For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Boston, Massachussetts, April 1968Holy Cross University...First Year
The rain had been falling steadily for hours and frankly, I was getting a little tired of it. The heavy, fat drops were hitting the roof so hard that the television reception was turning to snow while the antenna took a serious pounding. There was so much water running through the streets now, I half expected to see Noah himself sail by on a reunion tour. It had been raining for two days straight and some of us had started adding prayers for spring at morning Vespers. I was looking forward to this little break from school, and continued packing while I just listened to an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ on the TV.
“Lucy, you have some splainin to do!” said Ricky Ricardo in the background.
You have to love that show, and Fred Mertz must have been modeled after my Uncle Liam, they’re peas in a pod those two I swear! I smiled to myself with that thought and tossed a handful of bundled socks into the suitcase. Closing the top and fixing the latches, I set the luggage on the floor near the door. Fairly light traveling I thought, one suitcase and a duffel bag full of laundry and darning to take home to mother, she will be so pleased to know how much I still need her. Well, that’s what I’m counting on anyway, never did master a needle and thread. Like, as not she’ll swat me on the shoulder after she kisses me hello and lovingly complain about my taking advantage of her good Christian nature.
“So boy, this is how you reward your poor mother! A heap of shirts, pants and stinky socks soiled by your nasty little feet?” she’ll say.
And then I’ll catch her talking to herself as she sorts through my clothes, asking where did this or that come from. And tearing up when she would come across an item she remembered giving me, or a shirt that used to belong to Da. My mother missed him so much, and when I went away to school it was like losing him all over again. The first year he was gone was hard for her, but she seemed to be past the worst of the grieving now, I could hear it in her voice each time I called home to check in. The door opened and my roommate, the infamous Sean Michael Andrews burst in shaking the cold rain off him like a wet hound. Managing to soak everything in the process, easily done given the size of the tiny dorm room, he pulled back the hood of his Mac and flashed his big toothy smile, announcing his arrival.
“Well, I see we’re off to visit mommy and ‘lil sis’,” he said with his usual sardonic flair.
“Yeah, I am at that, and thanks for the second shower ya heathen brute!”
“Not at all, don’t mention it,” he said waiving his hand in the air like a drunken thespian, removing his coat.
Sean and I had been assigned this room together from day one at the seminary. We became fast friends with a definite ‘Ying & Yang’ relationship. I was the Felix to his Oscar in this ‘Odd Couple’ pairing. The headmaster must have a sense of humor when it comes to billeting the student body, because you could see these sorts of like arrangements all around the dorm. Pairing boys from polar opposite backgrounds with one another. I believe it was his intention for us to learn from each other as we went about learning our lessons. So that we would see how the same messages could be heard by one and all simultaneously, and then interpreted so very differently given each individual perspective. It would give us an opportunity to practice the virtue of patience with one another, often times on a daily basis where Sean and I were concerned.
I gave his coat that was on the floor right where he dropped it, a boot as I made my way to the door.
“Jesus Sean, the coat rack is right on the door, how hard can it be ya lazy lout,” I scolded him, picking up the coat and hanging it on the back of the door.
“Ah, well now, you’ll burn for that one young Master Ethan, you’ll burn for sure!”
“That’ll be five ‘Our Father’s’ and ten ‘Hail Mary’s’ for your penance, now be gone with ya,” he mockingly scolded me, gesturing towards the door as he flopped onto his bed.
“You’re a piece of work Sean, a real piece of work,” I laughed picking up my stuff to leave.
“Last chance, come to Albany with me, you shouldn’t stay here all week alone,” I said. Sean lay there with his hands folded behind his head staring back at me, his hair still dripping wet, a long strand of blond hair hanging in his eyes. He reached over and tapped the stack of books on his nightstand.
“I won’t be alone Ethan, I’ve got Plato, Ivanhoe, and Mr. Robinson Crusoe sitting right here,” he said nonchalantly.
“And if they don’t fill my days, well, there is always the good book to be read, at the local boozer with a pint or two of Sir Arthur’s Guinness’ fine stout of course!” he snickered, waiving me off.
"Besides, you'll only cramp my style."
"You have no style Sean, ask anybody!"
"Ouch, that was harsh dude!"
"Truth always grows on a barbed vine my friend."
“Yeah well, off ya go now my favorite little neatnik, off to hearth and home!”
“OK, OK, I’m outta here man, see ya in a week.”
“Try not to drown on the way to the train station,” he shouted from behind the closed door. I raised the hood of my coat and walked out into the deluge. There wasn’t enough money for a cab ride and the buses were going to be too crowded to carry on all my stuff. So I slung the duffel bag with all the laundry over my shoulder, held the suitcase good and tight by the leather handle, and started the 10-block walk to catch the 11:00 o’clock train to Albany.
