life. Many years later the two would meet again obliquely and discuss matters affecting the region just as they used to at Maury, only now the subject was not a list of speakers to invite to address the Club, but Tidewater investment, technology and banking strategy for the next forty years.
One thing the boy noticed about Max from the start was his long view of things. For example, Max later eyed a house he wanted for his family home, and he waited seventeen years to get it, and he bought that house, and it is now his home. Such was--and is--Max’s vision. Breathtaking. Liberating. The right kind of vision. He did not think of history he was sailing through, but of something that could be affected and effected by men. His view was grand and heroic. His values and tact were completely in synch with those taught at Maury and with the aristocracy of the South. For the boy Max was the best exponent of the Maury experience from the political and social point of view. The boy valued Max’s friendship and example more than Max will ever know, but the understanding that developed between them needed no overt expression. Part of the larger game, whatever that might be, dictated that this be so. And the game continues.
The story for every non-local was different from the others in detail, but the continuity was striking. The boy did belong to a secret group from which he never could divorce himself because he was born into it, and the group extended ultimately from the microcosm of his school experiences to the macrocosm--what Ike (Fifties President “I like Ike” Eisenhower) had termed the “military, industrial, congressional complex.” Most late-Sixties radicals forgot that “congressional” included everyone, including members of the opposite party (our version of the British loyal opposition) and American radicals.
M. W. 1 Comments about “preppy kids running the school” should be considered at length. Most of the “preppy” kids lived in Marsh Meadow, and this work is largely about Marsh Meadow. †I don’t remember an “Us versus Them” or “Cool Table” mentality, but I do remember wanting to get into that group as my Junior year ended.
M. W. 2 I don't remember any race-related issues during our tenure, but very few blacks were in the school then. †The comment about not seeing Asians is accurate--the Kennedy-sponsored bill that began to cut back on European immigration and encourage Asian immigration was not passed until 1964. There were a few Filipinos whose fathers were in the Navy as there were a number of special programs for men from the Philippines at that time. I believe that race relations are worse now, in large part due to “white flight” to Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
M. W. 3 "You a Yankee?" could be explored a bit. †I use that line from time-to-time, but only as a joke, or when I'm trying to needle someone I know to be a Southerner. †Most Yankees that I know are oblivious to the fact that the South is just holding out for resupply.
Chapter 11. Secret World(s)
We are hollow men.
--T. S. Eliot
Admit it, we all have secret worlds. We all have our better angels, but we have our demons too. Our gray matter is split down the middle something like the world was back in the early Sixties--struck quite through with an invisible Iron Curtain separating the right and left hemispheres of our brains. And the divide is not only between right and left, but also between right and wrong. Trouble is, things are not black and white. Like the brain itself, they are gray. Our national educational program was not to encourage only one side of our natures, but both sides in more or less equal measure. By this the boy understood--quite consciously because he had been told what was happening at his junior high school in California--that to defeat the enemy Communism, the nation would need every talent of every citizen. They could not win by developing only the rational side of mankind; they could only win with balance. Think of the SAT with its two parts. Forget that each part tested only what the other purported to test. Forget that in order to excel, students needed to develop the ability to shift rapidly from problem to problem and alter perspective continuously in a patterned exercise closely related to the Stanford Binet IQ tests. No matter how big a man one was on campus, no matter how beautiful, popular or agile a girl might be, no matter how well one did on high school tests or on the final report card, the SAT would provide a one-time snapshot that could make or break your attempt to enter the college of your dreams.
If only you could have taken a test to measure the soul, or the quality of your poetry or the value of your painting, singing, acting, potting, gardening or sewing or the extent of your inherent goodness or your social concern or your genuineness as a friend. The boy wondered how his penchant of lateral thinking might be examined in a matrix of number two pencil marks on a computer scored sheet. He knew so many classmates whose real talents were beyond the reach of standardized tests. One very intelligent male classmate who worked hard and achieved A’s and B’s never scored over four hundred on either SAT exam. Another male surprised his teachers by scoring in the seven hundreds on both SAT tests, thus invalidating, the teachers thought, their grades of C and D. Philosophers wondered then--and wonder still--whether an ape could make great paintings (ours was the age of abstract impressionism!), but none of those safes have suggested that the apes should take the SAT to qualify as painters.
Although talented in mathematics and the sciences--and programmed accordingly, the boy was very concerned at the time about the evaluation of aesthetic artifacts and actions, particularly drama and dance. If, reasoned the boy, we evaluate members of the opposite sex by largely unwritten rules, perhaps our abilities at judging, say, oil painting, could be refined. His mother had been a champion diver, and he had judged diving competitions. He had studied swimming, he had competed successfully since he was eight years old, and he had attained his Red Cross Senior Life Saving certification. He could watch a diver or a swimmer and know exactly why they did or did not succeed. Was it possible, then, to articulate just why the beautiful was beautiful and to make others understand why one form of beauty might be better than another?
Again, girls. You know it! The boy had observed that girls had ways of judging boys that were not entirely sound. One particular beauty spent her afternoons sitting on her porch at home whenever the neighbor boy was mowing his lawn. She was enamored of the blond mower--so much so that her best girl friend divulged her secret infatuation to the boy. The mower was brainless, she said. But he was beautifully built, and his face was seraphic. The boy knew right away that the female beauty had been attracted by something she saw in the mirror every morning, only it was male. She had fallen in love with her reflection. Trouble was, she was otherwise intelligent and her oblivious beloved was not. The boy was not jealous, just bemused. He opined that a single meeting of the two people would probably resolve everything. She would realize that the youth was not mentally worthy of her.
Only later did he discover that the beauty that they both had was a kind of curse. In her case, it led to boys fighting over her, and she would laugh when this happened. The boy never forgave her for this delight in the evil her very presence could cause. She acted, in one such case that he observed at the Ocean View Amusement Park, very much like a doe in spring when two long-antlered stags clash savagely in a struggle for supremacy. Blood was the issue, and she laughed at it. As for the mower, he never realized her affection, and, like Narcissus, he spent his days gazing at himself in the nearest glass.
