Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
No sign of age in our shadow
David Arnold’s interest in photography was awakened at Wittenberg in the late 1950s, when he allowed a Christmas camera to lead him into the beauty and life of the campus and ultimately a career with pictures.
After 26 years as an illustrations editor with National Geographic Magazine, Arnold rediscovered in his earliest photographs images and memories of Wittenberg days unfaded by time and brightened by fresh appreciation. With this excerpt, he says ‘Thanks.’
It was Wittenberg College in those good old days, not university, and I think I knew I would go there from the moment I knew what a college looked like.
That would have been shortly after the end of World War II, after the gas rationing ended, when my parents jammed my brother and me into a new and very crowded post-war car and headed west on the old National Road, over the hills and dales of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, back to Springfield.
It had been my parents’ hometown, and Wittenberg had been their school. They were faculty kids. My father’s father had taught psychology and directed the adult education program.
My mother’s father — the reason for this visit — was still presiding as the dean of Hamma Divinity School. Arnolds and Larimers. All their offspring, in fact nearly every relative that I knew or cared about, had been a Wittenberger.
In my little boy’s brain I possibly even assumed that the family owned the school. But I had never seen the place; it existed only as I imagined it from family conversations. Grandfather Larimer lived then in a house up the hill next to Hamma, where Hollenbeck Hall stands today.
It was an overnight slog to get to him from Delaware, full of carsickness and impatience and grinding traffic along the narrow sub-alpine reaches of U.S. 40.
But we arrived to a Springfield alive with the beauties of late spring. I kissed my grandfather’s whiskery cheek and, the next thing I remember, bounded off free as the air to explore the campus. I probably thought it all was just part of his front lawn and therefore “mine.” I do remember the impression: what a nice place!
And it felt comfortable. It was new yet already familiar. There was something flowery and sweet in the air: just the spring, probably. I should have been tired, but I wasn’t. I liked the paths to everywhere. And the trees.
But best of all — when gravity finally worked me to the bottom of the hill — I liked the fountain. I loved the way the pineapple continually spouted, the way the lion below continually spat. I thought it was a show all for me.
But I loved best the low walls on either side. To this boy’s imagination their curving end-stones became mighty steam locomotives pulling long strings of cars.
On most days, I was down there playing engineer, chuffing for the engine, whooping for crossings, calling the “All aboards.” And it was all mine. If there were others, I did not notice, and of me they would have seen only an 8-year-old in his shorts in some amusing play.
From that time on I don’t think there was any doubt that college for me would be Wittenberg. I’d just be going back to the family home. In fact I was so blase about it I nearly forgot about applying; I had supposed it would be automatic, that I would walk out the door of high school and into the door of Wittenberg.
But came the day ... the ellipses skip usual years of haphazard progress and adolescent torment ... when my father posed me at the receiving end of the nagging finger of my mother and took the official “Off to College” photograph.
A scene that, today, we would say was “ripped from life.” She would have been commanding me to keep my room clean, and I would not have been listening. I had arrived. Indeed.
Waiting for me in my fourth-floor Myers room, in addition to my first-ever roommate, Vernon Sponseller, were two “actives” from something called a “fraternity.”
(My father had been in one, but I wasn’t quite sure what they did.) “Betas,” the guys crowding my room said, their hands extended to pull me in, and they let me know that my grandfather Larimer had been a “brother.” There hadn’t even been time to put my suitcase down. I think Sponseller had already pledged; they moved fast.
The following Sunday at Fourth Lutheran I was welcomed as a returning son by old friends of parents and grandparents. In fact it was easy to wonder if I’d ever lived anywhere else.
And when I sat for my first college haircut (at last, free from my father’s barberism!) it was in Willie Funk’s shop next to the old College Drug, and I soon learned he had cut my father’s hair, too. And I would have courses, or at least contacts, with professors who’d been teachers or friends of the family. I felt like a seed fallen on good earth.
What was there about Wittenberg in the ’50s? Nothing much different from today, in truth. The same essential core of buildings. Oh, maybe the circle of them around the drive was a little more self-containing then.
Perhaps there was less a need to stray from it. Our diversions were closer at hand, and there weren’t so many cars then to whisk us to far fields.
Consider old Myers Hall. There it sat, as now, in the center of it all, the old-timer, the original. I lived my four years there, with never a thought of moving.
To live somewhere else would have distorted the experience of Wittenberg. We dragged out of it for eight o’clocks, came back to hide through chapel, crashed there briefly after lunch to read our mail, left it reluctantly for sleepy afternoon labs, returned anxious with hunger to change for dinner, and drew it safely around us as we studied through long nights of distant shouts and door slams.
Best of all, just out the back door, in a building that might have been barracks for World War II aviators, was the Student Union. We could always find life there and barely had to dress for it.
One early year at Wittenberg I was given a camera, and as I began my roamings with it I turned first to the campus.