I arrived at the station by 10:40 and just made the train as they were announcing last call. Making my way up the narrow aisle I settled in at a window spot, removing my coat and stuffing it under the seat. I wiped my face dry with my left hand and then ran both hands through my wet hair, pulling it back away from my face. “Man,” I thought to myself, “I wish I would have gotten a haircut before this trip.”
“Ma’am will box my ears for sure,” I said out loud, not realizing it.
“Excuse me,” a soft voice said from across the aisle. I turned to answer and found myself looking into the eyes of prettiest girl I had ever seen up close. I’m not sure what I said initially, but it was obviously unrecognizable as English.
“I beg your pardon, I didn’t understand,” she said sweetly. Composing myself, I finally replied weakly.
“Um, forgive me, I ah, hope I didn’t disturb you.” I smiled at her, I think, and tried to look more comfortable than I was. I couldn’t understand why I was so flummoxed, I had seen my share of pretty girls, this was just too weird?
“No, you didn’t disturb me, I just thought you were saying something to me,” she said looking at me with beautiful, brown, almond shaped eyes. I swallowed and replied, “Uh Huh.”
“Smooth Ethan,” I said under my breath.
“Oh, nothing, um, my name is Ethan, Ethan Kelly,” I managed and reached across the aisle to shake her hand. She took my hand lightly and allowed me to gently make her acquaintance.
“I’m Brenda,” she said smiling, and I smiled back, sort of, what was my problem!
“Are you going home for the break as well,” I asked?
“Yes, but I’m only passing through Albany to see my favorite Aunt, my family lives on Long Island.” Posh I thought to myself, and then replied.
“Nice, where are you going to school in Boston?
“I am in my senior year at Harvard, what about you?”
“I am at Holy Cross preparing for the Seminary,” I said, quickly adding, “Harvard, wow, what are you studying, law?”
“No, I am a business and finance major, my Father is hoping that I will follow him into the family business after I graduate.”
“That’s grand,” I said smiling more confidently now, still warm under the collar, but no longer sweating, thank God!
This girl would be out of my league even if I weren’t going into the priesthood. And in spite of the negative analysis of my chances, I uncharacteristically pursued a lengthy chat with her. We spent the next couple of hours talking about everything, school, family, movies, books, dreams, just anything and everything really, getting along famously. I couldn’t explain it, but I never felt more comfortable with anyone, ever. It was if we had already known each other for years and years, I was actually disappointed when the conductor announced that we were nearing the Albany station.
“ALBANY, New York, next stop,” he said walking down the aisle, winking at me as he passed.
“Oh, I guess we’re here, my goodness, where did the time go,” I said reaching for my coat under the seat. I looked out the window for the first time since we left Boston, we were on the outskirts of town, and I could see the expressway in the distance. At least it wasn’t raining, but the sky was dark and it looked like the storm would be following me from school to home. I looked back at my traveling companion. She was combing her long dark hair. I caught a scent of lilac as she raised her arms and pulled her hair back into a ponytail, she looked over at me and smiled.
“It was very nice talking with you Ethan, have fun with your visit home, and good luck with school”
“You’re the first novice priest I have ever met,” she said and reached across to shake my hand again.
“Uh, yeah, I had a great time talking to you as well,” I said shaking her hand, trying not to notice how wonderful her touch felt.
The train rolled slowly to a stop and she gathered her things, then walked up the aisle, turning to smile and waive to me as she neared the exit. I waived back mouthing a goodbye that she didn’t see, and then she was gone. I was suddenly a little sad and tried to catch a glimpse of her through the window as she left the train, but was nudged back into reality as a large man bumped into me as he passed towards the same exit. Sighing, I picked up my coat and made my way into the aisle, heading for the baggage compartment to retrieve my stuff. My mother would be out there somewhere, waiting impatiently for me to appear for the group hug with her and Shannon. Slinging my coat over my shoulder I whistled my way toward the exit.
Shannon saw me first and yelled out as she ran to meet me, “PEEPERS, PEEPERS, over here,” she squealed. I caught her in mid air as she jumped up into my arms like always, causing me to drop everything in the process. She had grown some while I was away, and managed to knock me back a step or two upon impact.
“Hello girl, how’s my favorite pound pup,” I teased her, it was one of many nicknames I had for her. This one was her favorite though, whenever she was sad I would sit her on my lap and tell her to close her eyes. Then while I wiped away her tears I would tell her to picture herself on the grass in the yard where Da would lay, and imagine that she had a half dozen puppies crawling all over her licking her face and nipping at her legs. Then I would make little yelping sounds and pinch her arms and face and she would giggle hysterically and voila no more tears! If you think about it, who could be sad around a bunch of cute puppy dogs anyways? It would be like trying to sing a sad song with a banjo, not possible!
“ETHAN,” my mother called from behind the gate, waiving to us.
I set Shannon down and picked up my bags, then held her hand as we walked over to our mother.
“Hi Mom,” I said bending down a little to accept her kiss and let her hug me and tussle my hair. Ah, here it came, “Ethan Kelly, look at this mop on your head, have you no shame boy?”