One local college sorority inflicts on its membership the chant, “I’m beautiful, I’m beloved, I am a Mu Nu Theta.” Living up to the image girls were taught to have of themselves, cultivated by the media and encouraged in the home, was a constant worry for most girls the boy knew. They were sometimes very catty and unkind with each other. They would flock together and shun outsiders. They would join groups that shared their mythology. They would tell tales on each other and spread half-truths and lies nodding with conviction. This is not to say that many of the boys were exempt from the same impulses. But the boy had seen something in the eyes and mannerisms of the mothers of his classmates that suggested that even in the best cases, the rituals left something to be desired, and in the worst cases, tragedy was written in their lives.
A sure sign of sadness in a marriage was the mother who tried to live her youth a second time in the life of her daughter. This quite natural tendency, which is often reciprocated by the daughter, can become extreme. Such an extreme was almost reached by Janice’s mother, and their encounters were somewhat comical. She would catch the boy in conversation as soon as he entered her home, monopolize his attention and, sometimes, keep him so late that the boy would have to call home to say he would be late--again while Janice patiently endured her mother’s eccentricity. The boy’s mother laughed heartily at this behavior in a woman of her own age towards her eldest son.
Dan’s aloof Petrarchan lady had a mother so careful of her daughter’s behavior and reputation, that the girl hardly ever got a chance to date the same boy twice. Every aspect of the boy’s character was scrutinized by the mother before her reluctant approval was given. So the boy decided that he would help Dan with his Prom plans by taking a direct approach. He presented himself as a date candidate for the daughter, met and talked with the mother, and in the middle of their conversation began to talk about the virtues of Dan--this in the hearing of the daughter. He knew the mother’s reputation, so his strategy was entrapment. He served as the witness to Dan’s character to the mother face to face and to the daughter obliquely since she was listening in.
The boy waxed eloquent. He confessed that as much as he wanted to take the daughter out, there was another who literally worshipped the ground she walked upon. And he was a Saint, or at least a far better person than the boy. For example, he went on, it was rumored around the school that he, the boy, was “the world’s best kisser.” And, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. At this, the mother was on full alert, her eyes flashing and her head bobbing up and down. When the idea had been firmly fixed in her mind, the boy suggested that he might bring the Saint over casually so that the mother could meet him and so that the daughter could, perhaps, cure the lad’s love sickness with a taste of reality. This seemed to stretch plausibility, but IT WORKED.
As it turned out, Dan met the daughter in front of the mother, and the mother was convinced that he was the better choice for her dear daughter than the boy ever could be. How could she let her daughter go out with a playboy whose only thought was how to better his last kiss performance on her innocent lips? Dan, for his part, was ecstatic. His goddess was a real girl, he found, and the mother was fully in his favor. So within days of the meeting, Dan had made the call, gotten the commitment, and his personal problem was solved.
The boy, heartened by this success, decided that a different tactic must be used for Saul. Knowing Saul’s girl’s family very well--and knowing Saul, the boy had little faith that he could break the family’s obdurate stand on their vacation by irrational means. Besides, he was fairly certain that the family simply wanted the young man and his young lady to be kept apart. Things had gotten entirely too serious for their liking, and they had visions of drunken orgies on the beaches that included their darling and Saul. So they were playing it safe, they thought. So the boy straightaway told Saul he intended to ask the girl to the Prom himself to test her family’s resolve. As he figured, the girl suddenly was able to say Yes, and the parents were relieved that a neutral party had signed their daughter up for a safe evening. From what the girl had said about the boy at home, it was clear to the boy that kissing was not among the topics she discussed with her parents.
Well, things involving love do not always run smoothly. Saul’s girl saying Yes to the boy caused a number of immediate problems. First, everyone at the school found out about it the next day. Saul, who had thought nothing of the plan at the time, suddenly flew into a rage of jealousy, and the boy’s REAL Prom date, whom he secretly dubbed the Hamburger Queen, decided to throw a Dido fit right outside the news room with such a commotion that teachers came to their doors to witness her fury. Why had she gone out to buy that beautiful peach chiffon dress? Why had she thrown a choice away on a worthless cad? What was she going to tell her parents? What if they already knew? What if her FRIENDS already knew? She was implacable. She was distraught. She was beside herself. The boy could not explain himself. In the end she stormed off uttering Lord knows what under her breath in the same way she always did when she was hungry. The boy had never known a girl with an appetite like hers. And she was double-hamburger and shake mad.
With that event over, Saul’s girl sauntered up to the boy to console him, and in the process, to the boy’s horror, the girl made it clear that the boy was her property now, that she never really cared for Saul anyway and that she now wanted the boy to show the world that she was his and he was hers. She therefore wanted to have him demonstrate his high dive kissing right in the hallway, but she settled for his penning a poem for her impromptu so that she could show all her FRIENDS that he did really care for her. The boy decided that he could write his way out of this mess, so he penned a satirical poem characterizing Saul’s girl as a combination of the loathly lady and a hideous, but most lascivious troll princess. This would have ended the affair right away, he figured, but the girl JUST DID NOT GET IT. She thought the poem wonderful, in fact, and she ran off to show it to all of the boy’s real girlfriend’s FRIENDS to indicate her current possession of “the world’s best kisser.” Of course, word got back to Saul, who, normally rational to a fault, was fuming and claimed to have been betrayed. He called the boy a bigamist for having two Prom dates. The conversation deteriorated from that point, and the two had a rather cold parting. This was most unusual, and it distressed the boy.
When under attack, the boy thought, it is best to attack. So he sought out James” girl, whose parents definitely wanted the two to part ways because of something they had witnessed “right in our own home”! Here his plan was a little subtler than before. He coached his brother to ask the girl out, and to his surprise his brother fell for the girl, the girl fell for him, and now James was hopping made, making common cause with Saul, and cursing the day the boy was born. Meanwhile the boy had double trouble since he never crossed his brother, and he had to get James and his girl to the Prom together somehow while not spoiling his brother’s relationship. His brother, meanwhile, was oblivious to the conundrum that love had caused. Indeed he thought that he had died and gone to Heaven. And maybe he had, opined the boy.
