Scenes at Notre Dame

Bowen and Gibson Reflect on Their Own Undergraduate Days

Charles Bowen and Phillips Gibson share more remembrances of their time at Notre Dame, picking up from where they left off from their time in the classroom and moving to their dorm room in Sorin Hall...alongside Bellairs and others:

Gibson: There is a leisurely orgy of vintage words throughout The Face in the Frost. "Snarfling" comes to mind - that whiny sound made as the changing wind blows through the nostrils of a dancing hippopotamus weather vane. "Snarfling" is not to be found in the OED; someday it maybe there. The verbal description of Prospero's house, and the frontispiece illustration, remind me of Sorin Hall, definitely our fustiest campus residence.

In the fall of 1958, weird old Sorin Hall, compact and cubical, with its two round pointy towers, changed from a junior residence to a senior one. Many of us got to stay in our same rooms. Al Myers writes that Bellairs "occupied a splendid high-ceilinged room at the front of the first floor." That almost makes me envious.

My basement single room, not high-ceilinged, was near the stairs that ran direct to the outdoors to under the big front porch. The window of my room was just barely above ground level. Charlie Bowen lived around the corner in a cozy round room. He had a sign hung on a cast-iron pipe fixture that drained the upper places of the building. The sign said:

At the bottom of the other tower (the south tower) was a round room occupied by Andrew Connelly and his roommate. Andrew was our local arbiter of elegance (a rare quality). For one instance of many, he was appalled by the gross crudity of our victorious quiz team welcome.

As Tom Banchoff writes: "Someone organized a cordon of cheering fans lining the main road leading into campus. It was a big joke that was not particularly appreciated by the serous sports enthusiasts." Andrew Connelly was definitely not a sports fan but he shared this lack of appreciation. During our second quiz bowl show he famously said he was glad he "missed the whole damn thing." Perhaps this merits a record in television history trivia. What Words Were First Spoken When? Also in that history should be the date (one week previously) when Bellairs revealed Middle English was his mother's nationality. How many believed it? Does anyone alive still believe?

In their circular basement room Andrew and his roommate one evening created an illusion of elegance quite unlike our usual grubby living and feeding. They invited to supper one guest - Professor Frank O'Malley, who lived on the second floor. As the legend went, Andrew and his roommate purloined silver and dishes from the dining hall, improvised a tablecloth from a clean starched bed sheet, and poured the martinis.

Turning the corner brings you into the basement south hall. There Tom Hoberg had his room. He often admiring referred to John Bellairs by "Jolly" or sometimes "Jolliver." My impression is that longer from the shorter and Hoberg was the original namer. Another friend who liked to refer to Bellairs as "Jolliver" or "Jolly" was Bob Vondrasek (room on second floor but often found in basement). Usually I heard Bellairs anecdotes from Bob or else Tom Hoberg.

Somewhere along that hall a poker game often took place - nickel and dime type. One time Bob Vondrasek mentioned to me that Bellairs let himself be dragged into the game the night before and he had been a winner. This appeared to bear out the maxim that beginners are lucky. This encouraged I agreed to join the game. Bob and I found a long piece of string and took opposite ends and he dragged me own the hall and into the game in fishlike fashion. All present appreciated the joke. John Bellairs said something like: "Oh no! They got you too." Even though I was a beginner the luck was tainted; perhaps because I promised myself to play with two dollars and to quit when that amount was either doubled or lost.

If you walk further along the Sorin basement south hall you reach the room once occupied by Brian Moran - also of our 1959 quiz bowl team of five. He was a mathematics major and a serious bridge player; at the time I doubt anyone guessed he would become a professional bridge tournament director. As a I recall, Brian liked to memorize things, among which were scurrilous songs, and at least one notable poem of Lewis Carroll.

Al Myers makes the comment that giving John Bellairs a cue to recite was like "throwing a lamb chop to a wolf." Here is one incident from the quiz bowl practice days. Someone offered a question: Who wrote "Jabberwocky?" Or perhaps, name the poem and the first two words. John Bellairs started to chant the poem; he was instantly joined by Brian Moran. I listened, perhaps with a bit of envy at their skill, as they recited the whole thing. Andrew Connely listened in amusement. Andrew said he was impressed by the duet, but he never shared the compulsion that some of his peers felt for deep study of the Alice books of Lewis Carroll. In fact he managed never to read them. I said, "Both books are a lot of fun but I only read them once and never memorized anything." Andrew said, "In this case, unlike some others, I must commend Phillips on his good judgment." Notice how Andrew managed to get three of us at once.

