Monday, September 7, 1964
I didn’t meet Bernie Fox until Labor Day.
By then, the upperclassmen had been around for a week—alternating painting and scrubbing with playing and goofing off. Normally, upperclassmen pointed out, preparation week had a camp feeling—with most of the usual rules held in abeyance until the freshmen came and classes started. This year the place was abuzz with the news that the usual rules weren’t going to be instituted at all. The upperclassmen had spent more than their usual time in the chapel, listening to Hank Grieshaber (immediately dubbed “Father Grease”) drone on about Vatican II and how the winds of change were sweeping through their seminary before any others. This was a source of pride to most, though some of the seniors expressed discomfort.
The freshman had begun arriving on Saturday with almost everyone on board by Sunday, just in time for the annual bunco party. The upperclassmen passed on the news about the big changes with an enthusiasm that was lost on the newbies, who, after all, had never experienced the bad old days. They were more caught up in surviving their few days away from their mommies.
The camp feeling—days spent playing softball, swimming, watching movies—was meant to distract them. By and large it worked. Only one homesick freshmen had abandoned ship by Monday.
The corn roast, to be followed by a hootenany, was the last part of the fun before classes began on Tuesday. Brother Rufus and three burly juniors had spent Monday morning digging the corn pit. They loaded it up with wood at noon and spent the afternoon burning the bonfire down to glowing goals. A small truckload of corn, unshucked, was dumped on top of the coals and devoured before sunset with chicken, cole slaw, and potato salad.
Bernie Fox showed up just in time to get his share. I’d accuse him of making an entrance, but in fairness he just stuck out in a crowd. He was a few years older than I—mid-40s—and tall, maybe 6 feet 6 inches, with a blonde flattop, a ruddy complexion, and a noticeable scar that started just under his left eye and proceeded down almost to his mouth. He was wearing a tennis outfit, white shorts, white v-necked sweater with blue trim, and white tennis shoes. He didn't smile and looked diffident, hovering on grumpy. He greeted his fellow priests with little more than a nod and grabbed himself a Dixie Cup of “bug juice” from a thermos on a picnic table.
Father Grease—I loved Hank’s new handle—went over to him, said something, and brought him my way. “Bert, Bernie Fox,” he said with feigned enthusiasm.
“About time, “ I said, shaking Bernie's hand. It was softer than I expected. He wasn't feigning any enthusiasm. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I bet,” he said. “And I’ve heard you have a knack for punching out priests.” Mr. Charm.
“All true,” I said with a smile, thinking I could have said what I heard about him. But I didn't. Mr. Charm Squared.
“Okay, you got me Bernie,” Hank said. “I hired him to be my enforcer.”
“I assumed it wasn’t his teaching experience,” Bernie said, looking right at me rather than Hank. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to introduce myself to some of the boys.”
“Bert, I think he likes you, ” Hank said.
“My lucky day. Let’s get some of that corn.”