Well, it was a good thing that Dan and the boy were the debating partners and that golf season was drawing to a close. Dan was happy though a couple of twists lay in his tangled web still. No further meddling was required, but the boy watched the situation carefully and coached Dan through to the goal. This was not easy, mind you, because both were mercurial. In this case somehow things did hang together to the end.
It was sheer luck that happened in James’s case--or the goddess of Oija’s machinations--the boy was never going to tell. James’s girl was out with the boy’s brother and made the dreadful mistake of trying to make a pass at the boy in the kitchen at a house party. This was an unspeakable offense to the boy, and he plotted revenge for his brother’s honor. The tool he used was the Ouija board, which he insisted using with James’s beau. She was more than willing because it meant sitting knee to knee, and besides she was a devotee of the game. Low and behold, the Ouija board foretold that she would be going to the Prom with some person with the very same initials and birth date of James. Again, the ins and outs of this were comical to behold, but by the end of the evening, she was in James’s arms again, the boy’s brother was thoroughly disgusted with her, and the boy had only one problem left to solve.
The solution was easy, and the boy never thought of it until almost the very last minute before it happened. The boy knew his associates sometimes better than they knew themselves. So he decided to make a homework date with Saul’s girl one afternoon at her home, and he told Saul he should drop by her home around four thirty that day. He knew that the girl’s parents would be peeking around the corner periodically to see whether the aim of the visit was studying or something else. He was going to wait until around the time of Saul’s arrival, but that was not the plan Saul’s girl had in mind. What she wanted was PROOF. Of what? Why, of whether the boy was the “world’s best kisser.” Sometimes, thought the boy, the Bard was right: there is a destiny that shapes our ends.
Well, the kissing started well ahead of schedule, and each proof required validation and revalidation. It seemed to the boy that Saul’s girl had a statistical sampling method that required thousands of experiments, maybe millions. Anyway, she lost perspective on her parents” views. The mother witnessed what was happening, but she was too embarrassed to take any action. Presumably, she was waiting until her husband came home so that he could rush the table and evict the scoundrel who was corrupting their daughter. Anyway, things had progressed well beyond propriety when Saul rang the doorbell, the boy and girl parted gasping for breath, the mother ran to answer the door with a loud, “I’ll get the door. Y’all just don’t mind me!” And when the mother saw Saul on the doorstep, she flung her arms around him and hauled him into her kitchen for a talk.
It got better. No lie. Having tasted what the “world’s best kisser” had to offer in the most unusual sampling the boy had ever had any girl endure, she was satisfied that she now knew what everyone was talking about. Why did she need more proof? And when Saul came out of the kitchen, followed closely by the girl’s mother, Saul looked as if he had swallowed the proverbial canary. The boy knew when to depart, and the next day he discovered that Saul and his girl were slated to go to the Prom together. The boy now had to mend his own fences.
So the boy asked his girl, still fuming, whether she would like to go for a hamburger and a shake, maybe a double of both, to discuss some serious matters pertaining to the Prom. She looked at him directly, looked away, and then hunger took over, and the rest was well, history.
Chapter 12. Senior Prom
The Class of June 1963
† †of the
Matthew Fontaine Maury High School
† † †Welcomes you
† † † † Senior Prom
† on the thirteenth of June
nineteen hundred and sixty-three
† † † †nine until midnight
Location: †The Golden Triangle Motor Hotel
Music: † Jesse Powers Orchestra
Theme: † Southern Magnolias
Mrs. Martha Wood
M/M Walter McAllister
M/M Chester Kauffman
M/M Theodore Baker
M/M Norman Browne
M/M Frederick Randlett
Mrs. Dorothy Morgan
Mrs. Bernice Culbreth
M/M Rufus Tonelson
M/M Wylie R. Wood
Dr. & Mrs. Carl Moulds
M/M E. B. Brown
M/M Douglas Crawford
Miss Dorothy Gilchrist
Mrs. Dorothy Attaway
Mr. Richard Drake
No matter how many dances we attended in our four years at Maury, nothing was more anticipated than "The Prom"! †Prom night was the one night we looked forward to all those years, and that night we would enjoy the last dance we'd ever share at Maury with that someone special. †It was "THE" night!
But let me back up a little. †I remember that even when I was a Sophomore and a Junior, we'd hear the girls whispering "Oh, how I'd love to be asked to the Senior Prom, especially by one of the football players!" †What status that would have given us. A lowly Sophomore or Junior being asked to the Senior Prom! And by a gridiron hero! Most of our hopes and wishes were dashed, but occasionally there was one that made it, mostly because she was already dating the Senior. †Oh, well--we could still dream.
But I guess I was one of the fortunate ones. †I did attend the Senior Prom when I was a Junior, it just wasn't at Maury but at Thomas Jefferson High in
Let me reminisce a little and explain. †My Dad loved airplanes - it wasn't
just a hobby but his life (outside of his family, of course). †He was born in
Roanoke and his fascination for planes began early. †At the tender age of 16, he got his pilot’s license, and his love for flying took off! †He and Mom moved to
Norfolk, and I was raised in Broad Creek Village in the Ingelside area, which
now no longer exists. †One of the first pictures I can remember is when I was
four and my brother, Wendell, was seven and we were standing on the wings of Daddy's bi-fold plane that he owned and kept at the airfield that was on Military
Highway, across from Janaf (which has been long gone and the area now a housing development.) †He built our home in 1955 on what was then named Wayne Street off of Virginia Beach Boulevard--Thomas Corner. †
Daddy worked at the Norfolk Naval Air Station on airplane engines. †On the side, he would travel around and find wrecked planes, tow them back to our garage, work on it diligently every night after work and weekends until the wings were ready to be put on. †Then our neighbor would help him roll out the airplane trailer, put the plane on it and they would take it to our hanger at the Suffolk Airport where he would complete the work, down to putting the call letters on the side. †We would then take all our trips, vacations, weekend jaunts to my grandparents in Roanoke in the plane. †When Daddy was ready, he'd sell it and start over with another one. † So, being around them since birth, needless-to-say, I grew up thinking everyone had a plane. †I just never gave it a second thought. How truly fortunate I was, and I never appreciated it until my later years.
