I’ve been asked by a good friend and colleague, Sheryl Row, to chronicle my experience at Jesuit-those years while I attended the school from 1960 thru 1964. I unintentionally forgot about her request but was reminded of it today as I thumbed through one of my old Jesuit yearbooks and realized that at least four of the ex-Rangers with whom I graduated were now deceased. I decided to spend the next several months writing about my high school experiences as best as I can recall them. It has been well over 40 years since I walked across the stage at the Dallas Convention Center to receive my Jesuit diploma. Although the time has reduced some of these events to foggy bits of mental blurbs and blimps, others remain crystal clear, almost as though they occurred yesterday.
Some of my colleagues at Jesuit have called me a special link-not because of who I am or what I have done-but rather because my life’s oath has revolved around Jesuit in one form or another. Not only did I graduate from Jesuit, but two of my sons also attended high school there. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be teaching at my alma mater years later.
I have broken the following chronicles into different time periods to make them coherent and reader-friendly. They are glimpses into this elderly Ranger’s past; and I hope they will bring a smile to many of my Ranger friends who are still living. They are testaments to the indelible mark which every Jesuit grad will sooner or later realize he bears, one which has played a major role in forming who he was, is, and will become.
How I first heard about Jesuit:
One of the elementary schools I attended was St. Pius X on Gus Thomasson Road in East Dallas. We lived on a street called Bally Castle, just a block away from the Talliferos, and that’s where I unknowingly met my first future Ranger, Kevin Clancy. We would play together and talk about being cool as we did our homework together at that time. We would be friendly rivals for the rest of our lives. Both Kevin and I were okay athletes for St. Pius, but my direction was pulled towards Myron, Ronnie, and Jerry who were always hanging around our house-not so much because they liked me but rather because of my older sister, Nancy. The Tallifero brothers loved sports too and they would use every opportunity to impress my sister with their athletic abilities in our front yard. Myron was especially good and would throw the football really hard- so hard that it would hurt my hands when I tried to catch it. He ended up playing pro ball as a quarter back for the New York Jets.
I think it was around 1954 or 1955 when A.C. Moser was the quarterback for the Jesuit Rangers, and I heard the Talliferos mention A.C. all the time. They wanted to be like him and, for that matter, so did I. Ironically, his future wife, Mitzi Fatula, used to baby sit Nancy and me when we lived on Garret Street, before moving to Bally Castle.
A year after Nancy entered Ursuline Academy, we moved again, this time to Merrell Road in north Dallas so the family would be nearer to her high school. Nancy became acquainted with some of the players on the Jesuit football team. Naturally, she would go to their games at Highlander Stadium with her friends, and Dad would take me. I don’t remember the other teams we played, but I do remember sitting in the stands with my Dad, trying to put off the cold, so we could watch A.C. do his thing on the field. Like the Talliferos, I wanted to be like A.C. Moser.
To put things in historical perspective, I recall seeing Sputnik flying high in the atmosphere from our front yard on Bally Castle. I think that was in 1956, and I remember Sister Fentin later carrying a TV into the room at St. Pius and plugging it in. We watched as our country’s first efforts to match the Soviet’s space program blew up on the launching pad. Even Sister Finten was visibly upset.
With our move to Merrell Road, I began attending St. Monica Elementary School and that’s where I met Mickey Reynolds. I was a newcomer to the area, and he was the first kid to shake my hand and welcome me to the St. Monica Blazer football team.
When we moved to Merrell Road our contracts with the Talliferos were cut off. I played football for St. Monica in the seventh and eighth grades, and we won two city championships, but my grades were no better than Cs and Bs and I started to worry. Everyone else except me was earning red and blue academic ribbons. I gave it one last push the last semester of my eighth grade year. The final exam would tell all. I remember Sister Marguerita kept looking at me during the test. She was my biggest fan, and I could tell she was rooting for me. I remember her shaking her head as she graded my paper. I tried, but I never earned either of those illusive ribbons.
At the end of the semester they had us take some placement tests for entering Jesuit, tests which I thought I would hopelessly bomb. I was reluctantly prepared to go to Hill Middle School and take the consequences of being an average student. I was swinging a baseball bat in our front yard when the letter from Jesuit arrived. I had been accepted into Jesuit-without even going to summer school.
