Fish or Cut Bait … an Ice Cream Outing
Something had come over me in the time between my second and third year of high school. I had somehow blossomed into a leader. Much of my shyness and lack of self-esteem had melted away, for which reasons my whole world became wider. During that summer I purchased a beautiful bright green sport coat which I wore proudly. If I was not the young peacock doing his first mating dance, it was something like that.
Did I think that I was testing a vocation, which had begun on the edge of puberty? That thought never really took hold. I was still adamant in my goal of the priesthood but now I could find ways and reasons for ogling the forbidden fruit if not eating thereof.
What makes me wonder here and now is why I never faced up to the question as so many of my classmates did. Did I not want to face the reality of the situation – in the way girls attracted me and how difficult it would be to leave them out of my life? Was it a question of wanting my cake and eating it too? I don’t really know. What I do know is that I became very good at rationalizing and figuring out how I could taste the one while I embraced the other.
At one point this whole question seemed to come to a head. We had acquired the habit of spending Friday evenings at one another’s houses. We would probably play blackjack or poker and maybe even have a beer or two. It was a good social outset for young men for whom girls were “off limits”.
Naturally we would meet the families of our classmates. One of my classmates named Tom Gould had a very beautiful sister. I was smitten with puppy love. She had such wonderfully delicate features, skin of flawless pink, hair of brilliant shiny black. Her figure was slight and still barely noticeable but to my adolescent charmed eyes she was a paragon of feminine beauty. Her name was Marigrace, a name that fitted her admirably. She was a paragon and eminently graceful.
On one occasion – I can’t remember what it was – but there came out of the blue the opportunity to ask her to accompany me to the soda fountain and have a sundae or whatever. To my great surprise and joy she said, “Yes”. I jumped at the chance. I had just learned to drive and had use of my mother’s car. Off we went. Modern young people would laugh at the simplicity and naivete, if not the juvenile nature of this little episode. It was not a date and certainly held nothing of “hitting on”, yet for me it was a peak moment. A dream fulfilled.
On the way to the parlor I had to stop at home and pick up some cash. My father was there and I introduced him to Marigrace. He was polite enough but I could see that he was not pleased. His lack of effusiveness at meeting her was all I needed to know. At any rate I was not going to let him spoil my dream. We went to the soda parlor and I have no memory of what we ordered. I could have eaten the wrapper off a Popsicle and not even noticed. All I know is that it was cloud nine, or ten, or eleven.
Our little rendezvous didn’t last all that long but while the glow remained until I arrived home where it melted in an instant. The only words of my father were, “You can’t have girls and the seminary too. Make your choice – it’s one or the other.” Fish or cut bait. I knew I was experiencing my first vocational crisis and yet the answer came without hesitation. “I want the seminary”. That was the last time I went anywhere with Marigrace. Even without explaining, I knew she knew why. After all her brother was a seminarian too, albeit he would leave two years hence because of an inamorata of his own.
Looking back through the years, I keep asking myself why I didn’t have the same reaction as so many of my colleagues who simply decided the seminary was not for them and moved on. Was it simply the fear of disappointing any people both in the seminary and outside? Did I feel that I could turn my back on these basic instincts with impunity? Was my passion for the priesthood something akin to an addiction and I was not free to make another choice? I really don’t know. At that moment, however the choice was clear. I chose to remain in the seminary and pursue the priesthood.