This brings me back to "The Prom"! †Every Summer I'd visit my cousins in Roanoke and there was a particular boy, Larry, who lived a few houses down and was a year ahead of me in school. †Every time I'd visit, we'd go to the movies or a dance at somebody's home in the neighborhood or just play "kick the can" in my cousins' front yard with all the neighborhood teens. †What fun!!! † It was after a few years of going back and forth in the summer and my family and I were at my grandparents for the weekend. †I was a Junior and Larry a Senior that year. †We had gone out to a movie and when we got back to the home, he asked me if I would be his date for his Senior Prom! † So I nonchalantly walked into the kitchen and asked Daddy if he'd fly me back up the week-end of Larry's prom as if it was nothing! †and, of course, he said yes! †I was thrilled!!!!! I was a Junior going to his Senior Prom!!! †I was on cloud nine, and it was a wonderful evening! †It's moments like this I've looked back on over the years and realize just how fortunate I was.
It was at this same time that Mike, the guy I had been going with for three
Years, and I decided to part ways. †Still friends, we were going in different directions--he was getting very serious about our "future," and I just wanted to live life and have fun. †There was way too much to discover after high school, and I certainly wasn't about to settle down that soon. †And besides, we were both still Juniors. †It wasn't long after we had broken up that the unexpected happened--I was asked to the Senior Prom at Maury!! †Now, here I was
still a Junior and had the privilege of attending not one but two Senior
Proms!!! † I was elated to say the least! †Although I must say it wasn't as
memorable as the Roanoke Prom but a nice evening nevertheless.
Now back to "OUR" prom! † I guess the main thing we worried about was having a date. †Most of us were "going steady" with someone so our date was already confirmed, but I know there were many other girls sitting by the phone, hoping and wishing it would ring and that "someone special" †would call and ask those magical words, "Will you be my date for the Prom?" †As many as there were who got that special call, there were just as many that weren't as lucky and didn't attend or ended up going with a "family friend"! †Oh, the horror of it at the time, but at least they still got to go! †
Getting prepared for "The Prom" was not something that happened
overnight. †No, THE most important thing was "The Prom Gown". †It had to be perfect!!! †
Now I'm going to go back in time again and work my way up to "The Gown". †My Mother was a self-taught seamstress (as well as piano player) and from the time my brother and I were born, she made every stitch of clothing we wore. †As I got older and was in grade school, I remember almost every Saturday Mom and I would take the bus into downtown Norfolk to buy material. Our outing always took us to Woolworths for a hot dog and Root Beer before heading home - what a treat that was!
In my late teens and 20's I was designing my own clothes, and she was still sewing them for me, most of the time without a pattern, just going by my design. But my prom gown had to be "special". †We searched every store in Norfolk thoroughly, but I still hadn't found "IT"! †Until The Famous in
Portsmouth! †There it was, a slim white strapless that took my breath away! †
It was gorgeous, it fit perfectly and it was "THE ONE"! †It was bought and taken home, and I couldn't wait until the night of the Prom - now everything was perfect! †It wasn't until much later that it hit me (and hard) that my Prom gown was my first store-bought piece of clothing. †I reflect now and with all my heart wished that I had asked my Mother to make my gown--how much more
special it would have been to me now. †But, as they say--hindsight! †And all
Mom wanted was for me to be happy and have the special gown for my special night. †She kept it put away all these years, and it's now tucked away in my cedar chest.
Yes, the Prom was a magical night. †It was the last time being with old friends, and many we would never see again. † † It was our Last Hurrah, it was "the last dance.”
G. S.1 I have my Prom invitation (the text printed at the head of this chapter) on one of the display boards for the Reunion along with the program from the Baccalaureate Service on June 2nd at the Center Theater and the Commencement Program June 12th at the Municipal Auditorium (now the Edyth Harrison Opera House). We could probably have done a whole Chapter on the Baccalaureate Service/Commencement/Prom, but I was not sure how interesting that would be to anybody as all high schools have the same programs, and I just don't know that "ours" would be very different. I tried to find everything I had from the Prom to display at the Reunion. †Don't know of anything I missed except the pic's! †:)
Hibernation is well understood, aestivation a special code worth breaking.
You figured it was over with the prom! Oink, wrong! But before we get to the Last Summer, we first have to visit how summer works as a time of growth in character. Particularly when you are young and in love.
The boy’s parents believed that intellectual growth must be supported by times of slow maturation without institutional or family pressures. Some of the extracurricular activities of the school year were continued--music lessons, for example; otherwise, the summer routine was open and largely free. Contact with high school friends was continued, but the tenor of that contact changed, and summer both closed some relationships and opened others.
Each year at school was like a new beginning, and summer allowed for such astonishing growth sometimes that the new autumnal integrations were daunting. Add to this the people who moved away and the others who newly arrived, and you have the chaos of the opening weeks of school, which is miraculously followed in one or two weeks” time by a routine that lasts, with short breaks, for nine months. The boy thought of the cycle as a birthing cycle in reverse.
Summer for the boy and his associates was a moveable feast--an extension and augmentation of all the good things of the school year, the best of which was the party right at home. His mother jokes today that his family invented the “anytime party.” She was inspired by the drill, and all who ever met her, loved her for her energy, her hospitality and her great party spread. She was an instant confidant of boys and girls alike, and her wisdom and tolerance were a source of relief for those who did not come from such open, nurturing and friendly homes as the boy.