At the time, Jesuit was a big red building that stood at the corner of Oak Lawn and Lemmon Road. My Dad and I had driven past it a couple of times going someplace else, and I vaguely remembered what it looked like. What I now remember about it was that it was a building that stood for “in-your-face” tradition, a large, Gothic-like structure that seemed to be a world unto itself. The summer before entering, I went with Mickey, John Tumy, and a number of my other St. Monica friends who had been accepted into Jesuit to see the movie “Because They’re Young” with Tuesday Weld. The characters drove Fairlane convertibles in the movie. As I waited as the days slowly counted down to my first days at Jesuit, I hoped that one day I could drive a Fairlane convertible too.
My parents and Nancy were excited that I had made it into Jesuit but my mother made no bones about the costs and her expectations for me grade-wise. She was the one who had talked my father into sending me there in lieu of the tuition-free Dallas Independent School District. They were already paying tuition for Nancy at Ursuline. My mother came down on me and told me if my grades were not up to par they would send me to the public school down the street. I knew she meant it and was worried that my eighth grade Bs and Cs would not be good enough.
During my old days at St. Monica’s we developed rivalries with neighboring Catholic schools. Christ the King was our main one. Jimmy Moore, Jim Nitzell, Tim Chapman, and Jim McDermott were our fiercest. I always tried to avoid fights as much as I could, so I just crossed my fingers and hoped they would not carry our former grudges with them to Jesuit.
My mother and Nancy came with me to register a day or two before regular classes started. Nancy warned me not to sign up for band, so I didn’t–which proved later to be a wise decision. A naïve freshman, I tried entering the building through the Senior steps my first day and was quickly ushered to another entrance by an older underclassman who asked me if I was trying to commit suicide. He took me to my classroom and told me, “Good luck.”
I found a desk and sat down in it. Other freshmen slowly drifted in and picked their seats as well–mostly in the back of the room. I looked around the classroom. It was large and looked as though it had seen its last coat of paint maybe 20 years before. Our classroom’s outside windows smacked of the 1920s. Their blurry window panes were difficult to see through clearly. I looked at the other students sitting around the room and sure enough I realized that I was flanked by all of my elementary school rivals–not a friend in sight.
My First Day at Jesuit:
The first period bell rang and we waited. No one said anything to anybody. There was this dead silence and yet no teacher. An African American kid sitting in front of me finally turned around. I’m Newton,” he said sticking out his hand. “Most of my friends call me “Fig.” Fig was skinny and small, but he had a big smile and later, as I would find out, a bigger sense of humor. We shook hands, and I told him my name. Both of our glances turned toward the door as Mr. Durrick, our first period history teacher finally entered. I don’t remember what we expected, but I know it wasn’t this.
I guess at that time Mr. Durrick was about forty-years-old. He was wearing a white dress shirt that had seen its better days, a thin black tie that hung loosely around his neck, and pants that seemed way too big for him. He kind of swaggered his way into our classroom, as though he had done this many times before, and finally sat down behind the naked, grey metal desk in front of us. He looked at his roll and started calling names. “Present” is how we were to answer and “present” is how each of us answered. He pulled out the history book we were to use, told us to turn to chapter one, and then we read.
I remember Mr. Durrick as my first teacher for a number of reasons but for one especially. I think that I had screwed up an assignment and he told me specifically: “You’d better get your act together or you’ll soon be on the outside looking in.” Point well-taken. I have seen Mr. Durrick occasionally as our paths since then have sometimes crossed. He shakes my hand and acts like he remembers me and maybe he really does. But I remember him. For Mr. Durrick it might have been just another class, but for me it was my first day and my first period at Jesuit and I will never forget this bizarre start to my four-year, high school journey that loomed ahead.
As far as I can remember, the classes back then were not blocked or mobile. The teachers came to us in our classroom. My next class was Latin, a subject which was required back then. Mr. Bayhi was our teacher, a Jesuit scholastic. He wore his black cassock, was probably about 26 or 27, and loved his subject. Latin was a difficult subject-even for us ex-altar boys–but he would grind into us. He was in total command of his class, and we were all attentive as best freshman can be. We had heard that Latin was the one subject they “used” to separate the men from the boys grade-wise. “Pass me or flunk-out,” was the word on the street. I made a “D” on my first Latin test and, of course, the quiz had to be signed by my parents. I think I was trying to conjugate the verb “Amir” and I failed to do so correctly. My mother hit the ceiling and once again reiterated the public school threat. I can still remember lying in bed that night preparing for the next day’s quiz. Mr. Bayhi is responsible for the memorization skills he forced me to develop and ultimately for the degrees I received a few years later.
