Saturday, September 26, 1964
Yesterday's memorial service for Jimmy Parker went according to plan. It was low-key. A mass, a homily, and a gathering. The absence of beer helped, as did almost everyone's unfamiliarity with Jimmy Parker. By all accounts, he was a loner. He kept to himself, caused no trouble, created no interest. After he died, the seminarians did their best to remember him. And couldn't. The seminarians from St. Joe Hall were left with a vague feeling of guilt. The seminarians from Holy Cross had nothing, except that icky feeling you get when someone you know—or are supposed to know—commits suicide. Joe Perry gave a true homily, focusing on Scripture rather than personal remarks about the diseased. He focused on the Christian basics—the suffering of the Christ, his death, and his resurrection. Even so, the priest's voice halted in spots, where I imagined him thinking about Jimmy's body hanging across from the life-size crucifix in the woods.
My weekend turned out to be all about family. I was supposed to have Butch and Sissy all day Saturday, but I arranged to have the morning to myself in exchange for keeping the kids through the evening, when we were scheduled to have a movie and a soiree for those not going home to their families.
I picked them up, just in time to catch Notre Dame's first football game of the season on the radio. Hopes were high, though a little reserved in light of a truly terrible season the year before. Thus, some of the seminarians wanted to follow the game and some didn't care. Sissy went out to the ball diamond with a few who didn't care and got involved in a game of 16-inch softball, which didn't require gloves. I wasn't sure how this was going to work, but I found out later that Sissy became the pitcher for one side. I'm not sure how she managed this, but it made her the center of attention, something she was good at. I gathered she got the ball across the plate on occasion.
Butch and I went downstairs to the auditorium, where some of the guys were listening to the game. I've always had an intense interest in Notre Dame football, but I've never been able to sit and listen to the game. I had to be doing something else. Ditto for Butch and, as it turned out, several of the other guys. They commandeered the pool table, and Butch and I were stuck listening to the game. At half-time, Butch and I took a break and went outside where Dave Johnson, a junior, was readying the rowboat for action.
"That looks like fun," Butch said.
I wasn't sure if he thought it really looked like fun or whether he thought it had to be better than sitting on a folding chair, listening to the radio. Regardless, I had ulterior motives. Butch was a shy boy, and I thought it might be useful if he got to know one of the seminarians one-on-one. I wasn't sure if Dave was the right choice. He was a bit of a stranger in his own class, a loner himself who was obsessed with Australia. Apparently, he had spent his early childhood there, until his mother divorced his Australian father and moved back to the states. He always seemed to wear an Aussie ranger hat and affected an Australian accent. .
"Hey, Dave!" I yelled, just before he got away from the pier. "You mind taking Butch out for a spin? He's a little bored with the football game."
Dave didn't appear to be interested in the football game either. He just shrugged and maneuvered himself back to the pier. Butch clambered in. When he didn't appear to be donning his life jacket, I said. "Hey, Dave! You mind putting on your life jacket. Butch is going to feel like an idiot when I order him to wear his—and you're not wearing yours." I watched Butch cringe, his shoulders nearly disappearing into his ears.
Dave stopped rowing and, with a trace of grin, said, "No worries." He picked up a life jacket and put it on.
Butch followed suit.
I went back to the football game and listened to Notre Dame beat Wisconsin 31-6. A good omen, what with a new coach and all. By the time the game finished, it was time for the seminarians to clean up for dinner. Basically, this was free time, but some of them needed to shower and others needed to change into casual wear, which was a notch above jeans and dirty sweatshirts. This was Saturday, after all.
Butch and Sissy needed to clean up, and I had prepared for that. They had a change of clothes, and I had a room with a shower. Sissy wasn't supposed to be in anybody's room, but a father (the biological kind) had a waiver. It took me fifteen minutes to gather them up, climb the three flights of stairs, and decide who was going to shower first. Given that my recreational activity that afternoon consisted mostly of sitting on my rear end, I took a pass. Sissy agreed that she should go first, being both the oldest and prettiest. Butch just grunted.
While Sissy went to work in the bathroom, I had a chance to talk to Butch about his afternoon, particularly the time he spent with Dave Johnson. He was unusually talkative, perhaps because he couldn't figure out what else to do with me in my room.
"It was fun," he said. "I like being out on the lake."
"Even if you're not fishing?"
"Even if ... except we did fish, sort of. Dingo Dave likes to troll the shore, looking for goldfish. Then he tries to spear them."
"Ugh, does he ever get one?"
"He's pretty good at it. If you walk along the lake and see goldfish floating in the rocks, you can spear them. He let me have a go at it, but I didn't get anything. Still it was fun."
"This doesn't seem like you," I said. "Random fish killing. You're more of a catch-a-bluegill-for-dinner kind of guy,"
"Dingo Dave says he's doing a service," Butch said.
"That's the second time you called him Dingo Dave."
"The guys gave him the name. He talks like he's an Australian—calls me 'Mate' and all that. It's a little phony but kinda fun. Anyway, he says the lake used to be filled with bluegill, but the goldfish have crowded them out."
"True enough," I said. "I used to catch dozens of bluegills in the early morning off the swimming pier on St. Joe Lake. Now the gills are almost gone. So maybe Dingo Dave is right. Is this what you did all afternoon?"
"Much of it," Butch said. "But first he took me to the island on the other side of the lake and showed me his camp."
"That's what he called it," Butch said. "He built a cool shelter out of yew branches."
"Yew branches, from a yew tree."
"Oh, y-e-w branches."
"Sorry, now y-o-u get it," Butch laughed. Butch was a sourpuss much of the time, but he liked to play with words. "There are a couple of y-e-w trees on the island, and Dingo Dave broke off some of the lower branches for his fort."
