This week's challenge: tell us a family story.
Ho To Tai -- The Silence of the Night
When I got home from three years of military service, I had a short month to accomplish many things. Once I had retrieved the MG from Aunt Jean in New Jersey, I returned to the realization that the Old Man had more projects in hand than he could really deal with. I agreed to help, just as soon as I had agreement at Hiram that I could return.
Early Monday morning after my adventures driving the MG back, I arose and headed for the bank. From my lockbox I withdrew the letters from Hiram’s President, Dean of Students and the Head of the Department of Biology. Each letter assured me a place in the Class of ’67 as a matriculating Junior. I headed for Hiram.
Hiram would not begin classes for three weeks, but I needed to be accepted as a student and signed in well before that. My first visit was to the Registrar, to whom I showed the letters and requested acceptance. The lady at the desk was most kind… as she explained that of the three signatories, only the head of the Biology Department was still there, and that my grades (which included a “D” in German and low “C’s” in a couple of other courses) hardly argued for reinstatement. However, there was still hope. If I could get the three letters re-signed by the present Hiram College President and Dean of Students, as well as reaffirmed by Dr. Barrow, I could be a student again.
I began with Dr. Barrow, the head of Biology, and found him frantically digging through a mound of paper in his office, searching for a no doubt essential something. He seemed grateful for the interruption, and genuinely happy to see me. After a bit of reminiscing, I got to the heart of the matter. He readily initialed his signature, but then he became somber. “I don’t know, Charles,” his southern accent thickened when his emotions were in ascendance, “we may have a problem. There was a major scandal, something about which no one speaks, and both these men were gone overnight.”
But I had a thought, and it seemed to me a good one. “Don’t officers of businesses and colleges and the like sign on behalf of their institutions? I mean, people leave positions all the time, and contracts are not instantly nullified, right?”
The Good Doctor agreed, and suddenly became downright conspiratorial. “I’m coming with you.” He held up a finger and reached for his phone. When it was answered, he set up an appointment for a few minutes later, and promptly dialed again, repeating the process. When he hung up the phone, the two of us were scheduled to see the new President and Dean of Students within the hour.
Arguing that I had served my country for the past three years, and deserved consideration for that alone, as well as using my arguments, he obtained grudging signatures on the two letters by the successors of the original signatories. “See you in class,” he said, shaking my hand and laughing. “Thanks for the most fun I’ve had in a year.” He headed for his office, to start again his search for the unknown, and I headed for the Registrar’s office.
In the end, I was allowed to “re-enlist” in the ranks of Hiram College Students, selected my classes, and paid every dime of my Army savings for tuition. I would live at home for that first semester.
The Old Man, meanwhile, was turning the Hooch into a real house, putting an addition on the original farmhouse for the Mennonites who would be living there and providing personnel for all sorts of duties at the center for developmentally disabled children my parents had created. I became carpenter’s helper, electrician’s assistant, plumber’s gopher and any other helper the Old Man needed. At night I fell into bed exhausted and slept as deeply as I ever did… for the first few nights.
I bolted upright, heart hammering and eyes frantically searching the dark. The Old Man, with whom I was sharing a bed while we remodeled both the old house and the new one (Mother slept in an emergency bedroom in the Center), asked what was wrong.
“Bobcat!” I could barely get the word out. “There’s a bobcat out there!” I pointed to the windows at the end of the room. The squalling scream, obviously from a cat, came again. “It’s in the house!” I rolled out of bed, reaching for my pants.
The Old Man began to laugh. He reached out and turned on a bedside lamp. “That’s not a bobcat… it’s Ho To Tai.”
I stopped moving. Ho To Tai, my sister Lyndella’s female Siamese cat… of course! I should have remembered, Siamese females come into heat loudly and often. Every month, Ho To Tai had tortured the inhabitants of the Larlham household (one reason Giles and I moved to the Hooch). The worst of it wasn’t that she squalled and screamed all night long, it was that she did it all night, every night for three weeks out of every month. I knew that I faced three weeks of squalling, screaming, desperate-for-love cat. By the end of the first week, I knew I could not endure another three weeks the next month, and the month after that, and the month… ad infinitum. And worse was to come.
There was no escape. I would live in the old house until after Christmas break, at which time the Old Man and Mother would move to the house which the Hooch (originally a concrete block chicken coop) was slowly becoming. Ho To Tai would move with them. Unfortunately, unless I found a better alternative, so would I. The thought was not endurable, much less the reality. I resolved to fix the problem.
When Lyndella returned home from college for her Christmas break, she realized somewhere in the second week that Ho To Tai wasn’t squalling and screaming. She asked the Old Man, who told her to ask me.
“Charles,” Lyndella had obviously figured it out, “what’s wrong with Ho To Tai? She’s not screaming.”
I looked down at her. “I fixed the problem.”
“You mean you fixed Ho To Tai!” It was more than a statement, it was an accusation.
“No, I didn’t.”
Lyndella looked at me in a fury. “You did too!” she spluttered.
“No, I had a veterinarian do that.” I headed for the door at a run as she reached for the nearest throwable object.