Memorization was vindicated the night John Bellairs seized his cue and scored a nationally televised triumph by reciting The Canterbury Tales in fluent Middle English. Well, all right, he didn't recite the whole thing - just the first eighteen lines.

Bowen: I was, in fact, a member of the elegant dinner party that Phil remembers Andrew and his roommate (Rusty Byrne, who died in a plane crash only a few years later) giving for Frank O'Malley in their room in Sorin Sub, as the basement was called. I was invited more or less at the last moment, but I made a necessary contribution to the occasion, for it was I, rather than Andy or Rusty, who stole the plates. They had done the cooking, and realized at the last moment that there was nothing to serve the dinner on.

Silver was easier to purloin, because you got it from a tray in the cafeteria and could easily slip an extra piece or two into your pocket, but plates were picked up under the eye of the student who checked your ID to make sure you were in the correct food line. I assume the reason for this was to prevent students from eating extra meals or sneaking in friends from off campus, rather than a desire to protect the University's supply of standard-issue dining hall crockery.

So I went to the cafeteria (which was already serving dinner at the time this alarming discovery was made), got in line, and to my relief found that the plates were in the charge of John Brosius, who lived next door to me. Thanks to this inside connection, I got four plates which I tucked under my jacket and took back to Sorin. This exploit may have been the reason that I was invited to join the party, either in gratitude or as an inducement to commit the felony. At any rate, I remember that Professor O'Malley was amused when I said that, although I was responsible for none of the cooking, I had at least done the stealing.

Phil writes that I lived around the corner from him "in a cozy round room." Alas, it was rectangular. I loved the round rooms at the bottom of the towers, but because of their size they were reserved for groups of two or three, and that year I was set on occupying a single. (Tower rooms were very desirable and among the first chosen; as I think I've mentioned before, we got to pick our rooms in descending order of grade-point average, and at least one occupant of each tower room had to have stratospheric grades. Stellar scholars could secure rooms to share with their dimmer buddies.)

So my room had square corners, and was somewhat small (or 'cozy' if you prefer), and embellished with a spectacular array of drainpipes descending from the floors above. Phil's memory of my Heraclitus sign is accurate.

As I've mentioned, John Brosius was a neighbor; he shared the tower room next to mine. Another resident of that room was "Bo" Broemmel, whose real first name I think was Bob, and I've forgotten the third roommate. They were all engineers, and endless bridge games went on in their room (though doubtless not on the high level of the games in which Brian Moran participated).

We got along well without being especially close, but I always felt that I owed Brosius and Broemmel a debt going back to my freshman year. During that year we were required to take physical education, a course I had successfully evaded in high school and would have happily continued to evade for the rest of my life (except for my freshman year at ND, I have realized this ambition.) As the year went on and the sports succeeded one another at five- or six-week intervals, it became dazzlingly clear that I was equally inept at all of them. The only one who seemed to be as bad as me was John Bellairs, and I often thanked a gracious Providence for putting us in the same Phys Ed class so that I wouldn't feel quite so wretchedly alone at the bottom.

However, during the weeks we devoted to basketball, all of that changed. The instructors figured that basketball was something no Notre Dame student needed to be instructed about, though after seeing Bowen and Bellairs in action, they had no excuse for such ignorance. Instead of lecturing on the fine points of the game, they just divided the class into teams of five and set up a tournament that continued until it was time to move on to the next sport. We were divided alphabetically, though Bellairs and I were fortunately on different teams, because no team with both of us on it would have had a snowball's chance in hell. Instead, I wound up yoked with Brosius, Broemmel, and two other guys, all of whom were tall and fast and had played varsity basketball in high school - some of them on very good teams. These four were so good that my presence on the team did nothing to inhibit them; we won in a walk. All I ever did when the ball came my way was pass it immediately to one of the other four and they were off again. It was the only positive athletic experience I can remember in a short but ignominious career, and I have Brosius, Broemmel, and their towering companions to thank for it. (And also, of course, in John's case, for the plates.)