My third period class was with Mr. Milt Gaudet, the Varsity football coach and freshmen Algebra teacher. He was a clean-cut man, tall and well-built, and, surprisingly enough, his facial features reminded me of a hawk. Mr. Gaudet was a really good teacher and expected us to listen to him. If he caught us dozing off in class he would simply yell at the top of his voice or even throw an eraser or even a book at us.
Shortly afterwards we trudged through our religion class and were then dismissed for lunch. The cafeteria was located in the basement of the school. We had 45 minutes for lunch. The students who brought their lunches went into the eating area and those who were buying stood in single file and waited to be served through the cafeteria line. Lunch was usually fun but quick. A couple of kids started throwing food after the first few weeks and were soon introduced to the dark arena about which we had all heard—Penance Hall. Jesuit reserved our best class for after lunch–when we were all tired and a little less confused. It was English, taught by a Jesuit scholastic named Mr. O’Reilly.
Our favorite comment about him was “O really, O’Reilly?” Mr. O’Reilly was about 5′ 6” tall and was as lean as a flag pole, but we could all tell he was really strong physically. His teaching method was very simple–take the class seriously or else. Mr. O’Reilly’s no nonsense message was brought home this first day with a classmate from Irving; I think his first name was Joe. Joe started horse-playing in class. O’Reilly simply picked him up by his hair, paraded him around the classroom and then sat him back down in his seat. Joe’s eyes were watering from both embarrassment and pain–and that was the last time any of us even thought about acting up in future English classes.
The Rest of Freshman Year:
Our first homecoming came in October or November, and I asked an Ursuline girl who lived in Irving. Her name was Bonnie Johnson, and she was really pretty and nice. She has blond hair and a pretty face and seemed to like me too. Back then, the homecoming included all grades and the arrangements were a lot simpler than they are today. I double dated with Greg McDonald. We went to the game, went to the dance, and then went home. Greg’s Dad picked us up from the dance and took us home and I wondered what the big deal was all about. We had to wear a beanie and our pajamas to the game since we were freshmen–with street clothes underneath, of course. The dance was held in the Jesuit basement, and I remember even now how hot and stifling it was. I guess Bonnie had as good a time as any girl could have had under the circumstances and that was that. I had been elected class vice president in September. This was not Freshman class vice president” but vice president-from the 25 guys who were in my home room. I had no idea what this meant, but my sister, Nancy, congratulated me when I told her, and because of that I thought I was okay. My grades arrived and I finally made the Honor Roll and wasted no time showing my marks to Sister Marguerita at St. Monica. She hugged me and said she knew I could do it.
In the 1950s and early 1960s the Catholic Church considered Texas to be “mission” territory. Dallas was predominantly a protestant community comprised mostly of Baptists. If you were Catholic you were considered to be a minority and pretty much treated as a person who others considered to be a little “different.” Most of my fellow classmates had attended Catholic parochial schools and had been required (forced might be a more appropriate term) to meet once a year on Christ the King Sunday to march with rosaries in hand down Main Street for an hour or two. It was the one time of the year when what few Catholics there were united to show we actually were a part of our city as well. I remember some of the more curious people would line the street and look at us as though we had just landed from another planet. Others would ignore us completely while a few would shout cat calls at us. Mercifully after an hour or so, the parade would end at the Dallas Memorial Center and the circus would be over for another year. To the best of my memory, this annual event continued through high school and gave our school the impetus for staging our own mini-Catholic, albeit sports event, during freshman year.
