Some of my friends know that, for a few years in the 1960s and ’70s, I was a Roman Catholic convert. It happened when I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma.
Many of the guys in my first-floor wing of Kingfisher House were Catholic and so I fell to attending Mass with them on Sundays (or more often the “hangover” Mass on Saturday evening, not because you were drunk then but because you were likely to be the next morning). I suppose I became conspicuous when everyone in my pew had to crawl over me to get communion; I was, after all, not a communicant.
One day I stopped at the Newman Center to see Father Swett — the young, happening sort of priest who got themselves assigned to college parishes because undergraduates could identify with them. There was an issue in my then young freshman life that needed attention — I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about life — and I hoped Fr Chuck could help. After our discussion (which did help, by the way), he mentioned that he hadn’t seen me at communion lately. I replied sheepishly that I didn’t happen to be a Catholic. “Would you like to do anything about that?” he inquired. Since we were in the throes of Vatican II and communion was one step short of Vanilla Wafers and Diet Coke, I said sure and we launched into a week of catechism: Would I buy into this or that bit of dogma; that sort of thing. Finally, on a Friday night at the Howard Johnson’s all-you-can-eat fish special — it was Lent — with the waitress stopping by periodically with the breezy inquiry “More filets?”, came the moment of my First Confession: I was challenged by Fr Swett to do something nice for the person I disliked the most, which required the most anguished examination of my soul ever encountered, then or yet.
First there was the inventory of people I disliked and then a parallel list of things I could do for them that fit these criteria: 1) suitably nice to satisfy God, and 2) not so nice that the recipient would notice. I would burden you with names; the process is what’s important. I think of that weekend in the spring of 1964 today due to “the incident” with little Claire Tennant’s dollhouse.
As part of the backstory for Anson Tennant’s choice of architecture as a career, I created several earlier encounters with architecture and building. The first was in 1905, when Anson was fifteen or sixteen. His little sister Claire had contracted diphtheria and was not expected to survive. So he decided to make that Christmas more special than it might have been: inspired by a design he’d seen in a stack of magazines in the attic, Anson crafted a dollhouse for Claire like none other; one that was not open at the back, as you might expect, but which could open to play by means of an ingenious hinged room. [Crafted by Matt Saatkamp and two other students whose names I can’t recall.] You’ll be pleased to learn that she not only loved the gift lovingly crafted for her, but that she survived, eventually married, and lived a long and happy life — treasuring her brother’s thoughtful gift and passing it along to other generations. The House was a feature of the 2007 exhibit.
So Claire Tennant’s dollhouse survived intact, until last Wednesday night, when it got lugged to the dumpster behind Renaissance Hall, and, sans roof, was ignominiously dropped among bloated black bags of trash. A shipping palette was tossed on top for good measure, and it remained that way until Thursday morning.
Ben, the I.T. Specialist, approached me in the computer lab late Thursday morning, hang-dog, and inquired if I had intended to dispose of the dollhouse, whereupon my heart sank. We hurried downstairs, assessed the situation and went into retrieval mode, holding anger off for the moment. With the house safely out of immediate harm’s way, I proceeded to the office, intent on speaking with the acting chair, who, strategically, was on a conference call. Waiting, I advised the secretary that this teaching gig didn’t seem to be going all that well, that it might be time to cut ties with the place and move on to my twilight years — though I said it far less lightly. Out in the corridor, Ben counseled restraint and called the program director for reinforcement. It’s a good thing Milton was stopping by for lunch: 1) it got me out of the place; 2) it got the damaged artifact off the premises and into his garage; 3) it got a beer into me; and 4) it gave me time to reflect.
Friday morning and afternoon I tried to get back into old routines — adding to the Akron Plan database — and later that day both Ben and Cindy and I discussed what might have occurred that Wednesday night. Was it accident or intent? I preferred not to know but agreed that some sort of investigation was advised. [The rear parking lot is covered by surveillance cameras.] Whether I’ll elect to know the result is an open question.
If this was a genuine accident (whatever the hell that may be), its discovery was equally accidental, and the two cancel one another out. If, on the other hand, this was malicious and there are folks in the department displeased enough with me to have done this, I prefer to not have that possibility confirmed. Suffice to say, my demeanor has taken a turn for the sour and I’m unlikely to relate to my place of employment for the past forty-six years in quite the same way.
After all is said and done, I may some time soon be required to do something nice for the person….oh, well, never mind.