Hiram College Sophomore Year - Part 1
Sophomore year began with me in academic trouble, and things went downhill from there. I had done two semesters of German my freshman year, and my grades were a “C” for the opening semester, followed by a “D.” By the end of the second year, I had two more “D’s” to add to an unfortunately growing list. I was still in required courses mode, so I had little choice. Hiram did not offer Latin, a “scientific” foreign language was required of science majors and German was the only such language available. It was, however, totally unrelated, both in word structure and in grammar to Latin, a language with which I had had my own struggles. I will say that having learned something of the two primary root languages of English, Latin and Saxon (German), has given me a wonderful insight into the language I speak and write... but neither has been a lot of help in my science education (except, perhaps, for understanding scientific nomenclature in Biology).
German did improve my social life for a while. In an effort to get my fourth semester German grade up, my parents sent me to a tutor, a language teacher at a local high school. He was Irish, spoke seven languages fluently and read fourteen. What he couldn’t do was transfer any of that knowledge to me. He might have been able to had he been in the picture from the first, but coming in at the last half of the last semester... not much of a chance for him there. Toward the end of the year he asked me if I’d do him a favor. I said, “Um-m-m-m... like what?”
“If I cover the cost, would you consider taking my sister out to dinner?”
“John, if I take a girl to dinner, I’ll pay.” I was a little appalled. I couldn’t imagine asking a guy to take my sister out. “What’s she gonna say about this anyway?”
“Well, it was sort of her idea.” He grinned a little sheepishly. “She came over here as an au pair, a sort of live-in baby sitter, and she doesn’t know anybody. The family she lives with lives in Shaker Heights, and she’s not allowed to mix socially with anybody there. I’ve been taking her out, but she’s tired of having dinner every weekend with her brother, so she asked if I knew anybody who might sub for me once in a while.” He sort of ran down and just stood there.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed. Actually, I laughed a little too much and a little too loudly. “I’m sorry.” I really was. It had just been too abrupt, too much information too fast. “I’ll be happy to. Tell her I’ll pick her up Saturday afternoon about five. We’ll go to dinner, a nice restaurant but not suit and tie required, and a movie.”
“Be careful,” he said as I left, “She’s red-headed Irish.”
I gave him a thumbs-up as I left his apartment. Well, at least her hair would match her blue eyes. John was “Black Irish,” jet black hair and blue eyes, a combination he claimed was found only on the Emerald Isle.
When I arrived at the address John had given me, I couldn’t fail to be impressed. Shaker Heights was, at the time, known as the richest city in America. It had been home to John D. Rockefeller and other pioneers of industry in the Midwest. The house was no less than a mansion. I knocked on the door, and it was opened by a balding, slightly paunchy man in his thirties.
“You’re Trish’s young man,” he announced. “Have a seat.” He pointed to a porch bench. Before I could respond, he shut the door. Yelling, both baritone and soprano ensued.
I stood on the porch, listening to the sounds of what was obviously an argument for a minute or two, and rang the bell again. This time it was answered by a very pretty redhead who appeared to be about my age. Yelling continued in the background, and an object flew past her head, missing her by less than a foot.
“Trish?” I reached for the hand she’d extended in greeting. She nodded. “Come out here?” I gave her hand a tug.
She nodded and stepped out onto the porch, pulling the door to behind here. “Let’s go.” She headed for the stairs to the walkway. “I presume you’re Chuck?”
I nodded and handed her down the first step. As we got into the Old Man’s ’59 Chevy she smiled and said, “Interesting choice of colors.”
“The Old Man’s car, the Old Man’s choice,” I said. I pulled away as the house door opened and an unhappy blond screamed something at the car. Later, over dinner Trish explained that the unhappy blond seemed to be an alcoholic, and was sure Trish was sleeping with her husband. Having seen the husband, I was skeptical. I said as much. She laughed.
I also learned that she had been accepted at Hiram and would be a freshman the next fall. When I took her home that night she said, “I can’t invite you in, but see that lower door?” She pointed to a door where the hill cut away beside the house. “That leads directly to my apartment. Come to that door when you knock me up next weekend.”
“When I what?” She couldn’t have meant what she said. “Translate that into Eng... er-r-r... American, please.”
“Translate wha... oh! I forget American slang. Believe me, I didn’t just ask you to get me pregnant next weekend. In England, that means “When you come to see me.” I just forgot.”
I laughed, just a little. I was still less than sure about where we were going. “But I think you did just ask me for a second date, right? If you did, I accept.”
“Yes, I guess I did.” She was out of the car. She came around to my side. “Goodnight, Chuck, I’ll see you next Saturday.” She turned and headed toward the door. At the door she turned and waved... and called out, “Keep your pecker up.” The door closed behind her.
I put the car in gear and headed home. As I left the driveway I muttered, “She did that deliberately.”
When I saw her the next Saturday, the first thing I said when we were in the car was, “You did that deliberately.”
She didn’t even try to pretend she didn’t know what I was talking about. She just laughed and said, “It means, “Keep your chin up,” Chuck.”
For the rest of that spring and most of the summer, we dated, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. We made good friends, but there wasn’t any chemistry. And then Giles and I joined the Army. Giles and his girl, John and his girl and Trish and I all boarded the Old Man's copper and blue ’59 Chevy and headed to The Brown Derby for a farewell dinner. The evening was not a rousing success. Everyone was a little somber because it was a leave-taking dinner. I ordered my steak medium rare. When I cut into it, Trish announced, “In England chefs know how to cook, and that steak would have been properly cooked.”
I laughed and reached over and cut the end off hers. She looked at the gray/brown center. “See, yours should be like that.”
“Not,” I laughed, “if you want me to eat it. Trish, this is how I ordered it. Didn’t you hear me say, “medium rare.”?” She just shook her head.
When we left the restaurant, it was sprinkling. By the time we got to the car, the skies had opened. We stood around the car in a downpour as I searched frantically for the keys. It was Giles who found them. “Look on the front seat, Chuck.”
I looked. Sure enough, there they lay, smack in the middle of the big bench seat. “I’ll run and get a coathanger. Anybody want to go back inside while I do this?”
“No!” It was Trish. “But you’d better hurry Chuck... my seat is getting soaked!”
After a moment’s stunned silence from the rest of us, I raced around the car, reached through her open window and yanked up the door locks, pulled the door open and dived in ahead of her to open the locks on the driver’s side. With much shrieking and laughter, the four in the back seat piled in. As Trish settled herself, I pulled her over and kissed her for the first and last time. She sat perfectly still for the five seconds I held the kiss. As I backed away, she exhaled. Before she could say anything, I held up my hand. “That was for the best laugh I’ve had all summer. Besides, I couldn’t go without kissing you at least once, now could I?”
On my way to Korea, I got my only letter from her. It came aboard the ship when we stopped in Hawaii, apparently after chasing me from field medic training command to some central military mail sorting station, to the Replacement Depot and finally to the ship. She called me Chuckleberry, why I have no idea, and said that she hoped I wasn’t expecting her to be waiting when I came home in three years. I wrote a short note back telling her not to worry, that I wasn’t that naïve and that I wished her well. The next time I saw her, I was just out of the service and she was a senior, engaged to a young man whose dream was to become an Air Force pilot and get himself stationed in England. I have no idea how that worked out, but they seemed happy at the time.