Our event was dubbed “Victory Week,” a seven-day long pep rally which would be capped off by a good luck march through the streets of downtown Dallas the day before our football team left to play San Antonio’s Kirwin for the state TCIL title. My Dad gave my class a mannequin. We put a shirt on it the same color as a Kirwin football jersey, strapped some pants on it, then tied a rope around its neck and hung it out our classroom window. We thought it really looked great until we were told by Father Rivoire to cut it down. It seems some passers-by noticed and were offended that a Catholic high school would have something like that hanging from its second story window. Mr. Reilly, our home room scholastic, regretfully obeyed. I think he was a little embarrassed he had maybe put our school on the spot. To make up for it he suggested we paint our home room the following weekend. Those who could oblige Mr. O’Reilly did so. We spent the better part of that next Saturday trying to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear—in Mr. O’Reilly’s favorite color—periwinkle blue. We didn’t bother priming the walls, just started painting. Everything seemed to be going well until we looked behind us. The paint was watery thin and streaked rather than covering the surface. By the time Monday morning rolled around we were not sure the room was better or worse for our efforts. I only remember being glad about the approaching end of our first year at Jesuit. We knew within a month or two we would be moving to new quarters, leaving our periwinkle blue classroom for an incoming freshman class to enjoy.
These confusing days during sophomore year were punctuated by an international crisis the likes of which no one then alive had come close to experiencing previously. It began for me when my Mom called me in from outside. She pointed to the TV and then told me to sit down and listen. Soon afterwards President Kennedy was staring at the both of us and telling us that he had ordered a blockade on Cuba. The Soviets had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba that were capable of hitting the United States. I knew the United States and the Soviets had been involved in a cold war for years, but it looked like this incident was going to be an event that would call into question our very existence. We hated the Russians and were sure their feelings were mutual. The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted 13 days and brought with it a special type of anxiety for my classmates and me. We literally didn’t know if we would be alive when all was said and done. Schoolwork suddenly took a back seat to what was happening in the Caribbean, and the Jesuits must have sensed this and tried to downplay the danger as best they could. Why should we worry, we tricked ourselves into thinking? Even a nuclear blast couldn’t knock down the red brick building that had seemingly defied time itself.
During the crisis rumors flew everywhere. Love Field, we heard, was a recovery base for our bombers and that meant Dallas would be one of the first cities targeted by the Soviets. Florida’s beaches were being razor-wired for a possible invasion by the Russians and the whole country was placed under a “red” alert. Schools had children in the halls practicing “duck and cover” exercises. But for us Rangers, business went on as usual—day in and day out, as though nothing was transpiring. Although the Jesuits put on a good game face throughout the ordeal, we weren’t as good at handling such a distraction. My friends and I were relatively sure our days were numbered. It was quite depressing staring an almost certain death in the face as I woke up each morning. None of us knew for sure whether or not we would see another day. When the crisis was finally resolved, we all took a deep breath and then busied ourselves making up the past due work we had blown off the previous two weeks. After all, we had surmised, who wanted to spend their last two weeks on earth doing school work?
My sophomore year at Jesuit was probably one of the most perplexing and confusing experiences of my life. I had received my driver’s license the summer before as per my Dad’s promise. Dallas now had no bounds. I was driving around town with Tim O’Hanlon and Johnny Clare and Kevin Clancy when I could get Dad’s car. The hang-outs then were Charco’s and Princess, both drive-in hamburger joints. Neither had indoor seating. We would pull in to a space and order over a speaker. Sometimes, we didn’t go there for food, but to simply drive meet and hang out. We had a blast cruising all over the city in my Dad’s Ford Falcon.
For some reason the school year after my freshman summer came much too early. I was not ready for school, and I hated being there the first few months. The newness of Jesuit had worn off and now I was stuck somewhere between being a freshmen and a senior with no place else to go. I was elected president of my class and soon got tired of my classmates who were always cutting up. As president I knew I had to do something about it, so I corralled two or three of the cut-ups and told them to cool-it. That did not work, so the dreaded Fr. Rivoire, the Prefect of Discipline, soon took over our class. He was the man everyone feared and loved. Talk on the street was that he was an ex-prize fighter who could knock you out with one punch. He walked into our classroom, looked around, and that was all it took. I remember during one of our class assemblies in the basement he was introduced and all of us gave him a standing ovation. I am not quite sure if he knew why but we did. He was fair and feared and dreaded by all–including me.
One day on the stairs he caught me wearing a brown tie instead of a black one and immediately gave me a dreaded Penance Hall slip. I objected, saying that the Cuban Missile Crisis was responsible for my oversight. After all, I told him, who even knew if we would survive another day? “We may not survive tomorrow,” he answered, “but you have Penance Hall today.”