"Sounds cool," I said.
"It was," Butch said. "He had a way of cooking. Well, sort of. He has a Boy Scout cooking kit stashed away, so he can do some simple cooking."
"Surely, you can't get away with a campfire on the island."
"Naw." Butch looked at me like I was an idiot. "This is supposed to be a hideout. Dingo Dave doesn't want to call attention to himself."
I suppressed a laugh. The hat, the accent, the nickname were hardly the work of someone who wanted to hide in the bushes. He had made himself something of a mythical figure among the seminarians, who enjoyed following his aqua-antics and inventing stories about him. "So how does he cook?"
"He has a supply of half-full sterno cans," Butch said, "courtesy of the priest waiters. They use them to keep the coffee warm."
Yes, indeed. The myth of Dingo Dave was a community project. "Very smart," I allowed. "Sterno cans. No smoke. What's he cook?"
"Mostly teas and soups," Butch said. "He made me tomato soup, using little packages of ketchup and crackers that he swiped from the Huddle."
"Oka-ay," I said.
"And he makes tea," he said.
"Tea bags are easy enough to get, I assume."
"Yea, but he's experimenting with making teas from things on the island," Butch said. "It's a survival thing."
"Ever the Boy Scout," I said. "What kind of tea?"
"Different plants. There's some sassafras on the island. He said you can make a tasty tea from the roots, but it takes a long time. For today, he suggested we try some pine needle tea."
"And you did that?"
"Yes, but it was kind of funny. When he suggested pine needles, I got up and started grabbing needles from the y-e-w tree—thinking it was close enough to a pine and might be tasty."
"It's a conifer," I said, "but not a pine."
"Pine. Yew. I knew they were different, but I thought they were all related."
"Sure," I said. "Needles and all."
"But he stopped me cold," Butch said. "He said we couldn't make tea from the yew needles—they were poison."
"No kidding. He tried some last spring and got really sick. He wanted to blame the nun's cooking, but nobody else got sick like he did. He guessed it was the y-e-w tea, but he didn't know for sure until a couple of weeks ago."
"How'd he find out?"
"At the university library," Butch said. "He couldn't go there last year. It's the only change he likes. He hates the new teacher."
"Umm, that would be me."
"Oh, sorry." Butch said. "He didn't mention you. The other guy."
"Yea, that's him."
"Hates is a pretty strong word, especially because Dave doesn't have any classes with him."
"Yea, maybe. He's just doesn't like some things about him."
"Like he teaches history backwards."
"Like I said, he doesn't take history. So what's the deal?"
"He heard that he brought up concentration camps in Germany—and made a big deal homosexuals in the camps."
"Well, there were," I said. "But there were mostly Jews, and some Gypsies too. Even some Christians. It was bad. Remember, I got a first hand look at some of it during the war."
"I guess. Maybe BJ mentioned ..."
I grimaced. The awkward nickname was already in play. "Don't call him that."
"That's what Dave calls him."
"Just don't." I didn't feel like explaining to him. "Just don't. Call him 'Father Fox'."
"So, okay," he looked at me, puzzled. "Anyway, Dave heard that he brought up the queers in Germany and ..."
"Don't use that word ..." I said, issuing a correction I thought I should make, even though I wasn't sure what word he should use. "Gay" hadn't come into use yet, and there wasn't much out there except insults and denial.
"Uh, okay. Homos ... uh sexuals," Butch stuttered. "It's getting hard to communicate here. Anyway, Dave didn't like it."
"He didn't think it was true," I offered.
"Dunno. Maybe he just didn't like, um Father Fox, bringing it up."
By then, Sissy had finished her shower, dressed in her change of clothes, and had exited the bathroom with a demand: "Dad, where's your hair dryer?"
"Geez, Sissy," I said. "Do I look like I need a hair dryer?"
This amused my son no end. "Look, Sissy, Dad's got a 'butch'!"
Sure enough. Earlier in the week, I had gotten a short haircut from the house barber. Not a buzzcut, exactly, but short. It wasn't a great look for me. Nothing was, I thought. I had an unfortunate colic in front that made the flattop I had always wanted impossible. If I grew it out, I could comb it, sort of. "Sis," I said, "I'm afraid you're going to have to use the 'air' dryer."
"Ooh, good one, Dad," said Butch. We were back to bonding over puns. With that, Butch got up, went into the bathroom for his shower.
Meanwhile, Sissy plunked down on my easy chair, folded her arms, glared at me, and didn't say a word. I really wanted to talk to her—unlike Butch who had good information on one seminarian, Sissy would have a fix on a raft of them. But I was going to have to wait.
Fortunately, Butch finished his shower in world record time, and we went downstairs for dinner.
Seating on Sunday wasn't assigned, which meant there was a small commotion as the boys negotiated who was going to sit at Sissy's table—and somehow it did become "Sissy's table," even though she was the guest. Butch was another story. As soon as he saw Dingo Dave, he made a beeline for his table and sat next to him. I was expected to sit at the priest's table and couldn't hear the conversation, but Sissy's table was clearly the most animated.
The same scenario, more or less, developed after dinner when everyone assembled in the auditorium for the movie, North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. This time, though, the seating was in rows, which meant there was a premium on who would get to sit next to Sissy. One of the boys tried to position Sissy for himself, with Sissy in the aisle seat and himself next to her. Sissy was having none of that and sat down on an inside seat so that she would have boys on either side of her, leaving it to the boys to figure out who would sit where. Calm for her, chaos for them. Right where she wanted them.
Butch, less socially skilled, sat next to Dingo Dave, who had taken an aisle seat.