Myers appears as a safe haven in many views: through bleak winter trees on a dank, windless afternoon, with its promise of warmth from clanking radiators; with pillars aglow like a kind of hilltop sentinel to guide us back in the evening when we were done with the day.
And I took a picture of young kids climbing toward Myers that reminded me of my first comfortable days on campus, when I trundled back up the hill to my grandfather’s house after playing “railroad” with the fountain.
And there was Recitation Hall, which had a name then that still described its function (well, maybe we didn’t recite, but our professors did), and it had that dramatic tower I tended to find everywhere I looked.
Old Reci then creaked daily under the onslaught of students dashing up or down shoe-hollowed stairs, swinging for the next flight on heavy hand-polished newel posts.
It housed some administration functions even then, down in the basement, I remember, but mostly it was a hall of learning where we encountered history and languages and the art of writing and, if we were serious in purpose, actually walked away with some knowledge of those things.
Religion was there, too, both in the classroom and, as late as 1955, in the chapel there — that chapel to which we freshmen were utterly faithful right up to the moment we compared notes and learned that no one was really counting our beanied heads after all. One of the first college braveries. Cutting chapel!
Throughout the years since I left Wittenberg in 1959, I’ve carried in my head like one of those irradicable musical phrases you can’t stop humming, the dictum that fame is nothing, only the deed counts.
I thought the advice had its point even then, but lately it has risen to a new level of meaning and comfort, perhaps as I realize it may be a little too late in the game for fame after all and, maybe, here’s the reason I was never all that concerned about it in the first place.
“DIE TAT IST ALLES, NICHTS DER RUHM.” How strange to see it again, and not to have overlooked it then, the small bronze plaque in the cracked walkway outside Carnegie Hall that gave birth to a long-lived memory.
In the ’50s, as now, the beauty of the campus was as much in the trees as buildings, if not more, and sometimes in the spring I found myself wondrously doing the un-collegiate thing of arising before daybreak, voluntarily and without alarm, and going out among them.
Late Sunday sun glares off Myers’ terrazzo, painful to look into. Though it is spring, the furnace is still running, still pumping heat into the sunlit corridor. But it doesn’t matter; there’s no one here this afternoon anyway but the few guilty enough to study, or those too heat struck and drowsy, or lonely, to rise from their naps.
Down at the other end of the hall the payphone rings. There’s only one for the whole dorm (I think I remember — Fairfax 2-0545) or maybe it was all of one per floor.
There were no room phones then, and the system was that whoever was most annoyed by its incessant ringing, or who was the best good citizen, or who was awaiting word from a girlfriend, or news of a financial bailout from home, would answer it.
Then would come the shout down the hall — “Arnold! Telephone!” We seldom heard the page, of course, not with the hi-fi playing the latest West Coast jazz or that still-new rock ’n’ roll (that our parents thought would bring the end of the civilized world — and maybe they were right). But if we were lucky, the door would rattle, and we’d get the message personally.
If we were lucky, the phone booth — can you remember a phone in a booth? — would not have been cheesed-up. For a while there, perhaps all of twice, the gag was to dose the booth with limburger, which soon if not immediately provided a smell like the worst intestinal problem ever suffered times ten.
We’d stick it under the seat and wait for temperature to do its trick. It worked better than we hoped. But it also worked on our hands carrying it back from the store, and in the car of whoever was dumb enough to give us and our cargo a lift. And when the smell escaped the phone booth, as it could only do, it took refuge in the hall we all used. So once, or twice, was enough.
Now here comes the silhouette that was my roommate for two years: Itsuo Umezaki. Itsuo was a world-class smoker. That was his only vice. Well, no, there was another — drinking Cokes.
It’s a shameful thing to say now, now that we know beyond question smoking’s terrible cost, but back then I could see the humor in Itsuo’s morning ritual.
He seemed to sleep the night through completely under-blanket; at least there was nothing to see of him in the morning but blanket. But then the alarm would sound, and the blanket would move, and soon from it would emerge an arm.
And the arm would writhe this way and that, like an octopus’ tentacle, until it contacted, first, the pack of cigarettes and, second, the lighter. Then back it would go, under-blanket, and soon smoke would begin to leak around the pillow.
After a bit the arm would come out again, this time to graze for the six-ounce bottle of warm Coke. Thus Itsuo began his days.
Itsuo and I were exemplary in all the truly important ways but one: we were lousy housekeepers. We were worse than lousy housekeepers: we didn’t do housekeeping.
The only time we were housekeepers was at the end of the spring semester, when we were forced to do something with the mess in order to go home.
Here’s one memorable Saturday morning, the hour decent but still far too early for college-types. After ten, certainly. A knock at the door, rattling it in its metal frame.
I swing off the top bunk, noting on my way to the floor the mound of blue blanket on the lower one that means Itsuo is still sleeping. If I’m lucky my feet land on bare floor, not the semester’s jetsam.
