Thursday, September 10, 2009

Part 11: The Next Day

"School is where you go between when
your parents can't stand you and industry can't take you."

~ John Updike

"Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out. I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out."
~ Cat Stevens

"My school days were the happiest days of my life; which should give you some indication of the misery I've endured..."
~ Paul Merton

The next morning I woke with a start to the sound of banging and pounding on doors. Mr. Swanson was going down the hallways waking us up. Heart pounding I leapt from my bed. Time to get up and get dressed for breakfast.

Like some threatened forest animal, all my senses were on high alert since I arrived the day before. My brain was busy collecting and cataloging data; new terms and words, new faces and names, new sounds and smells; Fellow boarders on the floor above walking about and laughing (who were they?), teachers down the hall talking (would they be my teachers?). The fresh scent of pine wafting through the open window mingling with the musty smell from the bathroom. The rich browns of the hard wood floors, the peeling mint green paint in the bathroom.

We were first required to brush our teeth and comb our hair. Then make our beds, clean our cubbies and sweep. Failure to do these things would earn you demerits (whatever they were?), and so many demerits would cost you privileges. Then the clanging of the dinner bell! It meant we had 15 minutes to get to the dining hall. I hurried to finish up and then we all walked up to Binsted Hall for breakfast.

Binsted housed the seniors on the top floor, the senior lounge was on the bottom, on the middle floor was the dining hall and just off that was Mr. Craig's room. He had his stereo playing Carol King's album Tapestry at full volume. When it got to the song "Beautiful" he would come bursting into the dining room singing "you've got to get up every morning, with a smile on your face...". I soon found out that this would be his routine every weekend. Breakfast was bacon, fried eggs, cereal, toast, juice and fresh fruit. Pretty good, I thought, although I could see a few kids making faces and poking at their food.

After breakfast we went back to the dorm and "signed out". All Boarders were required to print their name, destination, reason and then sign a sheet everyday whenever we were not in class. This way the dorm master could keep track of us.

Some of us new "Boarders" walked around the campus with our schedules looking at the buildings and seeing where our classes would be. This was my first experience with having each class in a different room or building. We had 5 minutes to go to the locker room, get our books for the next class and get to the classroom.

We started with the main building,
Ogilby Hall. Here was the locker room and just off that was English with Mrs Brewster and my Spanish class with Senora Palacios. On the other end the building, off a large porch just down from the bookstore was my History class with Mrs Ng.

Then we went down to Amos Hall, a four story building which had a wonderful library on the top floor. The Head Librarian, Mrs. Albarracin was just unlocking the door when we got there. I could see right away that this is where I would be spending my free time. There was a reading area right next to the periodicals, well stocked with current magazines and newspapers, with sofas and chairs arranged in little reading areas. We looked around for a little bit and then headed downstairs, past the school auditorium on the 3rd floor, already set up for the first school assembly on Monday. Then we went down to the lower level, here I would have Math with Mrs Alcantara and Science with Mrs Rivera. On the very bottom floor around back was Mr. Asiatico's classroom where my roommate Jaime's Earth Science class would be held.

We checked out Weiser Hall, consisting of dorm rooms for 10th and 11th graders on the top floor, my Typing class with Mr Reyes was on the middle floor and the school canteen on the bottom level. The canteen was already bustling with laughing "day" students. It made me wonder why there were so many students hanging around campus on a Saturday. I was soon to find out that Brent was a popular place to hang out after school and on the weekends. When we went in the door Manong Freddie was busy grilling some burgers. The smell was heavenly. He welcomed us in and asked us all our names. Some of the kids got pop and candy, but I still didn't have any money. "You should write and ask your parents for some" one of the kids said. Another said helpfully "well, we do get our allowances next Friday."

Right. You don't know my dad.

I knew I was getting an allowance, but I also knew it wasn't going to be much. My old allowance had been the occasional peso now and then. My parents told me they had asked another missionary family what they gave their child. My Dad took that amount, divided it in half, then divided in half again. I would soon find out that I had the smallest allowance of any of my contemporaries who boarded at Brent.

Then we walked down to the gym. This is were I would have P.E. with Mr Allegre. I was surprised to see that all remnants from Registration Day the day before were gone. The floor had been covered with 4x8 sheets of masonite to protect the basketball court, these were all put away. It seemed immense, certainly the biggest gym I had ever been in. A few of the older kids were playing basketball as we filed past to go down to check out the locker room.

