My four years at Loomis (now Loomis Chaffee) were adolescent days of wine and roses, but lurking behind the bush was six degrees of separation.
Our Glee Club concert at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in the middle of a gritty black Hartford ghetto was a long six miles away from the lush Loomis campus down the road from the 1950s Norman Rockwell town of Windsor, Connecticut.
Our chorale group, a platoon of white male teens accoutred in white OCBDs, rep ties and grey flannel suits, was led by Frank House III, Glee Club Director, English master, soccer coach and benevolent conservative —not unlike his first cousin, George Herbert Walker Bush. At the conclusion of our spiritual rendering of “Go Down Moses,” the church’s husky black preacher embraced a visibly nervous Frank House, proclaiming, basso profundo, “Mr. House, I know you went to Yale. Praise be to Jesus, I went to Harvard.”
Shortly thereafter, I remember a dinner and concert at Westover, a boarding school for girls in Middlebury, Connecticut. Bob Keller and I were seated at a table with two very attractive young ladies. They told us they were from the Caribbean island of St. Martin and proceeded to ignore us, talking to each other in Dutch. Of course they had no idea that Bob had lived in Amsterdam and learned Dutch while his father headed the Marshall Plan for Holland after World War II. I sensed something bad was happening. Bob’s face went from red to purple and he started to shake until he reached the point of no return. He closed in on them, causing them enough distress to cease their conversation. Bob proceeded in his Amsterdam Dutch vernacular to call them Nazi whores. They had been telling each other they couldn’t stand having dinner at the same table with these two awful Yids.
Beginning freshman year, Bob and I were 1st Tenors on The Freshmaniacs, then The Sophomorons, junior year The Loomistakes, three great underclass years prepping for The Pelicans, which was The Whiffenpoofs of Loomis. That’s when Frank House flushed us down the toilet, the only two veterans that didn’t make the acappella varsity. Mr. House instead enlisted two rookies, both Goyim, one of them even a Mormon.
But I got the last laugh when St. Margaret’s, a girl’s school in Waterbury, came to Loomis for a joint glee club concert. Mr. House called me to his office. “Richard,” he said, “you often express very liberal views in the Political Club, which of course is your right, and I know you will be very sensitive to the difficult situation we face. St. Margaret’s has a colored girl in their glee club, and I wonder if you could do us a big favor and escort her to dinner?”
Our entrance into the Loomis Dining Hall brought down the house in gales of wheezing laughter, as if Jerry Lewis had just been decked by Dean Martin. I took her hand and she squeezed back. I had warned her of the uncertain boarding school response to our public liaison. We didn’t take our eyes off one another, and I led her to our assigned table with my arm around her waist. The room went absolutely silent. It was the first time I ever held hands with a shiksa and she turned out to be black.
My Loomis years, 1951-1955, were much more Jekyll than Hyde, and I will forever treasure the wealth of my prep-school cornucopia in hallowed remembrance of the school motto, Ne Cede Malis, or “Yield not to misfortune.” — RICHARD PRESS
Standing ovation here at Ivy Style HQ.
Wonderful read. Thank you, Mr. Press.
Wow. Words fail me. Thank you, Mr. Press.
Holy heavens, someone who can write well! Thank you for this, Mr. Press.
This is top drawer stuff.
Thank you for showing others how to be a gentleman, Richard.
Wistful reminiscence is good for the soul.
“benevolent conservative.” They’re still around.
Marvelous lesson on being a proper gentleman and how to enjoy the privilege of being a truly educated man. Bravo!
What a memory!
Thank you, Mr. Press.
Re: “ne cede malis”:
The complete phrase is” tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito, which means “do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it”.
The phrase comes from Virgil’s Aeneid.
” tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito”
This is much better.
Great story! I’d have escorted the black girl, too, even being a Goyim.
Some wise person once said that racism is a fantasy of superiority. Thanks to R Press for demonstrating how true that is.
It’s an interesting slice of life from an ever-more-distant past. The seemingly easy resort to derogatory slang in the article (Yid, Nazi whore, Goyim, Shiksa) is jarring.
I can only echo what others have said here: Mr. Press is the very definition of a gentleman, and an incomparable story teller.
Frank House evidently knew you were a Gentleman, even if he had questions about your voice. Well done.
All of this happened pre-Reefer. Twill, that is.
I have tremendous respect for Mr. Press for his actions and for Christian who published this (and the previous post, too). This is the real Ivy “heyday” and it’s vital we recall it accurately, the good and the bad. Mr. Press also dismantles the familiar defense: that it was a different age with different beliefs. He did the right thing even when others didn’t. Bravo to him and to this blog for being just about the only place in online Ivy-world to take on issues like these.
Hemingway, MLK, Sinatra and the Bell of the Ball: Mr. Press, you are a ubiquitous gentleman, and I love to read your tales.
Thank you for sharing your memories and experiences. Happy and healthy new year to you and your family.
A rare treat to read anything by Mr. Press.
What a great post. There’s enough (often justified) nostalgia for the golden days of preppiedom that it’s important to remember the ugly side of those days as well. This post was like an episode from one of Tobias or Geoffrey Wolff’s books.
Beautiful post, Mr. Press – LC ’96.