Another knock. I’m at the door now, angry at this breach of Saturday morning dorm etiquette. And how can Itsuo just lie there? I open the door, and not far from the end of my nose stands Clarence Stoughton, president of Wittenberg College.
Two young visitors here to behold the quality of dorm accommodations at Wittenberg — I comprehend this in a flash — stand beyond his shoulder.
His instantly paled face tells me that President Stoughton has in that same flash already peered past my reflexive body shield to the unholy mess within.
Similar shocks are visible on the two visitors gaping in disbelief behind him. And now I’m wondering if I’m as naked as I feel. President Stoughton was another of my many Wittenberg friends-of-family.
His silence now seems endless. “Ah, Dave,” he pronounces with sad finality, “I can see you’re not ready for visitors.” He apologizes and I apologize. (I really do!)
Myers 104. Itsuo and Dave, roommates by college choice. It is 1958, the U.S. occupation of Japan terminated just over five years earlier, hardly longer ago than the war was long. Itsuo is from Kyoto; Dave from Delaware. I wondered about this fellow with the strange name, and he probably sensed immediately that I was the all-time king of the provincials.
So there we were, circling each other for the first weeks like wary cats. But remember those ridiculous little side-by-side desks Myers had? Well, there we sat, had to sit, elbow to elbow, studying and, I guess, slowly coming to like each other. I don’t suppose it’s unique among roommates.
After a time you get tired of the silly posing and attempts at space-control and relax into who you are. Who Itsuo was was a gentle fellow of quiet humor and great intelligence and sensitivity. His manner was inherently respectful and deferential. He was a gentleman. But he was not shy of polite firm-mindedness.
He would give you everything and more up to a line, a line he allowed to be drawn far closer to him than to you. But when the line was breached, he was unafraid to say so. So there we sat, he studying art and how to create it, I studying psychology and wondering how in the world to apply it.
Our study music, when we had it, was classical (a love we shared) or jazz (which I think he only tolerated) or Japanese (the melodies of which I am just now remembering with pleasure).
We had, I suppose, the usual philosophical discussions of roommates who by the small hours past midnight have become tired of learning but are stoked with the sugar of doughnuts and Cokes and turn the talk instead to unknowable things like where the universe ends.
But the night I’m most grateful for is the one in which we bridged the distance between his side of the desk and mine, and between his side of the Pacific and mine, and came slowly, through hesitant thoughts and long pauses between, to marvel over the simple fact that we were at last friends when once, not that many years before, our countries had been at deadly war.
Peace had been declared. There was another thing Itsuo and I shared: photography. We were in somewhat different places with it, I think. I was more interested in the art of it, he in the equipment.
I recognize now, with fascination, that in Itsuo I was seeing first-hand early hints of what ultimately would be the world-future of Japan. He was blessed with a generous family of means, and from his family regularly came packages of the latest piece of Japanese technology.
From that mysterious far-off land, from boxes of cookies and books packed in perfumy shavings of cedar, would come the latest camera and lenses, each one more advanced than the last. “Precise” is the remembered impression.
Against that wondrous onslaught the best I could do was snuff and smirk. What else could I do? The camera I was then using, the only one I could afford, was a scarred single-lens reflex with a couple of mismatched lenses from some bombed-out factory deep behind the Iron Curtain.
It was a Model T; Itsuo’s imports were already well on their way to being today’s Lexuses and Sonys. Sometimes his packages contained photography annuals that we devoured to the sacrifice of all things academic.
They were Japanese-produced but were often of American-photographer content. Elbow to elbow we studied them, passed them back and forth. The captions and the all important why and how of the pictures were in Japanese, so Itsuo translated.
We shared the American photography annuals, too. We just couldn’t see enough photographs. They confirmed the validity of this “art” that was pulling me toward it day by day.
They affirmed the intriguing new thing of “seeing.” They confirmed that in the spooling of hours, of lives, there were single moments that could stand for all. I came to know the names and the styles of photographers, came to revere them. I felt myself becoming “like” them. At least I shared the tool they used: the camera.
But no excitement topped the morning I spied something new on the bookstore shelf — a paperback, annual-sized — and pulled it off the shelf. The Family of Man.
For me, it was all there, come together in one place: the strength and beauty of photographs, the arrangement of them that made the sum even more powerful than any single image, the words that served as poetic keys, the exalted theme and purpose, the optimism, the underlying love for the world-wide state of being “human.”
I bought the Family of Man for $3.98, a big expense in that era of 10-cent ice-cream cones, and I still have it. I still have the annuals Itsuo left with me as well, and to look at them is to revisit not only some fine “old” days of photography but to remember some fine old days with a college roommate.
There’s one more thing to tell about Itsuo, other than that he died young and I don’t know how (but am afraid it was from his smoking) and that I am sad, now, that so much if not everything in his later life escaped me, for which I fault my fatalistic judgment that goodbyes are farewells and that the once-close worlds of college become separate again after graduation and can never be so bridgeable again.
