Mad Max, Matadors, and Kilimanjaro
From climbing the highest summit it Africa to crashing through pelting hail in a speedboat full of chickens, Wabash students stop at nothing to immense themselves in the countries where they study during their time away from campus.
Taking a Pint of Bitter with the Sweet
There were probably many Wabash men who studied abroad prior to my experience in 1963-1964, but when I went to England in my junior year I was not aware that anyone had ever thought of doing this. There was no formal junior year abroad program that I could join and not much advice from faculty or the administration that I can remember. Just the urging of my parents to be bold and try something new.
I was in the best student organization on campus at that time-the Glee Club. The club's trip across the Atlantic happened to coincide with my own plans to study in England. It was Bob Mitchum's first major trip abroad for the Glee Club that he had molded in his image. We went to Europe for four weeks and had a ball singing our way through England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, and France. When the Club left for home, I headed north to Calais and crossed the Channel heading back to England. Mitch would later recall my parting expression of sadness ("the most hang-dog expression I've ever seen on a young man") as the bus taking the Club to the airport left me behind.
I spent the summer in Dudley, Worcestershire with a family, working in a factory that made and repaired steam boilers for large institutions. The most interesting part of the summer was getting to know the real working people of Britain and learning to drink their beer. We spent so much time in so many wonderful Midland country pubs with the locals that I was almost counted as a 'regular' when I left. I also tried to keep up with the other men who were used to drinking 8-12 pints of bitter in an evening. A bad decision. I remember that I was so sick that I was on a first name basis with most of the WC's within 100 miles.
Two stories to close-one funny, and another that still brings tears to my eyes.
We had a lot of fun as a result of differences between American and British versions of the English language. One of the best examples came when I was dating a very pretty English girl. We had gone to a dance on Saturday night and on Sunday morning we were going to go hiking. I was totally unprepared when, at the end of the evening, I gave her a kiss on the cheek and she looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Well, what time tomorrow will you knock me up?" All the air left my lungs, rendering me incapable of speech. You could have truly knocked me over with a feather. I later learned that she was merely inquiring about what time I would be calling her the next day to go hiking. It was very disappointing.
In the fall of 1963 I rented a trombone (my instrument here in the States), tried out for the local University symphony and found myself playing first chair. On the evening of November 22, I boarded a bus and took the five-mile ride down from Wills Hall to the main university building where the orchestra was rehearsing for a concert. Toward the end of the rehearsal, about 8 p.m., the conductor, a very precise and exacting older man, was interrupted by someone whispering something in his ear. He looked confused and a little shocked and then turned around to address the orchestra. He said, "There is news from America that something has happened to President Kennedy. Perhaps he has been hurt. I'm sure there will be more details soon." And with that he finished rehearsal as quickly as he could. I knew something was wrong and hurried out into the street to catch my bus back to Wills Hall. On the bus people were talking openly about the assasination that afternoon in Dallas, but I was unbelieving. One loudmouth even dared to opine that it was a good thing he died young so that he would be remembered as a tragic, mythic figure. I had strong words with the man and felt like decking him.
Later, back in my room, I cried like a young child, away from home and unable to share in the common grief and mourning that everyone in Indiana and in other parts of America were experiencing together.
Several days later we dedicated our concert, the Faure Requiem, to the memory of President Kennedy.