Chapter 3: Fish or Cut Bait
Somehow during the summer of 1937 (after tenth grade) I experienced real and powerful changes within myself. From the shy, stubby, baby- fat kid I changed into a social, confident, leader. I guess it’s part of growing up. In any case I now wanted to be part of the social scene, even if it was a rather small and narrow one in the seminary. I learned very quickly to take the risks entailed in leadership and acted with a self-assurance only newly discovered. Years later I discovered that all this was merely a part of the maturing process.
While my sexuality was still obscured by the regimen of seminary life, I felt good about myself and eagerly jumped into the various events and programs of seminary life. At the same time, the raging hormones of my maturing sexuality could not be completely subdued. I did not associate this with my chosen vocation and simply felt that all the guys must be experiencing the same drive. It was simply a temptation that needed to be dealt with.
Not that it was in the forefront of my life. My vocation was my primary concern, but I was never far away from that inner longing, as yet undefined, to relate to the female of the species. The sight of a pretty girl pleasured me; I could no longer ignore the attraction. Still I put the attraction aside and returned to my other love, the pursuit of the priesthood.
However, my attraction to girls was not to remain long subdued. Tom Gould’s sister caught my attention more than casually. Whenever we went to Tom’s house, I was hoping she would be there, if only to appear for a few moments. On those occasions, my heart jumped a bit and I reveled in her presence. Marigrace was petite and elegant. Her oval face, jet black hair, and flawless complexion were totally beautiful. To my mind, she was in the same class with the teen-age movie stars of our time, Deanna Durbin and Elizabeth Taylor. Infatuation had caught up with me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I suppose I should have known that these feelings that I courted were inappropriate to my chosen vocation. However I simply pushed aside those little pangs of conscience and judged it a harmless friendship. After all, I was not pursuing a physical relationship. I had drawn the line.
That rationalization did not turn me from finding the opportunity to invite Marigrace to share some time together. I found some excuse to stop at the Gould residence. It was some kind of homework or paper we were supposed to do. My hopes that Marigrace would be there materialized. We shared a rather harmless conversation. “How are things at Nazareth?” She attended Nazareth Academy for girls. “Fine,” she said. “We’re doing our annual school play. I think I’ll try out for it.” “You really should”, I replied perhaps more enthusiastically than I should have. She beamed and at least inwardly so did I. That was nice but suddenly an idea popped into my head. “How would you kike to join me in an ice cream? I could hardly believe that I would have the courage to ask, but there it was. Then I could hardly believe her response, “Yes, I’d like that.”
The trouble was, my cash was at home so we had to stop there first. My dad was in the living room when I introduced him to Marigrace. Beyond his gracious acknowledgement of her, I could see his barely concealed disapproval of my behavior. I did not let that disapproval deter me. We went on our way then to the nearest soda fountain. My heart was thumping; I was in seventh heaven.
We ordered our ice cream, a rappe and a soda, but it might as well have been a Popsicle stick for all I cared.. Every fiber of my being was focused on Marigrace. I can’t remember a thing we said to each other. The hour or two we spent together felt like about ten minutes.
When I arrived back home it was a different story. My father was still there in the living room. By now he displayed his patented icy stare. I knew then that all was not well. “You’ve got to make up your mind, one way or the other,” he said. “It’s either the seminary or girls. Fish or cut bait.”
I knew he was right. Still I couldn’t equate having an ice cream soda with a young lady to being a final crucial decision. Looking back on the situation, I know I should have sat down with Dad and talked the whole thing over. Why didn’t I? Neither one of us was very good at discussing things that really mattered, at facing up to issues. Besides, I didn’t want to hear something I didn’t want to hear. In any case it didn’t take me long to come to a decision. I would remain in the seminary and have no more “one on one” with Marigrace. I didn’t have to explain that to her. After all, her brother was a seminarian too. She knew why we needed to go our separate ways.
PHOTO NOTE: Marigrace, husband, baby.
Chapter 2: Onward Christian Soldiers
Christmas 1934. First I don the long pure white robe with twenty red buttons down the front. Over this cassock I put on a wide red sash with gold fringe Over that I slide into the sweater-like garment which is called a surplice. Then came the shoulder cape, held by a single clasp. It was cardinal red, also fringed with gold. I put on a collar of the Buster Brown variety, tall and stiff and slightly choking. One more thing – a big red bow tie worn under the collar. I feel funny in this costume and somewhat uncomfortable as well. It conjures up images of Little Lord Fauntleroy, the laughing stock of the regular guys.
Another side of me felt proud. This outfit was the vesture of a server at solemn Mass. This was a status I loved and cherished. So what if it is confining and hot like a foretaste of Purgatory. Or if the guys might snigger in the background and whisper things like, “Did he escape from the circus?” or “”It isn’t even Halloween yet”. I really don’t mind. I am in the world I love and this get-up is a badge of honor in that world. I am an altar server in St. Ambrose Church and proud of it.
Simply, I was in love. I could rise above all the ridicule and amazement on the part of others. I was an altar server in St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church and the church was the greatest love in my thirteen year old life. Being altar server was my greatest pride. I had fallen in love with my religion and revered its ritual, passionately.
To be a Catholic back in those days was more than just attending a church. For us, the Roman Catholic Church was THE church of churches. A small army of nuns and priests taught us that from our earliest contact with the Catechism, the book of final answers about Catholicism. Membership was the true gateway to God, and the Catholic Mass was the entrée of choice to the divine presence. According to our holy nuns and parish priests, didn’t we have God on our altars (the Blessed Sacrament) whereas Protestant Churches were not much more than meeting halls? We were the original, the church dating back to Christ and the Apostles. All other Christian Churches were simply spin-offs.
I attended Catholic school right from the beginning. Well, almost from the beginning. I had attended kindergarten in public school and had attended St. Mark’s and St. Luke’s Lutheran Summer Bible School. Catholic parishes did not hold Summer School sessions in the 1920s. My parents felt that the parochial school would take care of that function. Back then, to attend a Protestant function or program was unheard of for Catholic boys. However, my mother was not as passionately Catholic as I eventually became. She was pretty liberal for a lady born into what was still the tail-end of the Victorian Age.
Mom was a very slender, lovely brunette, less than 100 pounds but by no means a. shrinking violet. She was among the first women to drive an automobile. Early in her twenties she fell in love with a Canadian Army medical officer in the regiment known as the “Ladies from Hell, an outfit that wore kilts. For a young Catholic lady to become involved with a non-Catholic, especially a foreigner, was also a first. Her parents subsequently forbade her to pursue the romance and she obediently backed off. She carried that burden her whole life and only began to tell that story in her seventies When she married my father she was twenty seven years old, five years older than he. All through her life she used the expression, “An old man’s darling, a young man’s fool. She was nobody’s fool.
Sending me to a Protestant Bible School held a certain risk for her but she would not be deterred. The Summer Bible School turned out to be a rich experience in the Christian faith. At the age of five I was belting out the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. We were miniature soldiers in the army of Jesus.
The Photo: Lou’s dad (Louis John Hohman, Jr.) is circled. Lou’s grandfather (Louis John Hohman, Sr.) sits in the center. Sometimes our Lou was teased with “Louis John Hohman, the Turd”.