Donaldson, Indiana

This post office only came into existence because of Divine Heart Seminary and Ancilla Domini College nearby.

I know Heraclitus said you can’t step into the same river twice, but I tried anyway. I went back to Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana, to visit after a long absence of many years. Once again, I felt the urge to go back. But you can’t go back to the same place again. I knew this would happen, but I hoped against hope. I had braced myself for disillusionment, so I wasn’t saddened when I didn’t find places that I had wanted to revisit.

Sometimes, I like to go back to places from my past just to see if they still exist. Most places have actually improved from the way I remember them. However, DHS was not one of them. The main drive was a pot-hole violated road. I missed seeing the familiar white wooden fence that lined the main drive. When I got halfway down the drive, it was closed off with a No Trespassing sign. I stopped to take pictures anyway. The owner came to the gate to greet me. Yes, greet me. I’m sure he wasn’t checking up on me to make sure I didn’t trespass on his property! He was selling part of the property and they would soon knock down some of the buildings. He said that he would save the cornerstones so someone could send them to Hales Corners, Wisconsin. He wouldn’t allow me to take pictures on the property, but he said he would take some before the demolition began and promised to post them on the Internet.

Afterwards, I went down the road a piece to Ancilla Domini College. I learned “down the road a piece” while I was a student at DHS, so I like to sprinkled my driving directions with this phrase from time to time. Ancilla had not only survived beautifully, but it has also flourished in the intervening years. The Ancilla girls were cheerleaders for our sports teams, the tenacious and ferocious Deacons. We also used to go to Ancilla in the winter to Gilbert Lake to play ice hockey.

I decided to look for some other familiar places. The Hi Dee Ho Truck Stop on U.S. 30 was still there, but under a different name now. Days Country Store on old U.S. 30 was no longer there. The Dairy Queen in Plymouth was replaced by a new one that resembles any of the new Dairy Queens that I’ve seen all over the USA while driving around on vacation aimlessly. The bowling alley in Plymouth was gone. I went to Meyers Lake where we went camping with the Explorers Club. The Trading Post was gone. The campground where we camped was gone and a housing complex was in its place. But at least Meyers Lake was still there.

Other people would probably be disappointed with such a trip. But not me! Despite the many things that I expected to see being gone, I was extremely happy that I was not one of them!

Medieval road trip

Evanston, Illinois

One of the most memorable Spanish classes I ever took was a Medieval seminar on Spanish literature at UIC. There were only four students in the seminar. The professor, Reinaldo Ayerbe-Chaux, taught the course with great enthusiasm. So much so that I wanted to write my doctoral dissertation on some Medieval text. One of our writing assignments involved transcribing a Medieval text written on parchment into Spanish. I don’t know why, but I was truly fascinated by this project. The language of the parchment was archaic but comprehensible. The alphabet was moderately different from the modern Spanish alphabet. Some parts of the text taxed my brain in order for me to decipher the writing and then comprehend what was actually stated. Little did I realize that this was good training for me as a Spanish professor when I would have to decipher student compositions with  illegible handwriting before I could intrepet the student’s intended message. But, hey, I love puzzles!

Well, the highlight of our seminar came at the end when we went on our field trip to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Their Spanish department had the largest collection of Medieval Spanish texts in the world. However, most of them were on microfilm. Professor Ayerbe-Chaux said we just had to go to the university and see the collection for ourselves. I offered to drive our class to Madison, Wisconsin, in my minivan, which he thought was a good idea. Of course, UIC paid for my gas.

Professor James Compton, who is now retired, also wanted to go with us since he had graduated from there. Maybe I’m just too easily amused, but I had a lot of fun on this trip. I enjoyed looking at all the Medieval texts even if they were only on microfilm. Professor John Nitti gave us copies of two of their publications, which I shall someday read. But the highlight of the trip for me was meeting the faculty. Professor Compton was happy to see his dissertation adviser Lloyd Kaston once again. He was now professor emeritus, but he still had an office in the Spanish department and he still was actively transcribing Medieval texts. When we went to his office, he just happened to be napping. He was ninety-something years old, so he was entitled to nap whenever he wanted! Well, I got to see four generations of faculty in the same room!

I will always remember this seminar because Professor Ayerbe-Chaux gave the entire class, all of us, copies of a book by Don Juan Manuel that he had published. He had read the original texts by Don Juan Manuel and then transcribed them. He was even gracious enough to autograph the book for me!

Private Cloud

Private Cloud

I met Leslie Cloud when I was in the Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego, California. He was proud of the fact that he was a Chippewa Indian from Wisconsin.

In boot camp we only knew our fellow Marines by their surname because first names were unimportant. However, if we took a liking to someone, we introduced ourselves. Leslie approached me first. He said, “Hi, my name is White Cloud.” I started laughing because I immediately thought of the toilet paper by the same name. When I noticed he was staring at me with a menacing look, I stopped laughing. Then he laughed and said, “My name’s really Leslie.” I felt an immense sense of relief because for a second there I thought he would pound the laughter out of me.

We shared the same set of bunk beds, so that made us partners for many of our boot camp activities. Actually, he picked me for his bunk partner, although I’m not sure why. He said that I had to sleep on the top bunk, and the way he said it, I knew I didn’t have any other option.

I never really learned too much about his personal life, but occasionally he would say something that revealed his past. I was a regular Marine and he was a reservist who would return to his reservation after boot camp. Sometimes he would reminisce about his life on the reservation, how he could hunt whenever he wanted. But other than that, he remained a mystery to me.

He had a sense of humor that today would be considered politically incorrect, but he always made laugh. There were moments when I thought he was the funniest man in the world. Unfortunately, laughing was not allowed in boot camp. So he tried to make me laugh at the most inappropriate moments. In the morning, we had to make our bunks and stand at attention. The goal was not to be the last one done, or you and your partner would be ordered to do pushups or another callisthenic exercise. The first day we were bunkmates, I thought I was making my bunk at breakneck speed. By the time I had finished tucking the hospital folds of the bottom flat sheet, Leslie began helping me with the top sheet. When I looked at his bunk, I was amazed that he had already made it. It was so perfectly made, too, that it passed the quarter-bouncing test when the drill instructor bounced a quarter on the bed to see if the sheets are tucked in tightly enough. “Where did you learn to make a bed like that,” I asked. With a wink of an eye, he said, “It’s an old Injun trick!” Then, he got serious and said that he had grown up in an orphanage.

When we were in infantry training, we shared a tent that we put up faster than any other team in the platoon. I realized that I had only assisted him while he did most of the work. We stood at attention for what seemed an eternity waiting the next team to finish setting up their tent. While we were standing there, I asked, “How did you put up the tent so fast?” He looked at me with a straight face and said, “Injun-uity!” I had to contain my laughter so as not to be punished for not being at attention. The incident I remember most? I was looking at picture from my last trip to México immediately before entering boot camp. I had a picture of my grandmother with her long black hair with traces of gray in the traditional Mexican braids and her dark brown skin and broad cheeks. I saw Leslie looking at the picture, so I told him she was my grandmother. He solemnly said, “So you’re one of us.”

Toward the end of our boot camp training, we were informed that we had both been meritoriously promoted to Private First Class (PFC). He began calling me PFC Rodriguez, and I called him PFC Cloud. Those titles sounded so prestigious in boot camp when most recruits were only privates. However, during the promotion ceremony, I was promoted but not Leslie. He showed no outward indication of disappointment. I never found out why Leslie didn’t get promoted. When we said our good-byes after boot camp, I asked him for his address so we could stay in touch. He said no because he wouldn’t write to me anyway. And that was the last I ever heard of him.