Her eldest boys would rush into the home right off the school bus to announce an “instant party” starting that evening just after dinner. While they charged through their homework, the boy’s mother would--no kidding--prepare a table full of pastries such as could not be bought anywhere in the country. The angel food cake (the family signature specialty) with whipped cream and strawberries or cherries, the Perfect White Cake with white fluffy icing, the Spiced Cake, the raspberry tarts, the miniature cream puffs (Max’s favorites), and four or five kinds of cookies. All these would materialize on the table before the thundering herd arrived.
It was understood that not everyone who was invited could make it to every party, but the numbers were always high. The way things worked was simple enough. The brothers would decide that it was time for a house party during the school day. They would put out the word early in the morning, and by late afternoon, the news was well known by everyone: Come if you can, even for a few minutes, between 7 pm and 9 pm. There would be no drinking liquor, no smoking and no public displays of affection. Everyone had to respect the neighbors by keeping the noise level down.
The boy’s entire family felt right at home as members of the group--this was not a “kids only” or “teens only” party idea! So visitants would catch the boy’s mother one by one to chat or get advice or simply to unload their private anxieties. An unspoken rule in the boy’s home was that anyone could bring any problem to either his father or his mother, and he or she would get an honest answer or opinion. Further, another unspoken rule made that okay--no confidences would be abused. For many of the boy’s friends, this openness by grownups was foreign. When they entered the world of the boy’s family, it was as if they had made a quick entry to the farthest star from Earth. They reveled in the experience. Years afterward, the boy would be asked whether his mother still baked this or that delicacy and what had become of the instant party idea.
Anytime parties in the summer months complemented activities whose tempo changed with the season. Golfing, basketball, swimming lessons, music lessons, making morning paper deliveries and mowing lawns filled many hours. Then bridge marathons became popular, and whole weekends would be consumed in continuous rubbers with the Feldstein boys. Bridge was a continuous party, accompanied by films on television since this was the time before videos and CDs. In fact, the boy and his eldest brother also enjoyed watching television reruns of old black-and-white films one after another through the night sometimes under the mantra of “No movie is a bad movie.” Later this French critics” habit of film watching came in handy when the boy became a film officer in the Navy then a film teacher and critic of American popular culture, but back then during the summer months of the early Sixties film was allowed to entertain and to strike the soul directly, without the skewing of formal criticism. Lost in the films? You might say “found.”
The island of peace at home was also the one context of complete openness the boy ever knew. It was also a source of energy unlike anything outside those walls and a wellspring of his family’s extraordinary creativity. Eccentric--well, yes, and beyond any English satire of individuality. And although the boy’s mother constantly worried about her children being able to fit into society, the family enjoyed their being different from everyone else. Rather than bickering and squabbling with each other, they formed a close alliance against all who would interfere. Cooperation, not competition was the norm. From father and mother to youngest brother, any would instantly help any of the others with any problem at all. The result was release from ordinary frustrations and differentiation along lines of natural curiosity and talent. The boy’s mother was and is the most intelligent woman and the most masterful teacher he has ever known, an inspiration even to those she meets on the street or in a store or in a physician’s office. Principals, Admirals and Corporate CEOs have sought her advice, and she has given her time freely to people in check-out counters as well as the hordes of students who approached her tutoring table at home.
Oh, yes, tutoring. The boy’s family have been tutoring mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology since the Maury years. The boy’s father and mother started the business as a college fund provider, and they stuck to a schedule that was daunting--half hour intervals with as many as three or four students scheduled for any interval. Why is that significant? Because any of the family could handle any of the tutees. Sometimes all six of the family were tutoring simultaneously. This is hard even for the boy, now a man, looking back, since the space within which this all happened was so small. It began with the tradition of everyone doing homework together after school at the dining room table, which was the center of all intellectual life. The boy’s youngest brother had it right when he said that school was for those who could not think for themselves. The boy, now a man, looks back to find that he is the only male child in his nuclear family to finish high school. The others were early admitted to college, skipped their senior year and went straight through to achieve their doctorates, their fame and their fortunes--without high school diplomas. Drop-outs. Well, perhaps.
Now you have the boy’s family setting in view. When a such a family is constantly on the move, it has to pull together to survive. You must further understand that any extension from or expansion of the magic circle was difficult. The siblings often joked about the “family vote,” which was the vote of inclusion or exclusion. They also joked about the secret vote (where you used the Roman thumb up or down, but with the other hand holding the thumb so others would not see which way the thumb was pointing),
At the same time, the freedom that was allowed in the boy’s home was not license. Freedom came with responsibility. The rules were simple, clear and fully understood, and, like good military orders, they were executable, but they left plenty of room for individual initiative. Trouble with initiative, of course, is that you learn to choose well by not choosing well all the time. That is one road to wisdom, potentially, for fools like the boy.
The boy was free to fail, and he failed often enough, sometimes catastrophically. But it was expected that learning from failure would lead to success, not to despondency. And the boy’s luck with choices in women, conditioned by his living among examples in his family of the best that ever did walk the earth, including his grandmother, wife and daughter, made all the difference in how things have turned out. Some of those influential women were girls he knew at Maury who afterward at just the right moments said or did just the right things because of their inherent goodness. Here are a few memorable examples, taken from different conversations at different critical junctures in the boy’s life:
“The Draft. I know. Your number will be up, and you will go. Don’t” let it be to some foul rice paddy on the ground. You should become an officer--a Naval officer. Go to Officer Candidate School. If you do not, you will eventually be asked to go, and you will be killed ‘on point’--a waste, and I could not bear it, and it will be easier now because you can choose yourself. You know you should. I would not have it any other way for you. You would not have it any other way yourself.”
“You are down, not beaten. A good man like you is never beaten. He can be bested for a while, yes, but he can never be vanquished. You said that once, and I still believe you. I still believe IN you? Why? You are you.”
“Look at me. I do not want to lose you. You simply must not be lost. Do you hear me? I do not want to have you gone. This has nothing whatever to do with us or even me. It has to do with what you are here to do.”