I do know that after college, after some months in the art world of Paris, Itsuo married his college girlfriend, Margit, a Danish girl, very much contrary to his family’s conservative wishes, took her home to Japan, started a family, took his art and advertising skills to a job with Coca-Cola there.
And I do know that my parents one day received the painting Itsuo had been required to do for graduation, a successful moody view of a Mediterranean village, and that their relationship continued long past the time I had gone elsewhere as far as Itsuo was concerned. That painting is stored in my barn, but I think it’s time it came back inside.
But the other thing to tell is that at one point in my life, not many years after receiving a Christmas picture of a still-youthful Itsuo with the beginnings of his family, I was in divorce. I was living a life that even with its severe limitations was beyond my limited means. I was watching my financial world crumble with every passing day.
My accounts were on the very edge of red, and I could not see a solution. Then, one night, the phone rang. “Hi Dave. It’s Itsuo.” I hadn’t heard from or of him since his Christmas card. He was in town on business for the evening.
Could we meet for drinks? So we did, and of course I came eventually to explain my precarious circumstances. Itsuo listened quietly, and I feared disapprovingly, but when I was done, he pulled a $100 bill from his wallet and gave it to me without comment or judgment.
“I want you to have this.” It was just a simple act of generosity. I felt we had gone back to those good old days when we sat side by side at our desks in Myers Hall, sharing what we could. I wonder if I ever told him — I’m sure I did — but his $100 (a significant sum even in the 1970s) was the very cushion on which my finances began their slow recovery.
There was no mistaking it. I don’t know how it happened except to know that with his gift, Itsuo had given me far more than money. I was on my way back, and it was Itsuo who, very truly, made it possible. Years later, remembering Itsuo, I bestowed a similar gift on someone else also struggling. I thought he would have liked that.
There is something both challenging and daunting in the image of the banks of seats in the Koch Hall lecture room. These were the seats, in fact, where my father sat as a Wittenberg student, when he listened to the same professor I listened to a generation later: Dr. John W. Barker.
And this is the room where, a year or so beyond the taking of this picture, the same Dr. Barker would preside over making a “Shifter” of those, including me, who had been struggling all the spring of ’58 or ’59 to find what in the world “the same time, the same place” was so we could “be there.” (Dr. Barker has left us, of course, but I’m glad to know his Shifters have not.)
I never did have a class with John Ostrom, to my regret, but I did with Herbert Merrill, also in English, who in his gentle way whetted my appetite for the craft of writing and the fascination of words, and with Margaret Ermarth, a sorority sister of my mother’s, one of the Alpha Xi’s now gone from the campus, who in her enthusiastic way unlocked my latent appreciation of the influence of the past on the present and on the future, and helped me be sensitive to the wondrous, sometimes surprising compressions of time that can make the tenses irrelevant.
By and large, we had a good time. Psychology was my field. I needed it for what I thought I wanted to do with my life, but my choice was cemented after I aced Dr. Roland Roselius’ first exam. My grandfather Arnold had taught psychology at Wittenberg, and I was sure his aptitude had come straight down to me.
From Dr. Roselius, who seemed often to be winking conspiratorially at some of the excesses of his discipline, we learned not to be fundamentally, or at least permanently, depressed by our studies of human emotional frailties that otherwise made it seem miraculous that any human mind worked at all properly.
We all laughed with him over in-class interpretations of Rorsach and other ambiguous images that were designed, we were certain, to reveal our most humiliating sexual fantasies. (I was far too clever for that and made something up.)
And we endured sleepy afternoon psych lab sessions in airless, overheated classrooms, when body and brain cried to be put down for a nap.
The picture of Professor Virgil Rahn brings it all back; he could take it no longer either. (Later I learned that he had participated in arduous sleep-deprivation experiments during his own college days; I assumed that since then he had been struggling to catch up.)
It was in one of Dr. Rahn’s lab classes — this was perhaps while he was “catching up” and after we had tired of barking in imitation of Pavlov’s dogs — that we learned the principles of conditioned response by “conditioning” ourselves with electric shocks so powerful that our arms reflexed halfway across the room.
Under those circumstances we advanced quickly, literally in a flash, from plain-vanilla conditioning to massive pre-shock anticipation.
It was only when we pulled the plug on the setup that we realized we’d taken the power straight from the wall socket rather from the “included” transformer. But at least on that day we didn’t need to sleep. And I doubt if any of us have forgotten what conditioning is, or how you get it. We had some fun.
The Union! Ah, there it is. Well-named, too: the union of life at Wittenberg. Gone now, the old one, but in the late ’50s it nestled up against the back of Myers on the only piece of flat ground there, a piece that looks, today, too small to have held it.
But it was small. Intimate is another word for it. One glance from the inner door would tell you who was there and whether you had friends to sit with or not. We liked it, I think, because it was as comfortable and undemanding as an old dog lying at your feet.
