Potato Weather For SureSaturday, September 20, 2014
“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure.”
― Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Our dorm prefect in the 10th grade at St.Ed’s High School, Brother Rene Lenhard. C.S.C. must have either been sick or away on some other duty. Our provisional one was the unusually passionate Brother Dunstan Bowles, C.S.C.
I have no recollection what program we may have been watching on our communal dorm TV. In Austin, the communications honcho was L.B.J. so there was only one channel, his CBS affiliate, KTBC. Whatever it was that we were watching, it caused Brother Dunstan to storm into our dorm from his room (Brother Rene’s). He shouted at us something to do with our lack of culture and good taste. Brother Dunstan was not a big man. He lifted the TV set as high as he could and dropped it on the floor. His face was red. He then proceeded to kick what was left of the set into electronic pulp.
It was in grade 11, 1960 when Brother Dunstan taught us English and English Lit. I remember that one day he came in very excited and told us, “I have discovered this wonderful English playwright. His name is Harold Pinter.” He then read us some lines from Pinter’s play The Birthday Party. Someone in Texas, in 1960 knowing about Harold Pinter!
One day during that year with Brother Dunstan he called me into his office to tell me that even though he thought my homework assignments and essays were probably good he found my writing illegible. He told me to learn to type or to improve my handwriting or he would simply not bother to read any of it.
I have no idea why I went to see our librarian, Brother Myron Bachenheimer, C.S.C.. Brother Myron was the most eccentric brother on campus. He was short, usually walked around with a black hat, a cape and a cane and had a short fuse (shorter than Brother Dunstan’s). He had a rich vocabulary and spoke several languages. I believe he was traumatized (silently) by our ignorance and stupidity.
I went to Brother Myron with my problem. He told me he had a solution. He made a list of materials which I was to buy downtown.
1. An Osmiroid or Sheaffer Italic B nib.
2. An Osmiroid or Sheaffer Italic A nib
3. A bottle of black Quinck ink.
4. A bottle of red Quinck ink.
For several weeks Brother Myron taught me to write in italic. I had to Esterbrook fountain pens. One was blue and the other a smaller one was red. The black ink was for writing the body of my essays. The red ink was to make the much larger first letters that began all paragraphs.
I have none of those notebooks left. They looked like poor copies of those 12th century manuscripts, but pretty nice, nonetheless. I have to add that I passed Brother Dunstan’s class with a very good grade. My only remaining remnant of my italic handwriting is my signature in my Argentine military draft document. I had to get the document at about the time I was in Brother Dunstan’s class. Note my signature in italic and the date 23 August 1961.
Every year Brother Dunstan mounted a school play. That year the play was Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. While I always thought I might have made a decent actor I could not for two reasons. I was nerdishly shy and I had a terrible memory. I could not remember the lines of poems.
My contribution to Brother Dunstan’s plays was to either work backstage or to play the saxophone with a small school Dance Band that had the better musicians of the school marching band.
I was very keen to help in these plays because invariably Brother Dunstan chose plays that cast women. This meant that the girls from the Roman Catholic school St. Mary’s which was across town would be around. In the 11th and 12 I was in love (she did not know) with a short cheerleader Judy Reyes.
Her parents had a dry cleaning business and I do believe I managed to have one date with her. Thanks to Brother Dunstan I was given a chance to experience a small dose of romance.
I have spotty memory of Brother Dunstan reading lines from the play. He read the lines with an obvious pleasure on how they hit home for being so simple and about simple people (complex if you looked carefully) living in a simple and small town in New Hampshire called Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913.
“Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners... Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
― Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Today Rosemary, Hilary, Lauren and I sat down to see a badly converted (from VHS to DVD) copy of Sam Wood’s 1940 Our Town with a very young William Holden, a lovely Martha Scott and (and!) with a score by Aaron Copland.
This wonderful film had scenes of milk being delivered by a horse drawn carriage and the storing of the mile in ice boxes. Hilary explained these scenes to Lauren. I had to add that in the late 40s milk was delivered in such a way (except the carriage had a truck’s pneumatic tires) and that we indeed stored the milk in an icebox and that the ice man delivered ice once a week.
Lauren undid her Arts Umbrella dance bun and let her lovely hair cascade on her shoulder. I looked at her and marveled at the fact that the film, the play, Brother Dunstan, and my granddaughter were all in the same room at the same time. As in the film’s dream sequence of death I could feel the presence of ghosts who finally realize that in the grave while you can attempt to re-live the best parts of your life, it is far easier to seek the ordinary ones. These are the ones that seen again become extraordinary.
“Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.”
― Thornton Wilder, Our Town