“Race horses have to be exercised, or they grow fat and lazy. People who are bred for the race must race, and race often.”
“The Lord has given us many talents. Shame on us if we do not use them ALL well. Remember, to whom much has been given, much is expected. Why hide your light under a bushel? Why not become what you are?”
“Look there, at the sunset and the clouds. I think they are beautiful. What do you think?”
“You are like a prairie. Do you know why a prairie remains a prairie? It is because of prairie fires. The fires are terrible because they cause destruction, but they keep the prairie from becoming a forest. Forests are not prairies. They do not have the sweep or scope or, well, the unrealized possibilities. You are a prairie, and your habit of starting things, always fresh and new and exciting will inevitably bring fires--but only to get you going again anew.”
“Yes, I knew everything would turn out for you, and thank you for saying that I had something to do with it. Everything has turned out well for me too, just like you said it would. I am happy for us, for both of us. I had to call just this one last time. It was just to say that you were so right and that everything turned out right in the end. Thank you--for always, well, being there.”
“How can we know what is in a person’s heart?”
“Is that you? I can tell by your footfall and the way that you breathe. I can tell you who everyone is around you. I may be blind, but that has opened other possibilities for me that others cannot share.”
“You were so quiet and self-absorbed on the school bus. You seemed so complete, yet so alone. So very much alone. It was frightening to think that anyone could survive and be so cut off from everything and everyone else. It was like you were in another world entirely--a world so far away that no one could follow you there. And here you are--here we are.”
“I have all the poems you wrote to me. How could I have destroyed them? They are a part of what I see as me. Every so often I take them out and read them. It is as if you had just handed each to me that day.”
“I have placed a bet that if everyone at Maury on one day refused to say hello to you or smile back when you smiled, you would go insane.”
“‘Loudest’? That’s a laugh. I will remember you for your comments. Your witticisms. Your poetry.”
“What is the real key to your poem about the trees? I have three versions of the poem now and three keys to it but all the names in each of the keys are different. Which version of the poem is the right one? and which key will decipher it? Will you provide the key?”
The summer after graduating from high school is, for the college-bound, a quiet time of transformation. Uncertainty about the future is in constant tension with the certainty of closure at one of the major milestones of life. If the real game of life in those days were to be represented on a board, high school would be for most people the final rite of passage and gateway to the harsh world of work. The after-high-school let-down is well-depicted in the now-classic retro movie American Graffiti. Only a small fraction of the grads in the early Sixties went to college right away. Many later got college credentials as the educational system grew to accommodate a whole new frontier of societal needs. Some of those needs were very specialized like radiology, and some general like social work. The effects of experiments in education in the later Sixties are the subject of another as-yet unwritten book.
What the boy saw ahead for himself in pre-medical studies was a long series of gates, with little connection to active service of any kind for many years--at minimum seven years. He also saw pitfalls in being judged as “eligible.” He feared being sought out for his potential as a professional and as a source of wealth rather than as a person. One girl at Maury and her mother had given him a small brass plaque with his formal name, followed by “M. D.” The boy was touched by the gift, but cautioned too. He jested that the abbreviation must stand for “mad” and “damned”; he saw the beginnings of something perilous. He was glad to have that behind him finally later.
Many girls anticipate the thrill of being asked to a college campus for a date. In terms of status, that ranked very high on the list. So the boy’s last summer before college was fraught with dangers of a new kind. Which spark of interest was genuine? Which was ignited by the hope of some symbolic victory? He had, for example, heard that one young lovely had opined that if the “world’s best kisser” invited her friend to his college for a weekend, “He would only be interested in your body.” As if her friend were only an ideal physiological specimen! The boy understood that a few girls he knew were already betting on who would be asked by which Joe College and how they would respond.
So the boy focused that summer on having wholesome fun with a variety of girls.
One, of course, was the Hamburger Queen, but that was for nostalgia’s sake, and besides, they were great friends, not potential lovers. She was committed to a long-term educational regimen starting with one of the top girls’ schools in the Northeast and ultimately leading to certification to practice psychiatry. Having discussed Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) with her lapsed-Mormon mother and having witnessed her extraordinary ability to get under a person’s skin, the boy figured she had chosen wisely.
Another was a wonderful girl named Becky, also a non-local, whose family were close friends with his own. The girl and her sister dated the boy and his brother, but not at the same time. Many years later her father commanded the Naval Communications Station where the boy’s brother was posted after the two brothers’ stint at Navy Officer Candidate School. Further, she was a classmate and friend of the boy’s future wife.
The boy had one last friend-to-friend date with the Sandbridge Princess.
All this time, as the dream sequences imply, the boy was very much engaged by Charlotte the Rain Queen, whose aim at the time was, well, Engagement. This was also the aim of Charlotte’s mother and the boy thought that Charlotte’s father would be an excellent father-in-law and grandparent. In fact, things were so serious that both families were quite prepared for the long haul, and so was the boy.
Carlotte, as you may have guessed, had golden hair in ringlets and was without question an eligible and beautiful Southern Belle from a neighboring plantation to the boy’s plantation in Marsh Meadows. She had definite character and views--Blondie, if you will, but an only child.
Janice had the brother who is Cal’s counterpart, so she, a local, lends something to Blondie too. Janice was a brown-haired, not blonde Southern Belle by adoption, who fortunately evaded formal engagement to the boy and married a man who had an MBA from the Wharton School and all the potential in the world.
On her part Charlotte never thought much of the boy’s poetry at the time, so the boy’s poetry found other subjects--and that may have been the first sign of the end. History has a way of playing dreaming people for fools. Charlotte and the boy had a sharp break, and as a local Charlotte made a much better match with a man who was a true Professional--a lawyer.
And in the combination of the best of all the wonderful girls he knew in the Tidewater, others he came to know later and vectors he rather sensed than saw while he lived in the Tidewater, the boy (many changes later) discovered his future bride in a one-chance-in-a-million lightning-bolt glance in a college classroom doorway. But that is another story for another book, another time.