Step inside just for a minute. There’s the afternoon crowd hanging out between classes. And there I am losing a battle for attention to a Robert Frost poem. It was just as well, perhaps, for I seem pleasantly unconcerned; I probably hadn’t worked out what I would say anyway. But the Union wasn’t the only place to meet and eat, of course.
A short walk south to College Avenue would get you to the College Grill, where you could read the latest copy of The Torch, or wait for a date, or not wait for a date, or be glad you at last had some time to yourself away from a currently irksome roommate.
Or you could head to Eifferts. That’s where these guys are, I think. Betas all, probably, including Lynn Gordon and Dave Mattes. I look at this picture of beer-drinking Betas now and feel a small regret. I regret not standing with Lynn and Dave and the others at Eifferts as a Beta brother. (How I did happen to be standing with them, I don’t remember.)
I’d been set up to be a Beta, of course, courtesy of my grandfather Larimer, and I pledged once on nearly my first day as a freshman and then pledged again after a drop-out and some reconsideration.
I didn’t even mind the Monday night pledge meetings, so remindful of drill sergeants trying to brainwash tremulous recruits, and I can still sing part of the Beta song — “Oh pass the loving cup around. Don’t pass a brother by. We still drink from the same canteen at Beta Theta Pi.”
But I had some prickly independence that kept me from giving over even the small part of me I thought they wanted. I guess I wasn’t sure I wanted to share that canteen.
To go Greek or not: It was just one of those many junctions we came to in college, and we made our choices. Roads not taken in exchange for other routes traveled. What I think I might have missed is the society, the shared experiences — and perhaps the continuing contacts — that being a Greek may have provided.
Around noon you saw the changes on the campus. Band uniforms appeared, and you saw the bright-eyed cheerleaders in their short skirts and cozy sweaters. Buses arrived, and well-bred cars, and you noticed older people with the healthy filled-out faces and the look of settled success of returning alumni.
At the Greek houses you saw the groups of actives and pledges spill from house to lawn, balancing pick-up sandwiches from Saturday’s kitchens with cooling coffee, waiting for the unsignaled moment when it was time to drift off toward the stadium.
If you were a player you were there now, taped and uniformed in white and red brilliance. You would be unstoppable.
If you were a bandsman you might also be there already, lofting warm-up notes from a jazzy trumpet toward the stands, a tryout riff from the fight song, bugled sounds contrapuntal to the rasp of snares on rat-a-tat drums, the deep oomp of the sousaphones, the high cry of the clarinets.
And if you were a fan, just arrived, you would look down from above your seats to a field of green alive with uniforms, alive with footballs arcing in effortless stable spirals over the yard lines to be hauled in by sharp-cutting runners with hands that never failed. It was a good way to spend the day.
ON THE MARCH
I was a bandsman. I shall whisper the confession that I played the sousaphone, the marchable brother of the tuba there on the floor. I whisper because the next worse thing than having the name “Harold” (My father’s name; he didn’t like it either) is to have been a sousaphone player.
If the word “geek” had been invented in the late ’50s, it would have been applied to sousaphone players. “Nerds” also, although maybe that word was already around.
We were the guys — the thing was too big for girls to carry, and besides they were too smart — we were the guys out there on the field with letters on our bells, wagging our horns back and forth with every exaggerated step.
It looked flashy, but I think that’s where my first hernia came from.
And it was essentially, well, embarrassing.
And the freest time of all was on the bus, going or coming. There was the delicious sense of getting out, even if it was only to far-flung Muskingum or Otterbein, wherever in the world they were.
IN THE SWING
There is, among Wittenberg alumni, one of great reputation in a special corner of the music world. He left Wittenberg in 1959 with a music degree, and on the strength of a brilliant senior composition won a student’s position with the French woman who then was the teacher of music greats, Nadia Boulanger.
We approved this course, his parents and mine — and me, for he had been my best friend at college. But we drifted out of contact, he and I, and throughout the years the only news of him came from my parents, who remained friends of his. He was doing “computer music,” we heard.
Then, on the occasion of my 25th anniversary at National Geographic, and with the reward money that came with it, I bought an electronic musical keyboard, the kind with a hundred or more instrument voices, and began to play.
And the very next day, it seemed, I glanced at the New York Times and saw there the long feature article about my old friend.
He had just retired from a brilliant and rewarding career at Stanford University, during which he had done the seminal development of the technological wizardry that allows sounds to be digitally sampled and then reproduced, in any pitch or combination, with near-absolute faithfulness to the original.
His work was at the very heart of the technology; he had earned the patents. And my new keyboard, an amateur version of the professional units he had pioneered that are used worldwide, existed only because of him.
His name is John Chowning, and that is a picture of him taken through a practice-room door in the old music school in the late 1950s as he works to satisfy a “piano” requirement.
He played the violin as well, and so did I, and perhaps at a higher level than he, but his way with all music is to be remembered as “easy,” easy in the way that all masters make their work seem.