Penance Hall that afternoon consisted of drawing paper clips for two hours. They had to be aligned. If they were just right after the first hour he would flick his hand and wave you good-bye. If not, you kept on drawing them until the end of the session.
I still remember Father Rivoire to this day. I see him walking the halls of the new school and maybe even missing the old walls, the glazed windows and the kids like me he had so loved and unknowingly influenced. These days, when I go into the Alumni Section of our high school, I see the picture of him hanging on the wall. It looks like it was taken a few years after his prime had run out. But, if anyone knew him when he was in his prime, whether my cohorts or me, we never chose to rub him the wrong way. We knew this guy and loved him. By the way, we all survived the Cuban Missile Crisis but Penance Hall continued. It was the one constant that never seemed to change.
Sophomore year was also exciting for my sister, Nancy, and me. She was tuned into what was happening and told me about “Route 66” coming to town. They were going to film a segment of it at Jesuit and we all showed up to see these TV stars. Sure enough, Marty Millner showed up as did his counterpart, George Maharis. We were all excited since this was the first “thing” the network had done at Jesuit that was remotely Catholic. We saw both of these stars, then went with my sister, Nancy, and her best friend, Jackie, to Kip’s Restaurant at Lemmon and Inwood to talk about it. We thought that was the best thing since sliced bread; then I went on to another of the many confusing sophomore days which lay ahead.
Back then an older student never associated with underclassmen–not because we didn’t like them but just because that’s the way it was. I don’t really remember how I met my best friend, Jim Snodgrass, maybe because our music paths intersected—but we hit it off. We formed a band and our first gig was at St. Luke’s. They were paying us $40 to provide the music for their dance that night, and we were running very late. When we finally arrived with our drum set, Fender guitar, and my Hawaiian guitar, they were very angry. The kids tried to dance to a fractured band that was all over the place. Our first gig was a failure, with a capital F. We ended up giving them back their money.
Jim and I, in the meantime, drew closer through our music and corrected our mistakes. We employed a drummer and a rhythm guitarist and were soon hired to play at local dances, pretty soon at CYO’s. Our band became so well-known in Dallas that we were invited to play at LuAnn’s, the local teen night club, and we were even recorded by Jim Lowe’s local recording studio by Jim Tarver, one of Nancy’s friends who wanted to make his mark with the song “Linda Is My True Love.” In my eyes it was cool and hip, but looking back, the song really sucked. Shortly thereafter Jim and I decided to take a trip to Mexico. Our parents had no idea. We drove in my Dad’s Ford Falcon and left about 3 am. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip until we finally reached Del Rio about sunup. The leftovers from the night before were being spilled on the street. We had come all of this way for nothing. Our parents were both relieved to find us and outraged that we had done such a foolish thing. We simply explained to them that we wanted to get away. That night they made us play and sing “Moon River.” I think they were happy to have us home and thankful that the Falcon had come through. Looking back, I can tell how our parents’ hearts must have been in their mouths as these two wanderers tried to spread their wings. If it had been my kids, I’m not sure I would have treated them in the same kind way. Jim and I are still friends today though our lives and preferences have since grown too much apart. Yet, when Judy died, he was the first one there. I should have gone to his Daddy’s funeral years later, but I didn’t think it mattered. Wrong again. I hope he will be at my funeral and remember the good times we have had. Sorry, Jim; I should have been with you.
I have many memories of my sophomore year at Jesuit, some good, some not so good. I realized I would never come close to being an A.C. Moser- that I would be almost lucky to even survive it. My grades slipped, my head swam, and I was trying to find myself. The one life-changing event that came from this time centered around Mr. Jung who taught us English. His class was a relief, not because he didn’t work us to death but because he made it such a joy. He asked our class one afternoon if we knew the definition of dirt. We all reacted with our sophomore hormones with answers that had to do with “sex.” I think we made his sallow complexion blush. He finally gave us the answer we were looking for and I remember it to this day: “Dirt,” he explained, “is anything that is not in its proper place.” Mr. Jung died in his sleep mid-way through the semester. We were all shocked and wondered how and why our twenty-five-year-old English teacher could have met such an untimely fate. It took a while for all of us to get over his tragedy.
