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