I’m not sure how he knew to ask about me, but our initial meeting came during one chapel period in the Union, early in my second year. I heard a voice behind me: “Are you the Dave Arnold from Wilmington?” It was John Chowning.
The name was familiar; perhaps we’d each seen the other’s on the short-list of Wimingtonians at Wittenberg. He’d come to college straight from the Navy, where he’d spent his three years touring the Mediterranean with an admiral’s flagship band.
He was a drummer, and he had an idea about forming a jazz group. He’d heard I played the bass, though to be honest at that time I barely did; I could just about get sounds from it and didn’t even own one.
There was a piano player on campus too, John said. His name was George Lindamood. And so was formed the jazz trio that would soon take the name, the John Chowning Collegiates.
I hope more than the three of us remember us. Think back. The good old tunes, the standards: “Jeepers, Creepers,” “These Foolish Things,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Stella by Starlight,” “Don't Blame Me,” “I'm in the Mood for Love.”
I think we tried to put everybody in the mood for love. “I Remember You” — that was another tune we played, and it was true: I do.
One place John got to a little faster than I did was in thinking the Collegiates were ready to “make the scene” (a cool thing we said in those days) back East.
There was the not-small matter of summer jobs, and John’s thought was, why work? Why not play? He turned his father loose, a chemical engineer who was born to be an agent, who was more “hip” than all three of us put together, and the next thing we knew we had a summer “gig” (also one of those words) back in Wilmington. “Can you dig it?” John asked us, and we thought we could.
John's father also had another inspiration. I still don't know how he pulled it off, but toward summer's end, we traveled to the RCA recording studios in New York. We'd been given a session. And more: some pressings. We were going to make a record. We made the tapes — I was so distracted by nervousness that I ended up playing better than I ever had before — and not long after the start of school in the fall we had the pressings.
The “album” — we assembled the sleeves by hand on a counter in the bookstore — sold virtually nowhere but the bookstore. But John’s agent father did send one as audition material to Norman Granz, organizer of the Newport Jazz Festival. We could only smile at his enterprise. He thought more of us than we thought he should.
There were a couple of rambunctious dramatic talents loose among us at Wittenberg in the late ’50s. One was a dimunitive little Brit, a professor named Roland Hammond. An actor, he’d come to Wittenberg more or less straight off the English stage I think the story was.
To watch him direct was as dramatic a thing as the play itself, as he worked with enthusiastic but unproven student-actors and edged them through rehearsals toward full-scale, professional-looking productions.
He bounced and bubbled and effused, and it was easy to love his energy and to forgive the fact that he wasn’t “doing” on London stages but “only teaching” at Wittenberg. Wittenberg had won in the deal. What coach Bill Edwards was doing with football players, Roland Hammond was doing for dramatics: making champions.
I mentioned two dramatic talents, and here’s the second. He was one of us: Phil Sebastian. (By virtue of his talent he was considerably more than one of us.) Single-handedly Phil wrote the book and the music — from out of nowhere, it seemed; we’d never heard of him working on it — and then went on to produce The Remembered Year.
Genius of concept was matched by genius of production. It introduced to us, who had not begun to think about it, nostalgia for our college years. Watching it, participating in it, we were seeing a foreshadow of the memories of our own college years; it was introducing to us both recollection and anticipation. Phil, I think, already knew what we would one day learn.
Phil and director Rick Zimmerman (really a co-second talent) took their show as “near-Broadway” as they could in Springfield — down to the old Fairbanks Theater. The entire production was a student effort: the book, the direction, the financing, the acting, the music — even unwrapping the theater from its mothballs. And when the curtain came down, the entire college, if not the town, stood in ovation.
For some of us — and I’ll single out me because I know it to be true — Phil’s and Rick’s work opened eyes to what could be done with the combination of originality and that old thing called “drive.” And another: “stick-to-it-iveness.” And another: “thinking big.” In the beginning was nothing but the idea.
I’ve thought many times about what I learned from the professors at Wittenberg; I’d like to thank professors Sebastian and Zimmerman for the education they provided as well.
ON THE ICE
Perhaps as we become globally warmed, we’ll forget what winters once were like: those winters when toes were cold and wet from January until March from romps in the slush; when the differentials between the bone-aching damp of cross-campus slogs and superheated classrooms tested the immune system; when — just about the time you couldn’t stand to look at the gray dreary campus one more day — new snow would fall and turn it all into something you’d never quite seen before.
Then the cafeteria trays would vanish from Woodlawn to reappear on the slopes of Myers Hill. Snowboards would be far in the future, and ski hills from Wittenberg were too far in the distance, if they existed at all.
So the trays, and maybe a sled or two borrowed from the neighborhood kids, did fine. You’d get cold and quit after about four runs anyway because you never stayed on the thing, and you scooped snow down your neck and up your sleeves as you capsized; because if you did stay on the thing, you always ended up going backward and scooped snow under your collar that way.