I don’t remember too much about my junior year at Jesuit other than it was fast-paced and wall-to-wall academically. I struggled with math and was caught cheating by Mr. Vavasour. He was really fair about it and asked me to go over the problems with him step-by-step. I couldn’t. His eyes were penetrating–as though they were looking right through me. I finally owned up to the error of my ways and went home, eventually confessing to my Mom. I think I received a zero for the quiz (I’m glad it wasn’t a test) and let that sleeping dog lie.
Looking back, I think my junior year was a strange beast to handle for a number of reasons. Nancy was not around anymore. Word had it that our school was going to be moved to north Dallas and nothing would ever be the same again. We were typical juniors that year–especially in Chemistry. We had what we thought at the time was a really naïve Chemistry teacher whose bow tie finally got the best of him. That was his first year of teaching and his last year with us. But guess what–I still remember that Au means gold, and I know which chemicals to avoid mixing and matching to this very day. I guess he taught us something after all. Hopefully he is still teaching somewhere and to a much better class of young men than we were.
Yet we juniors occasionally had our up sides as well—things we did which would later make us look back with an awe- inspiring “That was us?” Of particular note was the charity work we did the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that year. Unbeknownst to us, it would make a life-long impression on each person who participated in this small, simple event.
The event to which I am referring started after school let out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Some of us had volunteered to drop off turkeys with all of the trimmings to some of our city’s less fortunate. Mr. Renfro, my Spanish teacher, rode with two of my friends and me as we pulled out of the Jesuit parking lot and headed to West Dallas.
Even though I logged many miles in my Dad’s Ford Falcon, none of them had included trips to these unfortunate parts of town. I remember it was cold and dreary and the closer we got to the bowels of the city the worse the weather seemed to get. Even though it was just past five pm, night seemed to be falling quickly. We made the first two stops—one to a bed-ridden woman and another to a man who had been in a car accident who evidently could not afford to go to the hospital. I assumed it was his mother (she looked too old to be his wife) who was taking care of him. They were both very appreciative, and it made us feel good that the food we had given them would tide them over for a little while.
We were all feeling smugly removed from the plights of these people when our third stop blind-sided us. We pulled up in front of a small–maybe three-room house–and knocked on the door. A little girl—maybe five-years-old–opened it and stared back at us. Mr.Renfro asked if her mother was home and the girl soon disappeared. A few seconds later the girl reappeared, this time pulling her mother behind her. The lady looked at us as if she had no clue who we were or what we were doing. She finally noticed Mr. Renfro’s collar and immediately held the door open for us, beckoning us to enter. It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
They were the Orozco family as we slowly found out thanks to Mr. Renfro’s proficiency in Spanish. Their living room and dining room was their bedroom, the room we entered as we walked in the front door. It was lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The only other furniture in the room was a color television propped in a corner. The room smelled closed and musty, but the eight pairs of eyes staring up at us were sparkling and filled with hope and life. Mr. Orozco had not returned home from work. His family of eight children welcomed us and took our hands as though they had known us their entire lives. We eventually ended up adopting this family for the rest of the year. We bought them a Christmas tree, ornaments, lights—the whole works. Dad even paid some of his employees to fix some new toys that had been damaged during shipment to the store. They would be gifts for the Orozco kids. Meeting the Orozcos and helping them was probably the hallmark event of my junior year. As I was leaving their home once, I looked up and was taken back for a minute. There loomed a 50 story sky-scrapper no more than a mile or two from the squalor of this cracker-box neighborhood. Go figure, I remember thinking to myself.
My junior class was a mixed bag. It was a strange year filled with fading blessings and modern curses. New iron rails overlooked our old habitat and change was in the air. At the same time there was really not time for ourselves–as though the school’s administrators had even planned it that way—always homework that had to be done, staying up doing lessons until God knows when, trying to make it to the next level, and hoping we could. I really got close to God.
Senior year for us was cool, but in a strange way different. We walked into a new building on Inwood Road, into front doors made of clear, clean glass, and we could park where we wanted. Fields stretched for miles around–as far as the eye could see. There were no buses to take us anywhere simply because there was no place close to go.