Epilog: The Ghost of Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury
(M. W. 1)
Remembrance of death. (pun: mori=Maury)
Ora pro mortuis.
Pray for the fallen.
Not every Naval officer has a high school named for him. I am not at all sure that I deserve the distinction or the honor. I accept the attribution, but I thought you might indulge an old ghost by listening to a few words of commentary. Recently my renown has grown through the publication of a book subtitled “Pathfinder of the Seas.” You may have heard of its publication. The title is a little humbling, but it does allow me to speak with some authority about a subject that I loved all of my life, and that is the sea.
Early on when I was a boy, I marveled at the fact that seventy-five percent of the earth’s surface is covered with what might be considered a single body of water broken into so-called ocean regions by impingements of the landmass. Most people focus their entire attention on the land, and that is natural since that is where they live even though seventy-five percent of the people on earth live within fifty to a hundred miles of the sea or the watery tributaries that lead to the sea. To bring this lesson home, let me remind you that in America this fact has implications that have literally changed the world though, please pardon the pun, they have not changed the littoral except in very minor ways--the paltry efforts of men on the brink of something that smacks of eternity. In looking at the sea, I fancied that I was looking at the very face of God, and if I could understand the sea’s mysteries and speak the truth about them in scientific terms, I could help God achieve his great purpose for Man. Mind you, I am not sermonizing. Have I put you to sleep? Bear with me a little longer, please. And pay attention. You there with the angelic face and golden locks, especially.
As I was saying, I made the sea my study, and I rose through the ranks of the Navy to become a captain of captains, I began to encourage others to look for the subtle patterns in the oceans that would improve our navigation, our fishing, our trade and our national courage to step beyond ourselves to enjoy the almost infinite bounty that the majority of our planet holds for us. The Navy gave me access, and it eventually gave me the authority to make much of a few ideas that occurred to me, as if by revelation.
The first idea, and the one that informs the rest, is that the sea is not a disorderly, threatening mass unfit for man and hostile to humankind. To the contrary, there is an orderly movement of the oceans in all respects, from the tides and currents that have their ordinary courses, to the tidal waves and storm surges that seem to want to overwhelm the obduracy of the land. Your Willoughby Spit is a freak of nature, you say, but it is formed by the same so-called aberrant activity that relentlessly tears out your sands from Virginia Beach and Sandbridge. It was only five thousand or so years ago that our species ventured out on the oceans. From the cosmic perspective, that is recent. But it was only in the Nineteenth Century--when I thrived in life as a mortal--that the English speaking nations began in earnest to discover the keys to the physics, both the dynamics and the statics, of the oceans. And the interest has paid off.
My second idea, which relates to the first, but orthogonally, is that our discovery of the mysteries of the seas is likely not to be a sudden Newtonian insight, but a continuous discovery like the process that thinkers among us go through to find themselves. So we look for an ending, but with every discovery, we find we have only just begun. We find that one idea leads to another, in what might be an infinite series. So the vastness of the ocean is reflected in its profundity. Hee, hee. You might say that in our loving examination of the sea, we cannot ever fathom what we have fathomed. Like the mind of God or the mind of each of you, who are made in the Lord’s image, so is the ocean--the more you discover, the less you find you really know at all. Ironical, yes, but also true. Just think about the briny boiling brew as a taste of the Almighty. Close your eyes and do so now. And as you do, recall the taste of salt tears that stream from your eyes to the edges of your mouth. Some think you are dust and to dust you will return. In physical terms, you are really mostly salty water, and it is to the water cycle and the sea that you really will return after all.
Arising from the first idea I related, the one about the orderliness of the oceans, is a third idea that startled me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be the best. You judge. I was caught between the two ideas of order on the one hand and of mystery on the other hand. I was very frustrated that I could command men and get results, but I was King Canute with the seas. Have you guessed my third insight? You, there, are your raising your hand? No? Swatting flies? Getting the attention of your beau? And is this one she? There was a day, but ghosts aren’t supposed to muse on such earthly delights. Sir, I believe you will prevail. Anyway, the third idea has something to do with getting close enough for practical purposes. Sir, that is your aim, I would guess, and she understands this. She is blushing. Red as a beet she is. Come now, exchange places with this lad beside her. He will agree to do so, am I right? There. Better?
And is that who I think it is? Goddess Ouija, is it really you? It is. And you have been sitting there all this time among these students. I doubt if anyone realized. Have you been up to your usual mischief? I am sure you won’t mind my using you as an object lesson for my fourth idea. You are blushing now. What would you have this crusty old ghost of an Admiral say? That once we dallied in green fields in blossom time? That my beloved departed wife adored you? Not at all. You, Ouija, are the principle of fate that people find fascinating. People also fear you. They do not like the idea that their lives reveal patterns that are governed by unseen forces or an unseen hand. They abhor the idea that magic might intrude on their lives, or perhaps they abhor the idea that they are less free because they are subject to some iron-like and immutable governance. Ouija, aren’t you a little like the mystery behind the oceans? And you, do you mind being the name that has been assigned to the purposed intersection of human desire and some grand design? Don’t answer those questions. Long ago I abandoned your Ouija board for another board known as the sea.
Well, we got through that philosophizing. And everyone is wide awake, except for the boy there, my special friend. He slumbers. You know, he invited me here today, and Ouija too. A gift for invitation he has--always had, always will. But pay attention? His mind runs with other traces. I could never understand him. Take his nonsense, oh, pardon me, his Nonesuch. He had an idea that started pretty well. What he intended was that the work be a touchstone for the collective memory of the 1963 graduating class of the high school named for me. It was to be a milestone by which not only he but the class as a whole could put in perspective the continuum of people associated with the school. This was not selfishly intended. His book, which had a publisher even before a single word had been written, will not be a best seller. The boy tried to use a metaphor of the Maury Nonesuch, which was a fictional version of the Maury News that was perhaps the one thing that all his classmates would remember--particularly those who worked with him to get the truth on record and also get the paper out. So it is my nonsense, sorry again for my senior moments, Nonesuch, that he is, in effect, celebrating. I am grateful for the memory, and I thank him. Ouija is nodding her head. I think she thanks him too. Ouija, come up here--it is high time we took our leave.
