For all not in the know, a paragraph of context. In the 1960s, Holy Name of Jesus School (HNJ) in New Orleans was/is a feeder school for Jesuit High School. Run by the nuns of the Mercy Order and adjacent to Loyola University, a Jesuit college, one KPI (please laugh) was the number of students who attended Jesuit High School. Boys and girls attended HNJ through 8th grade; we were segregated into same sex classes, boys in kakhi and the girls in navy blue skirts. We, the boys, even had a kind of ROTC once per week led by a genuine ROTC student from Loyola. Jesuit High accepted 90 students each year into a Pre-Freshman program. Essentially, the 90 acceptees skipped 8th grade at their elementary school to begin classes at Jesuit with the program taking the 90 through a modified college curriculum by the fifth year of high school. I’m not sure that it worked this way in execution. We were divided into homerooms of S-1, S-2 and S-3. I entered in S-3. The memories are vivid of being a 13 year old amidst 18 year olds from across town with their whiskers, smokes, cars and nearly grown-up girl-friends. This milieu was quite the upgrade from wiffle ball games at Holy Name’s little recess from 10:10 to 10:30 each morning. The representation of this change in my life was taking the public transportation, street cars and buses of NOPSI, in a new direction each day. Most everything else, although different in scale, was familiar as we wore kakhi uniforms, attended all-boy classes, lived for sports, ambling along with this educational Stations of the Cross.
I plan to return in April for the 45th reunion. It’s that time of life. How do you catch-up with several dozens of people in a series of “Hey, What are you up-to conversations.” While thinking about that, here’s what comes to mind.
S-3:Damaret, Davis, Dazette, Cerise, Cobb, Cousins, Casteix. Ray Coates, Jimmy Breaux, Fabian Mang, Joe Dover and Dick Francis, the coach not the writer. Of course, coaches Maspero, Rando and Misuraca if one followed baseball. Father Koch, Fathers Leininger, Brother Ferlitta and Father Reed. Mark Maderi and Milton DeRanier. I don’t guess that any of them will be there in April. Master Sergeant Chapelle and Colonel Boehm. Farhad Grotto and the girls from Mount Carmel. Morning assembly and ice tea after school at Walgreens. Mr. Pratt the PE teacher. Gene Tarzetti and Father Coco. I realize that I’m away from there and over here because of them all.
Mike Mann and Phelps Gay from Holy Name did not make the Pre-Freshman selection process. How did I?! I’ve never made any list since. The divide of 1A, 1B and 1C from D,E,F and G. Uptown divided from the Lakefront with the unfair Fairgrounds in between. For two years, I walked past De La Salle to catch the Saint Charles street car, the Tulane bus and, sometimes, the Carrollton bus to the corner of Banks & Carrollton. John Rice accompanied me during these 45 years in two ways: the moment that he explained to John Ruth and me that “organizations exist first for administration efficiency, then the needs of their constituents.” I recall that we entered his Assistant Principal’s office to describe how we believed that the school should be run. I was given the other way in 1992 when I received a packet of my Naval Academy files. I learned of the extent to which he inspired other teachers at the eleventh of eleventh hours to vouch for my suitability as Naval Academy midshipman. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
I suppose that college becomes that accepted launching point of our professional lives as I’ve grown used to describing my own as beginning in Annapolis. I didn’t see it this way early on. My career (sic) was launched by NOPSI as I’ve told others often. Being somewhere on time, managing carfare, asking for a transfer introduced something about the adult world that I wasn’t learning driving down Bourbon Street to the Cafe Du Monde at 9pm on weeknights with my mother, her friends and 3 sisters. That was normal, right?! Fun, for sure.
The Vietnam Nam War shepherded me into the Naval Academy. Clear am I that I would not be accepted in today’s competitive process. In between those streetcar rides and promenades about the Yard of the Naval Academy, I became a lot more of what I was to be than I ever figured while a Jesuit Blue Jay. Who else in high school left Latin class to learn to field strip an M-79 grenade launcher while meandering in the halls with hundreds of other boys in enforced silence?! Beware of the Prefect of Discipline along the stairways, especially Pat Screen’s little brother.
My best year at the Naval Academy was my first year much to the wonder of all and the disappointment of some who were quite sure that I wouldn’t be at muster for long. But I had all of these classes at Jesuit: French, Calculus, English and even Naval Science aka Military Science. One of my company officers eventually became Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was careful about who could besmirch his reputation as a promotable leader. Can you imagine his surprise when my denied-by-him request to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival Ball one Saturday evening in Washington, DC as invited by Cindy Huff (the charming CH) was recanted after a call to the Academy from the office of Senator F. Edward Hebert, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The then Captain Krulak, as he handed me my now approved chit (form) to attend the Ball, only asked me, “how do you know someone in Congressman Hebert’s office?” “I’m not exactly sure, Sir,” I replied, “but I believe that Miss Huff’s father worked for Huey Long.” He stared at me incredulously as he invited me out of his office “New Orleans must be quite the place,” he said.
So it remains, I guess, although I have no recent information or experience. I drove about the Lakefront between flights one year shortly after Katrina. I couldn’t find Larry Thomas’s house nor that of Gerry Rotonti’s having spent much time in both. Nothing had changed and everything was different, especially me. Aside from that 4 hour lay-over on Southwest Airline flights, I’ve only returned for a couple of high school reunions. I’ve become an outsider. I felt trapped in time as my Jesuit classmates had moved on to families and careers and epochs beyond tales of history class with Mr. Steckel, Dookie Chase Jr. or the III sitting in front of me or the 8 track sounds of John Fred and the Playboy Band in Sal Piazza’s Oldsmobile Cutless on the way to pick-up Dawn the colonel’s daughter and future Saint cheerleader.
Going back causes me to understand how different it all could have been if not for a word of advice here and a contact there and the intercession of the benevolent hand of Fate. I guess that I’m returning out of curiosity; to prove to myself that it all really did start there; in hopes of finding fun amidst the haze of collective memory; to remind myself that we were all really that young once; in search of some sort of acceptance for not having been more part of it. You never know. I prefer to remember the Saints with Les Kelly, Flea Roberts, Tom Dempsey and Billy Kilmer.
I recall a proper visit to NOLA in the late 1980s, before either of my two sons were born, a Sunday of Mardi Gras season. With my mother and wife, we walked to Magazine and Some Cross Street to view an afternoon parade. I was 36 years old. As is the custom, two of us spectators politely (ha!) fought for a pair of beads thrown from a float. As we each caught and held the same pair of cheap beads, we looked at one another to determine who would be the ultimate recipient. “Hi Beth.” “Hi Christopher.” “How are you?!,” we both said. I hope to the heavens that I let go of my half of the throw. “Fine, married, living here / living in North Carolina,” we said. “You look great.” “You too.” “Bye.” “Take care of yourself.” Beth Hakenjos and I were secret admirers in the 4th grade at Holy Name of Jesus behind Loyola and across from Mercy High School. Hadn’t seen her since 1965. It is quite a place.