Saturday, October 31, 1964
Fall. The color was almost gone from the trees. The air was crisp. And right on schedule, my throat had a tickle, suggesting a bout with bronchitis to come. Every spring and fall, as the seasons changed, I got a sore throat, which after a few days went to my chest and produced a brain-rattling dry cough and lingered until it mercifully broke into a wet phlegmy cough that sounded disgusting but was evidence of healing. Someday, maybe, I would quit smoking.
The good news was that Notre Dame was playing an away game—Navy in Philadelphia—which meant I didn't have to sit through a home game feeling like crap. They were on a roll, and I would have gone to a home game, even if I had to crawl out of a hospital bed.
The Bernie Fox problem lingered like a rat two-weeks-dead inside the walls of a house. Hank had talked to Bernie, and he shrugged it off.
"A crank," he had said. "Probably a student, who doesn't like my grading."
Bernie wouldn't say which student. We had to guess, but we had our suspicions. Hank assigned me to talk to the Johnson brothers—with discretion. Great.
In the meantime, Hank had gone to see the provincial, who suggested the time might have come to move Bernie Fox to a safer assignment. Hank told the provincial that Bernie would never sit for that. "He may have to," the provincial told Hank and said he needed to think about it over the weekend.
Between that and the throat tickle, I was not in a good mood. Against my better judgment, I decided to visit the infirmary upstairs in a separate section of the building where the seniors shared rooms rather than an open dormitory. The infirmary was overseen by one Sister Angela, who spoke English quite well. Her older and heftier colleagues in the kitchen spoke German, not even trying to speak English. Some of the students swore they could understand and speak English—and were probably spies for the administration.
I had to bite my tongue whenever I heard this. I did believe they understood more than they appeared to, if only because their order was not entirely or even mostly composed of German-speakers. Case in point: Sister Angela spoke good English with an ever-so-slight accent that I didn't recognize. She was nice enough, but the word from the students was that she wasn't much of nurse, her care consisting of Coricidin, throat swabbings with Mercurochrome, and a jigger of Terpin Hyrdrate for everything from colds to sprained ankles, at least according to the students.
Sure enough, as soon as told her my symptom, she made me open my mouth, say ah-h, and hit me with a long Q-tip loaded with Mercurochrome, a practice that was discontinued a few years ago because the supposed medicine had mercury in it. Probably why I can't remember things any more. While she was choking me with the Q-tip, she inquired as to how I liked teaching at the school. When I got my voice back, I mumbled something to the effect of "fine."
"A lot of changes," she said.
"That's what I'm told," I said.
"Changes can be difficult sometimes," she said.
"That's what I'm told," I said.
With that she gave me a wee dram of Terpin Hydrate, and a small envelope of Coricidins for the road. She said they might be helpful if my bronchitis blossomed into the real thing. I had no doubt that this was in the cards.
I left, wondering what I should do next. I went outside on the lakeside, but it was too crisp to stay out long. I was about to go back inside when I saw Dingo Dave emerging from the boathouse door.
"Hey, Dave, I thought you would be out on the lake."
He laughed. "No worries, Mate. I would, but there's nawt much to do for a sacristan on Saturday, and it annoys my mates. I lie low until later in the morning." His Australian accent was annoying and bad.
"What's up at the boathouse?"
"No worries. It's my station for tonight's shindig. Whoy dontcha have a look."
I did. The place was in disarray, though I could see the makings of an obstacle course, a combination of tunnels, things hanging from the ceiling, and upturned boats.
"Loyk it?" he asked
"Looks like an obstacle course."
"Exactly, but it will be pitch black in here," he said. "Beside that, we're going to create a ramp down the stairs." He pointed to the stairs to the upper level. The boathouse was the lower level of building set into a steep bank. The upper floor was the spudhouse, which was all about peeling potatoes for a family of one hundred.
"Really," I said. "The stairs are steep. It looks dangerous."
"Oh, we'll have mattresses and such at the foot," he said. "But it will scare the hell out of them."
I thought it looked dangerous. "Seems a little extreme."
"It'll be the best haunted house ever."
"Scaring them is fine," I said. "Injuring them is not."
"No worries," he said. "We've just got the ramp, with mattresses on the landing. Then the obstacle course, mostly crawling, which is a nice touch, I think. The sissies will be out of their minds."
I thought of one Sissy that was not going to endure this. "Sissies?"
"Yea, freshman, the little twerps."
"My son is a freshman," I said. "Is he a twerp? You two seem to do okay together."
He looked at me. "Is he coming? I'll look out for him."
"Why should you need to look out for him?" I said. "Tonight is supposed to be fun, not dangerous." I left, having decided against letting Sissy and Butch participate in the haunted house. In addition, I went off to tell Hank that he might want to issue a warning to the juniors. Dial it back, Guys.
Then it was off to pick up Butch and Sissy, which I had been looking forward to. Until that tickle thing. Today, I just wanted to hole up. But ... stiff upper lip, I got in the Edsel and headed out.
When I got to the house, the kids weren't ready. In fact, they seemed to be resisting the outing. Sarah explained that Sissy had been invited to a costume party hosted by one of her friends—and she really wanted to go. Butch thought Halloween was borderline "stupid" and wanted to stay home and finish building his Heathkit radio. I saw an opportunity to be gracious, selfish, and a good parent all in one. I explained that I wasn't feeling well and would be grateful if we could drop the trip to the seminary, just this once. They were delighted.
Sarah suggested that I retire to the bedroom for a nap while she dropped Sissy off at her party and went grocery shopping. Butch was left at the house, happy to work on his Heathkit, alone.
After Sarah and Sissy left, I did retire to what had been our bedroom and stretched out on the bedspread. I wasn't sure what I felt, though I decided it had more to do with hope for the future than nostalgia for the past.
I turned on the bedside radio, tuned it to listen to Notre Dame playing Navy. No problems. I dozed off. By the time I woke up the score was 40-0.
My throat was sore, and my thoughts turned to the upcoming evening. As things turned out, I was glad that Sissy and Butch had better things to do than participate in the seminarians' Halloween activities.