“We’ll be visiting Ernie’s while you’re in town and have him fix you up like a proper gentleman we will,” she said taking Shannon’s hand and steering us towards the parking lot. I smiled and nodded, there would be no arguing with her that was for sure. Besides I always liked getting my haircut at Ernie’s, he told the funniest stories and had the most infectious laugh, he cracked himself up! I scanned the parking lot to see if I could see Brenda somewhere, but no such luck. I smiled to myself, “the people you meet in life, you just never know,” I murmured.
“What son,” my mother asked.
“Nothing Mom, nothing, there’s the car,” I pointed.
We tossed my bags in the trunk of Da’s prized Chevy Camaro, ah he loved this car. It seemed a little sporty for Mom, but she would never trade it. She said she could still fell him in the upholstery, and that sometimes she would talk to him as if he were in the seat next to her. She said she would get some looks from people while she was driving, but it was none of their affair so she would just waive and drive on! Mom threw me the keys and said, “You drive, you’re all grown up now aren’t you?”
“Thanks,” I said and jumped at the chance to drive again. I didn’t get many chances to do this at Holy Cross, and I missed the High School days driving around town with Kenny and Paulie, the three amigos as Mom referred to us. I wondered if they would be home for the break as well. I knew that Paulie had joined the Navy, but Mom had said he was in town on leave from Norfolk, and Kenny was supposed to be home for the break from Pitt. I hoped we would get some time to catch up, I missed those guys a lot.
“Mom, can we stop at the Dairy Queen on the way home,” Shannon pleaded bouncing up and down in her seat, her hands in front of her as if praying.
“Yeah Mom, can we, can we,” I mockingly pleaded as well, trying to help my sister’s cause.
“Enough you two, alright but just a cone, I have a fine supper waiting and I’ll not have you spoil your appetite with junk!” I started the car, and the engine roared to life, “Ah Da, you were a master with a wrench,” I thought to myself. We drove out of the lot onto the beltway heading for a little soft ice cream and some giggles while we brought one another up to speed on all the family news. Shannon and mother talked non-stop all the way home afterward and it was music to my ears. I pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine.
“We’re here,” I said.
“That we are sonny, it’s nice to have you home Ethan,” Mom said, leaning across the seat and kissing my cheek, wiping away the lipstick in one motion. Shannon wrestled me for a bag to carry and we all went into the house. It’s queer how sites, sounds and smells can bring on such vivid memories. And as I walked into the living room I swear I could hear my father whistling somewhere? My mother grabbed my duffel and headed for the utility room.
“Do they have no soap and water at that fancy school of yours,” she asked playfully?
“So, this is how you reward your poor mother for giving birth and the long years of service,” she said mockingly without looking back. But I knew she was smiling, she couldn’t fool me, she loved being a mother, every bit of it!
“Shannon, you go and wash that ice cream face of yours this instant, and Ethan you get settled son, supper will be ready in a little bit,” she called from the back of the house.
Shannon swatted my leg as she ran past me heading for the bathroom. I walked to my room and set my suitcase on the bed. I looked around, neat and clean, everything in its place and all the linen had that freshly washed smell. Nobody came close to equaling my mother when it came to keeping a tidy home. The passage that reads ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ should have her picture embossed next to it! After unpacking and placing all of my things in their proper places (there would be an inspection, you could count on that), I took off my shoes and walked back into the living room in my stocking feet. I stood in the center of the room and looked around for a moment, drinking in the familiar vibrations. Then I walked over to my Da’s chair and sat down, putting my feet up on the ottoman. I wriggled in the chair a little until I found just the right position and then leaned my head back into the soft cushion. I looked at the acoustic spray on the ceiling for a minute, trying to identify shapes in the shadows. I imagined I saw a spaceship and a tiger as my eyes scanned from left to right.
The stereo came on and I could hear Johnny Mathis singing Misty in the background. My mother loved that album, and always played it for company. I closed my eyes and listened to the song, remembering bits of the conversation I had with the girl on the train. Smiling to myself, I opened my eyes and rolled my head slowly to the right. My Dad’s pipes were still on the table in their stand. I selected one and picked it up and looked it over. I put it close to my nose and sniffed slightly, but there was no aroma of sweet tobacco, my Dad never did take up smoking. I placed the pipe in my mouth and practiced holding it properly or at least as I had seen professors at school hold theirs. You know, it did make me feel sophisticated somewhat, maybe I would try this sometime. I was certain that Sean had tried at least this much, so I made a mental note to pick his brain a little when I got back.
“ETHAN, SHANNON, suppers ready you two, shake a leg!”
Shannon ran past me towards the kitchen, making sure to mess up my hair as she passed behind me. I stood up and re-combed my hair with my fingers and walked after her. It was good to be home, it’s always good to come home I thought.
“Let’s go eat Da,” I said to his still warm spirit, elevating my walk to a jog.