Where are we going, class? Well, Ouija has always been fond of double hamburgers and milkshakes, and when she fidgets as she is doing now, I know it is eat or suffer for her and everyone around her. Listen up: you do not want this goddess to be angry with you.
Ouija, let’s be off. But wait, it cannot be. Ouija, we will have to make a threesome. Up the aisle is coming the leviathan from the wall of the boy’s third floor homeroom. And is not that the black mother and her children from the picture in the first floor room? Look, look, here comes a dance of those departed Maury souls in long lines of football players, band members, homecoming queens, scholars, golfers, club members and members of no clubs, legions of writers, editors, photographers, typists, business managers of the Maury News. There I see rise the National Mollweide Week organizers and, my Lord, the ghost of old Mollweide himself. And here come Jed and Cal and their ladies looking very much alive, and they are leading the Prom attendees in a twist without the shout. Twister time is here. Even the fish is dancing in the aisles.
And through it all sleeps the boy, now surrounded, see, by imps and pixies pinching him on all sides, looking very much like the boys and girls he used to know and some of the girls he fancied that he loved. Goodnight, then, all, and, alas, goodbye. Four decades after, you have drifted oceans away from this school and these friends. Some of your comrades and lovers you have lost forever. What will the toll be at the fifth decade and the sixth? Who wins and loses what race and why? Ouija, remain silent, please. No prophetic insights off the board! I just do not want to know, and neither do they. But, in parting let me say, memento mori--that’s “Remember me. “ And no tears! After all, it is “hamburger time,” and, Class of 1963, can you still get a good milkshake nearby? The book has ended. Let’s all go eat.
M. W. 1 It dawned on me that I had no clue who MFM was in real life. I don't remember having any handouts about him when we started school. I decided it's never too late to start. So I searched our global instant information source, the WORLD WIDE WEB. The links below are not a complete WEB-search, but there is a lot of "stuff" contained on these links:
Mathew F. Maury:
Matthew F. Maury (1806-1873)
Matthew Fontane Maury was a famous hydrographer and commander in the Confederate Navy, known as "Pathfinder of the Seas." In 1842 he was named head of the hydrographical office of the U. S. Navy. Maury wrote several books on improvements in the Navy. In 1861 he resigned and entered the Confederate Navy as commander. After the war Maury continued his experiments in Europe and Mexico.
Confederate/Union Naval Resources:
Civil War Mines:
What I have learned is that:
1) Maury was not the first high school in Norfolk--another high school was built before the turn of the Century, and burned about ten years later. †When the high school was rebuilt, the new school was named for Maury.
2) Maury resigned his Union Commission, and became a very highly ranked Confederate Naval Officer. †He was influential in the defense of Richmond and other ports through this experimentation with mines and the invention of the torpedo.
3) Maury spent most of the War in Europe, as an Emissary and Purchasing Agent for the CSA.
4) When he returned to the US, he taught at VMI.
5) I'm having trouble at the moment convincing myself that he actually held the rank of Commodore. †There are numerous references to his being a Commander. †He was ruled unfit for sea duty early in his career, due to a stage coach accident. †Before joining up with Lee/Davis and the CSA, he was the Superintendent of the Naval Observatory. †The list of commanders of
the Naval Observatory does not show his rank as Commodore. †Perhaps that rank was granted by the CSA, but it is not clear that it was.
Until 1957 we had all of the CSA heroes birthdays off as school holidays? †I'm willing to bet you a crab cake that the School Board named this school after Maury because he was such a highly placed CSA official--and not because of any of his work in Oceanic Navigation. †There are a goodly number of WEB sites that place his in the same league as Lee and Davis. I would be really interesting to know more about his CSA activities.
There is also a three chapter Biography of MFM, written by someone in his family tree. By the way, the VMI digital archive has a number of letters from MFM to his family--demonstrating his mindset as a father.
Once again, God Bless the Internet!
Afterword by Mollweide
Hello. My name is Mollweide--I’m the German mathematician. The author said you want a key to his work. I must confess, I provided the basis for his design with my three mathematical formulas (They are on the World Wide Web, as you probably know, and some of you may have learned them by heart on account of your celebrations of my week.). The resulting text must prove a little confusing what with the author’s use of poetic license. A diagram might help:
P 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 E A
------------------------------------------------------ Line of Continuity (P-E)
------------------------------------------ Set Up/Compl/Res (1-12)
P-Oija=Caprice of Fate
E-1st Call Commodore Maury’s Ghost=Inexorable Design
Main Plot Line: 4 Comrades + 4 Ladies Need to Get Sorted Out for Prom
Sub Plot 1: Ouija and Commodore Maury’s Ghost need to come together as complimentary ideas, O+M, OM, perfection, yes?
Sub Plot 2: The Maury Nonesuch must get to press before the Reunion
Sub Plot 3: Memory (the Fish) needs revival
If I have been clear so far, please pay attention as we go through our proof. If we take the angles a, b and c in their various combinations are worked out as below:
w--d Complication 1
x--a Complication 2 Resolution A: WBK
y--b Complication 3 Resolution B: WBK
z--c Complication 4 Resolution C: WBK
Now think of the letters as numbers where
x+y+z=a+b+c=180 degrees and
triangles abc and xyz are congruent and lie on parallel planes
displaced on a vertical axis with perpendicular distance MF between them.
Ideally, of course. But here’s the complication: a should line up with x and so forth.
we have to do something to make things work out.
So we successively substitute w for x, y and z.
And we miraculously remap a, b and c through the substitution
while applying all of my formulas involving A, B and C.
Now abc is perfectly aligned with xyz.
At least for the PROM.
And old Mollweide’s right again, you see.
Nein? Auf Wiedersehen.Start writing here ...