My folks had just bought me a new car, a 1965 Chevy convertible that looked really hip but did not always run well. Even so, my senior brothers and I wasted no time cruising Forest Lane looking for hang-outs and occasionally having drag races when we thought we could get away with them. Smiley, a kind, Dallas policeman who for some reason really liked us, would just look at us and shake his head. He would finally corral us when he had seen enough and tell us to cool it, and we did–until the next time.
The new school had a language lab which was something quite foreign to us. That’s also where our homeroom was located. I am sure our homeroom and Spanish teacher Mr. Renfro later decided to go into missionary work because of us. I am sure he suspected that life could not get much more difficult for him. We’d put on the earphones day after day and haphazardly practice our Spanish when Spanish class came around. He would get so angry at our lack of enthusiasm his face would turn bright red. When this happened we all, to a man, knew to take the cue and immediately got down to business for the rest of the period.
In a lot of ways the new Jesuit was a step up–no pigeons were bombing us from the gym, and Seniors could even smoke in the walkway between the cafeteria and the gym. The auditorium was a sight to behold–no more basement meetings–we actually met in a place that was plush and up-to-date. The cafeteria was much as it is today–some things never change.
John Kennedy had been elected President and we were all ecstatic; finally a Catholic had made it into the White House despite the news reports that he would be the Pope’s puppet. My father, who was born and raised in Boston, complained that The Dallas Morning News didn’t like this guy, but I didn’t pay too much attention to my father; I was too busy with other things. I had my band, girls, and other concerns on my mind at the time. However, I do remember watching the elections with my Mom and Dad and feeling relieved in a strange sort of way that we Catholics weren’t regarded as second-rate citizens anymore.
On November 22, 1963, my father was Display Director for the Titche Goettinger department store in downtown Dallas. Five or six of the fashion display windows faced Main Street– along the very route which JFK would be traveling. The windows stood about a foot above the sidewalks. Anyone standing in the windows would have an excellent vantage point from which to view the President as his motorcade passed by. Naturally my friends and I realized this and obtained permission from my Dad to stand in the windows and look on. Three of my friends and I wiggled our way between the mannequins and stood peering out onto Main Street. It was mid-morning, and the crowds had already gathered. Before long we saw the motorcycles leading the motorcade pass-by, and soon afterwards the President and his wife, Jackie, passed. I remember thinking what a handsome man he was—very distinguished and even friendly looking. He was smiling and waving as he passed and the crowds were frantically returning his wave and smiling back at him. I guess our view of him lasted maybe three seconds, but, considering what was about to happen, it was enough to last a lifetime.
Soon afterwards my friends and I decided to grab lunch at Titche’s Coffee Shop on the store’s Mezzanine floor. We ate a casual lunch then departed to catch the bus that would carry us home. We could tell as we walked outside that something was not right. There were police car sirens blaring everywhere and the streets were almost completely deserted. One of my friends remarked haphazardly, “Maybe someone’s shot the president.” The rest of us laughed. “Yea right,” we answered, dismissing his off-the-cuff remark. It wasn’t until after we boarded our bus that we found out the President had actually been shot. None of us could believe it—our own president shot and in our city. And to think we had just seen him probably two minutes before he died.
That incident began a string of surreal events that took our already reeling city from anger and grief at the death of the president to the depths of despair when Oswald was gunned down on national television two days later. People walked around in disbelief. It seemed like a dream from which we could not awaken, as though we were living in another dimension of time. We felt empty inside and very insecure—something I had never really experienced previously. The night after the assassination I went to the only place where I could find a single thread of solace and maybe some temporary relief. I climbed into my Dad’s Ford Falcon and drove to our parish church—St. Monica. It was deserted and I remember just sitting in silence–not praying a word. I guess it was then that I realized what all high school seniors eventually come to understand—no one is invincible, not even a president.