We were headed back to the dorm when I caught sight of something gut wrenchingly familiar: a pink briefcase bouncing up the hill. It was attached to my father. When he had got back to the Guest House down in Manila he found a telegram from the Headmaster informing him that would have to return and get the missing items on the required items list.

Dad was not happy, he never liked being told what to do. The cost of flying back to Baguio and messing up his schedule had him boiling. For my Dad, parting with money is like asking him to donate both kidneys and a lung. Somehow, this was my fault.

We went downtown and began shopping for clothes. Two weeks worth of white dress shirts, dark slacks, underwear, t shirts, socks. A pair of tennis shoes, a clip-on tie, a sweater, a jacket. The exact amount, not one item more, nothing from the "suggested, not required" items list. It took forever. By the time we got back to the school he was pretty hot.

This was a first for him and he discovered three things: he had never bought clothing for kids before and had no idea how to do it; he had no idea how much it was going to cost; he totally miscalculated the amount of time it would take to get all the items. He had missed the last flight out and had not made reservations to spend the night.

So, it was not too surprising then, that soon after we got back to Brent he was in a nose to nose argument with Mr. Craig. It began with his demand that the school put him up for the night. From his point of view the school was the reason he was stranded and therefore owed him lodging. Mr. Craig, the ex Marine, stood his ground and told my dad that the school was not a hotel. Dad, the ex Sailor, was not having any of it. No Jarhead was going to tell what he could or could not do.
They exchanged some expletives and the dispute ended with my father stomping off.
(Dad had a real problem with Marines, stemming from his days in the Navy. He relished telling us stories of the tricks they played on the Marines and the bar fights they had.)

So I was shocked to see him, just before supper, back on campus again. Dad had called the local Episcopal Church office and asked Bishop Cabanban if there was any place the church could put him up for the night and the Bishop said "You can use the
Bishop's Cottage at Brent."

That night at dinner, Mr Craig was even more surprised and his face went red as he stormed over to the table where we were sitting. He started in on Dad, who gleefully pointed to the distinguished gentleman next to him and said
"I'm the Bishop's guest".

This was a hard pill for Mr. Craig to swallow, because he had to sit at the table with the Bishop and his "guest". Dad was looking pretty smug and happy and I thought well it's now or never, so I took this golden opportunity to ask my Dad for his other lung and heart:
uh, can I have some money Dad?

For a second I thought one of us was going to die. Dad choked on his water, but with the Bishop and the assistant headmaster looking at him he was trapped. He pulled a couple of pesos out of his wallet, then after a quick glance at the watching faces pulled out another 4 pesos and slammed it on the table (the equivalent of just under a dollar at the time).

"That's a lot of money. It is going to have to last you a while!"

Mr. Craig got a funny look on his face, cleared his throat but never said another word.
But after that the tough, gruff and blustery Mr. Craig was always kind and encouraging with me.

This still is one of Dad's favorite stories. Of course he leaves out the last part and the part about why he needed a place to sleep in the first place.


  1. Mark - I still correspond with Ed Craig every C-mas. He was in Seattle when I went to college in Tacoma, and I saw him a couple times. He is now in N. Calif I believe, and was teaching - probably retired now?

  2. uh oh - that was not Gretchen posting, it's me, Anne Washburn. Gretchen used my laptop in Vegas - something must have gotten stuck!! ha!

  3. Waldo, your father is straight out of Dickens! While he provides interesting reading, he must have been hell to live with. I'm glad you lived to tell the tale.

  4. I'm surprised your parents sent you to Brent since it was pretty expensive.

  5. Our mission board paid for the tuition. My parents were only accountable for the miscellaneous. That had my Dad yelling all the time. My grandma used my trust fund to pay for the extras, so it didn't really cost him anything.

  6. Wonderful installment, Mark. I enjoy reading about your comments on Brent School. When I was there the first time, 1958 - 1961, Weiser Hall was the senior dorm.

  7. Keep writing, buddy. You are good.

  8. Wow - Mark, am listening to Cat Stevens (you posted) while writing this. Thanks - your story of your stay in Brent is so vivid, so lucid - makes me yearn for the time I was there when our children were all in grade school. We left in 1967 to return to the States where I worked and finished my Ph.D. in Microbiology at The University of Connecticut (UConn) Storrs. You think when you're done posting all your stories you can put them together and consider its publication? It is so well-written and intriguingly interesting reading. I would like to show it to my wife Gloria who just retired from publishing. She is the owner of Giraffe Books, her publishing house, and she is known to be the "only" one-woman publisher in the world. Keep up with your narrative and your immensely readable story. Ralph Rodriguez (Brent 1959-1967, faculty & assustant headmaster).