Saturday, August 22, 1964
“Good-looking kids,” Brother Rufus said, looking out at Butch and Sissy goofing around on the raft. Rufus had caught us taking a swim and asked us if we’d help him put the raft out in preparation for the arrival of the seminarians.
We were glad to help out. It gave us something to do. Kids their age—Butch was 14, Sissy was 16—don’t want to hang around their parents, and I had given them some legitimate reasons for not wanting to hang around me. Someday, I'd need to reach out and apologize for what a bad parent I had been. Now was not the time. They didn’t want to hear about it; they didn't need the reminder. When I tried to talk with them about any matter of substance, they resisted. Butch retreated into stony silence. Sissy, ever the extrovert, talked. And talked. And talked. About nothing—and anything, mainly I gathered to keep me from talking. I didn't worry that much about it. I figured I had enough on my plate just staying sober. Anyway, things were looking up. At least, I had a job and a room with a bathroom. My wife and I still weren't talking much, but she had agreed to let me take the kids every other Saturday. So here I was. It wasn’t much. It was the best I could do. It was better than I had ever done.
“Hmm, thanks,” I responded finally. “Must be my wife’s doing. Er, we're separated.”
“Well, I assumed there was no wife in the picture.”
“What with me taking on the life of a monk and all.”
“Yea, that too. Anyways, the life of a monk ain’t so bad. Of course, this year promises to be a lee-tle different.” He strung out “lee-tle” like it was a piece of taffy with an accent.
“You’re not entirely in favor of the changes,” I said. My buddy Hank might have been fond of his scotch, but he managed where I hadn't. He had things he wanted to do. Inspired by John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, Hank had decided Holy Cross Sem needed a few open windows of its own. He planned wholesale changes. Big stuff. Seminarians would no longer have to keep silence in the halls. He was going to abolish “visiting Sunday” and let seminarians have visitors any weekend, once their chores were done. He was going to be more liberal about letting seminarians go off campus. In fact, he wanted them off campus at times, to work on what he called their apostolates. The idea was to do service—working with retarded children, poor folks, Negroes, which was still the politically correct term in 1964. He announced he was going to throw out the music code—now even the freshman would be able to listen to the up-and-coming Beatles instead of Peter, Paul, and Mary. He changed the dress code, allowing sweaters in the classroom instead of the traditional blazer. Finally, he thought the seminarians should be able to interact with other students, including and especially girls. Some of the faculty were ecstatic. Traditionalists like Brother Rufus were uneasy.
“Not my call,” Rufus said, as if reading my mind. “But truth to tell, I think it’ll be trouble. Leastways, it'll be interesting.”
“Yea, I guess it will be different all right,” I said, moving the conversation ahead, oh, a quarter of an inch.
“Yep,” he said. An eighth of an inch.
“New faculty, too,” I said. Half an inch.
“You and that Fox,” he said. An inch.
“Know much about him?” I asked. Whoa, a foot.
Rufus grunted. “Just what I’ve heard.” Bingo. A yard.
“And what’s that?”
“Well, you know, I really shouldn’t say.” He was dying to tell me. “Put it to you this way,” he said staring out to the raft, where Butch and Sissy sat with their feet dangling in the water. “If I had a daughter as pretty as yourn and Br’er Fox came around, why…” He paused, enjoying his own suspense.
I waited and finally gave in. “Why-y what?”
“Why it wouldn’t bother me a bit,” he said, his eyes twinkling as if telling a dirty joke. “Now if he got near the boy …”
Br’er Fox hadn’t even shown up yet. Rufus was right. It was going to be an interesting year.