Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Chapter 54

Monday, January 4, 1965

Things were quiet. New Year's had passed uneventfully, which for me was a good thing. In previous years, I had spent New Year's Day comatose, having partied on New Year's Eve and gone out for Tom and Jerrys on New Year's Day. The latter came with a particularly savage custom, though the veneer was holiday cheer. In most places, the first Tom and Jerry was free. Of course, etiquette required that you order a second one for regular price. Then it was off to the American Legion for the same drill. Then to a VFW lodge further down the road for two more. Since each cup of the hot drink had a shot of rum and a shot of brandy, the entire escapade required drinking twelve shots of 80 proof spirit. I had built up my tolerance over the years, so I managed to make it home more or less conscious. But the the practice led to another custom, sleeping away the afternoon. This year I was sober and was able to watch a couple of bowl games, though I believe I might have slept away most of those. Habit, I guess. New Year's Day had to be one of the more boring festivals ever invented. Men did the Tom and Jerry thing and watched football. Women mostly wanted no part of it, though my wife did consider this a "Holy Day of Obligation," the Feast of the Circumcision in those days. I resolved to ask Eli about that.

Today, the unfortunate festivities were finally behind us. Sarah was back at work. The library was open for business, even though classes had not begun yet. She had plenty to do but time enough to meet for coffee downstairs and plan strategy. By now, we had a good picture of young Bernie's life as a Nazi. He had been party to a massacre in Italy and other things we didn't know about. The massacre occurred not long before his defection, so we surmised it might have been the straw that broke the camel's back. We were guessing, but the time was right. We also guessed that the massacre would have given someone a motive for seeking revenge. 

However, Sarah pointed out that, as a member of the SS, Bernhard surely would have been party to other atrocities, creating reasons for revenge all along his career. His background as a Brown Shirt was interesting, the connection to the persecution of homosexuals suggesting some context for his passion on the subject. Then again, he was involved in the rounding up and transporting Jews to extermination camps, but maybe he didn't know what happened at those camps. Sarah thought this was unlikely.

Still, I was intrigued with the Italian connection. We had progressed a lot in our surmises, but we were getting nowhere with anything solid. We were back to looking at the staff, including the good sisters.

Sarah volunteered to look into the background of the three nuns. "I have a few connections." She had been a novice once, though not in the same order. Still, she knew people and people who knew people, as Eli might have said. 

The rest of the staff was on me. I had managed to get most of what I needed from Hank, though he wasn't happy about it. 

Father Hopfensperger, aka Father Hop, was the son of parents who emigrated from Germany near Czechoslovakia in the 1920s. He joined the U.S, Army soon after World War II began, fought in Italy and got sent home with a wound that left him with a permanent limp.

Our religion teacher, the aptly named Mathew O'Connor was of Irish descent, something he was quite proud of, though you had to go back three or four generations to find the Irish emigrant. 

Father Franco Fratelli, our math teacher, had an Italian name and was also second-generation American. His people came from the North, Hank thought. 

Father George Pieczi, our physics teacher, was of Polish descent, also second generation out of Chicago.

Father Phil Fischer had a German name and a French background, his great-grandparents having come from somewhere in Alsace Loraine. Ironically, he was fluent in French and Spanish, which he taught, but not in German.
He had taught at Notre Dame High School in Niles, had worked with Bernie Fox there and respected rather than liked him. He acknowledged that he could be hard to get along with but verified that Bernie had a habit of going to bat for the underdogs.

Brother Rufus Meyer, maintenance man, was American born, son of German immigrants from near Luxemburg.

Then, of course, there was my friend and patron, Hank Grieshaber, grandson of German immigrants. 

The staff was American, but all had descended from Europeans and might have ties to the old country. I'm not sure what that got me. Fathers O'Connor and Fischer had worked with Bernie Fox. Neither seemed to like him, any more than I did, but both swore they respected him. O'Connor compared him to Dorothy Day, who had visited the seminary earlier in the year and had answered student questions rather sharply, almost rudely. "She's a thorn in the side of good people," he said. "A good thorn, but a thorn. Bernie was like that."

That was Bernie. Someone you could admire. And someone you wanted to avoid.

No comments:

Post a Comment