And besides it would soon be time to sneak the trays back in for dinner for which and for once, since we were cold, we said special thanks.These were the days of special appearances. Snowmen would appear magically to welcome the eight o’clock trekkers to Reci. And there’d be Breughel-like skating scenes in Snyder Park.
And just about the time you never wanted to see another minute of winter, the early spring rains would come and wash it all away.
BREATH OF LIFE
At nearly the very moment the last oxygen had been steamed out of classroom air, and we learned we could fall asleep even while walking, a door was opened to spring. That bright season entered our world, and we passed it, coming in, as we hurried on our way out.
The air is warming. Tyler Phillips, campaigning for Student Senate, practicing for life, promises a new world order — or maybe just cheaper basketball seats or one more day of vacation.
We must notice his attire: full suit, white shirt, tie. How could he not have our respect? Not far from his feet, we know, is the plaque, Wittenberg’s credo: “Having Light, We Pass It On To Others.” Ty had the light, I’m sure, and I know he shared it. Some others, I’m sad to say, with a glance at the mirror, didn’t — and didn’t.
And there’s President Stoughton. We called him Prexy then, I believe, although not necessarily to his face. Not that he would have minded; he was the living definition of “affable.” (He left most of the business of being stern-faced to his dean, John Stauffer, as I remember.
Or did Dean Stauffer glower only at me? It’s possible.) And on another spring evening, made possible by the welcome lengthening of days, the softball bats came out for intramur-als and for the neighborhood kids who wanted to play.
Am I just making this up, or was it not true that in addition to the intellectual emanations afloat in Wittenberg’s collegial air — the clouds of theorems and historic events, of philosophies and anatomies, of rates of sedimentation and the meters of poetry — was it not true there was also another atmosphere? Love? Or, if it was not love itself, then the potential for love? College was sold to us as opportunity.
At the end of four years we could leave with a degree on which to build a career. And we might also leave with a mate, or at least our choice of mate, with whom we could build a life. “When will there ever again be a time like this in your life?” That was the guiding question, often put to us at the very moment we were beginning to take it all for granted.
College was where “life” was expected to begin. And so there was that “something” in the air: the breath of love — or at least the breath of the breath of love.
You never knew, but in the next class, or in the next gathering at the Union, in the next row at the football game, at the next carrel in the library, might be the someone you would see for the first time, or as if for the first time (while choirs sang you a love song), and if your eyes but met, and met again the same way another day, and another day after that, you might soon be singing your own song of joy.
Gary Scott and Ann Peters learned love, I would like to think. Ann and Gary in this picture are a couple; they had that unmistakable “mark” almost from the beginning, I recall. They were best friends. They married soon after college.
And I? Oh, I loved too, in my way. But I loved most comfortably through my camera, which I used both as an approach to love and ultimately as shield from it. I fell in love with what I could see and was suspicious of anything deeper.
For me love was a woman’s face, a woman’s beauty, a woman’s mystery, and I used my camera as both telescope and microscope to bring those things into clearer view. I didn’t want to possess them — to apply the possessive “mine” — so much as I wanted, through the act of photographing, merely to have found them. It was all a learning experience.
I keep returning to the photograph of my girlfriend Elsie Holler and me on the Woodlawn Hall fireplace hearth. Come on now, isn’t that a handsome couple? One night there in the old Woodlawn lobby — back when it was partitioned into dating cubicles, those three-sided places for conversation and the regular patrols by the housemother to see if we were keeping both feet on the floor at all times — one night I brought to that lobby a shimmery recording of George Shearing with strings.
It was Velvet Carpet, probably the most romantic album ever recorded, and on our own small carpeted square Elsie and I slow-danced through the night, feet scarcely moving. Others passed, or paused in amazement to see such a lovely thing, and one of them was Woodlawn’s housemother, who I thought must have been moved to tolerance by her own sweet memories.
Beyond the music, beyond embrace, I was watching us, too, half disbelieving, even for the proof of our pounding hearts, that anything so beautiful could be happening. For that special night all those years ago I thank Elsie. I hope she remembers it, too. But if she doesn’t, well, I’d just as soon not know.
The girls’ dorms. Ah, weren’t they the lockboxes of mysteries! Within them, beyond our vision, was a secret society we men could only guess at, populated by female humans we knew were both different from us and unfathomable almost beyond trying.
As we passed by under their windows — tiptoeing on good manners sometimes as if our comportment was being judged from behind the blinds — we could only wonder at what we could not know.
Oh, during the day, yes, they were nearly as free as we were; we met on the walks and in the classes, and they might yield a little to our fascination. But they always had at the ready words they had long been armed with and were expected to use any time they cared to: “I have to go in now.” They held trump with that; it always carried the game.
If we were deemed desirable enough (we never knew the parameters but thought it helpful to be a football player), we were sometimes allowed a formal kind of evening access. That meeting was what we called then a date.
We didn’t know about conditions elsewhere, but for better or worse a Wittenberg date in the late 1950s always came with an advertised ending point, an hour when the blade of time’s guillotine would drop, an hour when the daters were forced to part. That was because the girls had “hours.”