St. Rita’s in 1963-64 was a small farmhouse located between Aisles Number 13 and 19 in what is now Loew’s Hardware Store. Nancy had long since gone off to college, but I continued her tradition of going to Mass when I was in special need of help. I was attending Mass one evening in the small front room of what was once the farm house and saw a mouse run across the floor. It stood on its hind legs, stopped and stared motionlessly at the priest during Consecration, then scampered off, almost on cue, once the priest was done. To this day I think that event was truly remarkable. Sometimes we don’t know how blessed we are. President Kennedy was coming to Dallas that November and we were the only school in Dallas to declare the day a holiday. Mickey Reynolds, Jim Snodgrass, Michael Sullivan, and I decided to take the bus downtown to see him. My Dad, who was Display Director at the Titches-Goettinger, could watch him go by. Sure enough, there he was, there he came and there he went, waving at the crowd and smiling just as pretty as you please. Within minutes he was gunned down at Dealey Plaza. Of course the whole nation was in mourning and double shocked when Oswald was killed shortly afterward. Jesuit had a memorial Mass for the President in our new auditorium and, I think, for us as well. It was somewhat consoling to know that we had a religious link to a President who was himself Catholic. We watched his funeral and ensuing entombment on television from our classrooms. His death cast a somber pallor on us all. We all felt a little piece of each of us was being buried with him. No one was immortal after all, we surmised—not a President, not high school seniors.
During the rest of our Senior year we were busy getting our graduation notices ready, trying to find a college to go to, trying to handle the girls we had promised to love forever and trying to ward off the promises of a better life in college. There were no counselors that I remember to help us along the way–just our grades, our SAT scores and the fact that we had graduated from Jesuit. That made a large difference. I think we did our Baccalaureate in the auditorium and then went to the Dallas Memorial Auditorium for the funeral ceremony. I vaguely remember trying to get away from it all–driving to Lake Dallas with our girlfriends and watching the sun come up. An eerie feeling hung over us that night. Soon to disappear were the nights at Luann’s, the submarine races at White Rock Lake and those days of triumph and civic glory we felt by winning the KLIF’s city wide, high school signature contest. All of us realized our lives had suddenly changed and that in a few short months we would all soon be going off to college to God knows where.
Since leaving Jesuit my life has been blessed by my brothers at Jesuit and even my sisters at Ursuline. I married Judith Vehr Pierotti, a graduate of Ursuline who died of a heart condition in 1975. Our first life insurance agent was Mike Bulger. He also is responsible for helping me find my first job at Southland Life Insurance Company. Mickey Reynolds was a groomsmen at my second wedding to Cindy, and Mike Vullo played and sang during the ceremony. Cindy, to whom I went for help during those dark days following Judy’s death, is my bride of over thirty years. She accepted my proposal and is the oldest of thirteen brothers and sisters, all of whom have graduated from either Jesuit, Ursuline or Bishop Lynch. Of our sons, Al III is a successful mortgage banker with his two cars and a mortgage and making probably three times what I am. Chris is an Emergency Room doctor and chief resident at Parkland in Dallas; Mike earned his Bachelors and Masters from Austin College and is a middle school teacher, and Anthony just graduated from the University of North Texas and is a professional photographer who can make a frivolous old man look almost serious about himself.
I attended homecoming last year and was surprised that the game tables were bare. Unlike prior years, the game table hosts sat idly all night wondering what to do with themselves. There was not talk of A. C. Moser. Mike Bulger, who used to collect tickets at the door, was a ghost, replaced by someone who I did not know. None of the legends who had carried me to Jesuit have carried me any farther . Jesuit is about tradition, and when half of your tradition leaves some of you goes with it.
There’s been a rift that I can’t explain, a void lately that has driven me to question what Jesuit brothers are all about. It is amazing how misguided allegiances create a vacuum for all concerned and force us to pick up shattered pieces of the past and then move on. Yet, wherever they are today and no matter what they might be doing, some legends defy time and will live forever. I still remember the old days at Highlander Stadium with my Dad watching A.C. on the field. I am happy he and other long-ago athletes will be remembered by athletes whom I have taught and now teach. If the subject comes up, I still talk to them about the Talliferos, the Mosers, and the Bulgers and never minimize these heros’ pasts. Their former days have come and gone but their legends will live on—no matter what happens– and that is the way it should be.
Ironically, my life has come full circle, leading me on a path much less traveled previously. I have been a privileged individual, blessed with all of God’s graces. He has led me back to a place I had never before recognized as my home. I go to work each day and see the students who were much like I was some 40 years ago: some bleary-eyed, complaining about homework, some waiting for the day to start, others wishing it had already ended. I smile at them and remind them about the good old days and some of them believe me and some of them could not care less. If they get too careless with their behavior or with their assignments, I will send out a Progress Report to their parents to help them to one day become an old Ranger like myself.