The Impact of Heavy Books

by Steve Szymczak, 1970

It's the first day of Latin, September of 1966 (I'm 14 years old) and trembling in my seat. I'm thinking, "Where are the 'pushover nuns' from grade school? This is a real man, and he appears to be quite mad. Now he's asking us to recite the first declension of the noun Terra. I don't know. Wait, he stopped in front of that St. Anne's kid, Frank Dornay. Thank you, Jesus." 


"Mr. Dornay, are you a bufo?"


"Uh, uh, uh."


"Mr Dornay, do you see the 1st declension of the noun terra written on the front board?"


"Yes, Father."


Fr. Earl clamps his massive hand onto Dornay's tiny shoulder and turns him 180 degrees. 


"Now, Mr. Dornay, read the first declension of terra from the board (the blank back board)."


Dornay squints as he looks at the empty space. "I don't see anything on the board, Father."


Our Latin books were dimensionally small, but they were hard bound. In the hands of this massive, former football playing, skilled in the arts of corporal punishment & former "old school" Jesuit, that book became a deadly weapon. 


With a whack (a sound that still echoes in the ears of my ancient auditory spaces such that I wince when I recall it), Earl slammed the Latin text book into Dornoy's 105 pound body which caused Frank to be momentarily air-bound. Frank then squinted extra hard as he intently stared at the board, and responded, "I think I see it now, Father."


Meanwhile, every one of the other frosh were "speed memorizing" that list. If I died at the end of my first day of high school I could tell St. Peter with pride that I knew the first declension of the noun terra. 


Here today, firmly entrenched on my "terra firma", I recount this story as if it happened yesterday. If given the opportunity to speak to someone from my past who has died, Father Earl would certainly be towards the top of that list. 


Bufos of the world, may we honor the memory of that great man through the example we set for those that follow us. 


After 50 years of having been in a classroom with Father Earl, I still feel  his presence as if i had just left his class. For me, he was the most influential teacher during my AHS days and among the most influential of my entire life.