Going out on dates involved a wondrous process called signing out, now long forgotten. To fathom this strange signing-out, you must know, or remember, that parents of daughters in those more tender years of the ’50s were transferring responsibility for their daughters’ well-being to the college.
And the college was referring that responsibility to the dorm. And the dorm was pinning that responsibility directly on the daughter. And the daughter was further saddling her date.
Thus we were all covered, one way or another, by the simple notation in the sign-out book that told, for instance, that Jane Jones had departed at 8:04 p.m. with John Smith, bound for the pep rally, with an expected return of 11:30 p.m. At least they would have known where to start the search.
But let’s say that, miraculously, a date has been granted and arranged. Nearly all required that the boy present himself at the sign-out desk at the girl's residence, there to stand with thudding heart waiting to begin doing all the wrong things in spite of all his rehearsals aimed at the contrary.
You signed out, of course — giving yourselves at least the beginnings of an alibi should it ever came to that —and with motions surprisingly strange-feeling helped her into her coat.
You said mostly the right things during the evening, were considerate enough, listened as attentively as you could, noticed some beautiful and enticing things about her, and by five minutes before closing had her back at her dormitory door.
There in the presence of others doing the same, you kissed her, if the date had gone that way, while comparing the level of your joint passion against the others’ at the door, and then watched as first the outer doors closed behind her and then the inner. Back inside.
You could imagine the buzz within, all the excited sharings within that secret society, but, alas, you would never (not ever) know them for sure.
“SEE YOU NEXT FALL.” Yes, so the sign would say, but one year it would no longer apply to you. You weren’t coming back. Well, you’d had about enough of it anyway, you thought.
You’d exhausted the courses and maybe yourself. You’d been checking on employers, writing to graduate schools, taking the GREs. The end of your college years was there on the calendar. You were a lame duck.
And maybe that’s why it all felt so good! Why your heels kicked up a bit, why your walk had a little or a lot of that senior swagger. King of the hill! You’d done nearly all of your responsibilities. Just keep your grades up.
And even that was easier now. You knew all the ropes. You could take some time to look around, looking for snapshots for memory. Why, just as you were leaving, did everything become so dear?
Those campus trees, that course you’d always wanted to take, that one last college football game, that girl who smiled, one more song from the jukebox, that last dance, faces of college friends not to be seen again, the professor you dismissed too soon, chapel bells, Myers in the fog, smells of musty books and perfume and dinner, fall leaves and winter snows, saying goodnight.
Last lingering looks to memorize what you would forget. “Pomp and Circumstance.” You’ve heard it before as others have graduated. But now in the distance the march begins for you. You notice for the first time how both confident and sad it sounds. It fits the day. It moves you along but lets you think back.
Down to the Hollow. Past Reci. Past NICHTS DER RUHM. There’s the Kissing Bridge you never used and maybe no one did. There are the waiting diplomas, folders of leather. One is for you. Your ticket to somewhere.
There is the faculty, weighty with dignity in fine robes. There’s Prexy Stoughton. Names are called. Yours. Mine! President Stoughton pauses to say something as he hands me my diploma. Perhaps he recounts some bit of personal history. Is he telling all about my messy room? I can’t remember. Dean Stauffer’s face gives something away. No, of course I hadn’t accomplished as much as I might have.
There’s the crowd of us, relieved and happy. There, behind us, are the opportunity-givers, whose hopes and expectations we almost certainly treated more callously than we should have. But isn’t that just the way? A bright day: a perfect Wittenberg, wide-open future.
And there is Itsuo and me. He would go to Paris, I to Baltimore, and that would be that. And there I am with part of my family. My aunt Verna is on the left, a Wittenberg graduate herself, daughter of Henry Arnold, the former psychology professor and director of adult studies.
My brother Philip is on the right. And the older woman? Meet my grandmother Hannah, wife of Henry, mother of my father Harold. She is a Wittenberg graduate, too. Class of 1931, the same year as her son.
He started college, and she followed. “Piffle! I can do that!” That was how she announced her intentions. She may have started behind, but she got her diploma one alphabetical step ahead of her son (Hannah versus Harold), and with her berobed husband and all of his professorial -looking colleagues looking, turned theatrically to her son and stuck out her tongue.
And the old gentleman nearly out of the picture on the left? That’s my grandfather, Loyal Herbert Larimer, dean emeritus of Hamma Divinity School and my mother’s father. He, too, was a Wittenberg graduate — Class of 1894 followed by a master’s degree three years later. It was that family visit with him in 1945 that let me see Wittenberg for the first time.
So, we graduate, and the little society that was the Class of 1959, no different than any other, disperses into the world. We make our way, do the things we do, and then one day we wander back. There have been changes at Wittenberg but not big ones.
Things are comfortably familiar. Myers is still there, and the trees. And there is no sign of age in our shadow.
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112