ESSAY 5 – College
From the time I returned from Stanford until I got a Masters Degree in 1955, I had school, and some other projects that I worked on, but in addition, I began to run around once again with Burnham Gibbons (Bernie). We often double dated. He had a larger group of friends than I did, and so I did not know everyone he did. Bernie was a Catholic kid, the third oldest of 4 boys. All the boys grew to be 6 foot 4 or 5 inches. Tom, the eldest, was a Captain in the Army in the Second World War, and was killed in New Caledonia. I suspect that he was killed by what would be called friendly fire nowadays because I have heard that there were no Japanese on that island. Dave, the next oldest, returned from his tour of duty in the Navy during WWII.
Sanford was the youngest of the four. He was a good athlete in a nearby college around this time. Bernie was a month younger than I was. He did ok academically being just average in high school. He was kind of an unhappy boy who began drinking at 16 and never stopped. When I saw him last, about 25 or 30 years ago he was still an alcoholic who had wasted his life. But when we were in just in our very early 20s, that was not a concern any of us had. Bernie always had a girl – usually a new girl who he would date for one or two times. He was a tall fairly good-looking guy, and girls would consider him to be an attractive date.
One evening we were out double dating. I don’t remember who it was that I was with, but Bernie was driving and headed toward a girl’s house – a girl with whom he was having his first date. This was most likely sometime during the summer of 1953, just after I graduated from college with a B. A. degree. It was a nice evening. I don’t remember where we were going. I don’t remember much else about that evening except that Bernie’s new date was Martha Sue McNish. I spent the evening staring at her, and making plans about how to win her over. The next day, I talked things over with Bernie and told him I would like to go out with her. Since there had been no spark between them, he did not give me a hard time.
It was within a week, I think, that I was able to have a party at my house. Somehow Martha was invited and came. But Bernie, who was always out to play jokes on me, had someone else in our circle of friends bring her to the party. The fellow that brought her was one who I really did not like at all, and Bernie knew it. However, Martha and I managed to give the group the slip, and we went off by ourselves where we could talk and get to know each other.
In a very short time, I asked her to go out with me. I was leading a Great Books
Discussion Group of Adolescents at the Westport Library in Kansas City one evening, and invited her to go with me to it. That was our first date. I guess that was my way of showing off – but we had both talked about books together when we were at the party, so I knew she would be interested. After that, we began dating during the summer. Much later in our relationship we were talking about what sort of home Martha would like to live in, and she said she would like to live in a library. So, I guess it just seemed natural to go to a library for a book discussion with this person.
Sometime during that summer Bernie and I and some other friends were out driving when someone in another car took exception to my driving, and cut us off, bringing us to a sudden stop. We piled out of the car, and the other driver and I faced off. Well, I had decided that my fighting days should be over. I had decided to talk my way out of such altercations. So, I tried to not fight and to use my mouth instead. The degree of success I had with this approach is shown by the fact that I spent a week in the hospital and had my jaw wired together because of a broken jaw. I could only drink through a straw and suck strained foods through my teeth for a number of weeks after that.
Wouldn’t you know, I had plans with Martha to meet her folks. So she took me to her house and introduced me to her family. I could only utter through a tightly closed mouth - a mouth wired shut - “It is nice to meet you, Sir” and that is how I met her father. I have never been sure what went through poor George’s mind when I was introduced to him. He must have silently been wondering what was happening to his poor little girl.
I continued to date Martha into the winter when she went to a small college in a nearby town. I used to drive there to take her out, but we had to be back fairly early. The gates were locked at a relatively early hour. Somewhere during that year I did another very dumb thing. I got scared or mad or something and told Martha I did not want to see her again. So we separated and did not see each other.
We didn’t see each other, that is, until she showed up at UKC in the college’s meeting place (called the Roost) sitting with my friends, playing bridge and hearts and other card games. Oh yes, she explained she had left the little college (Park College) and come to UKC to attend school. Somehow some sense came back to me, and we again dated on a very regular basis, and I have never left her nor she me since that time. Later, in 1955, we were married at that little college – at Park College.
Somewhere in this period well before my marriage, my father quite uncharacteristically said he and I should take a trip on a Norwegian banana freighter which had a few fare-paying passengers. The trip would be from New York through the Panama Canal to Equador, and then back to New York. It soon eventuated that he thought I was taking too long to get my thesis for my Masters done, and this trip would allow me to write it in peace and quiet. I haven’t talked about my father much, but just extremely briefly, he and I never held conversations. He loved me, and I loved him, but I think he did not understand anything about me and he did not like me. We were quite different.
He never knew what to do with me, or what to say to me. I know I embarrassed him at times – quite unintentionally so. I will relate an example but first let me set the stage. In the early 50s we got our first TV. It was the time of Joseph McCarthy who found communists in our government and schools and under every rock in every city. The cold war was on. Our country was nuts on the subject of communists. Remember I mentioned one teacher telling me I should go to Russia if I did not think it was all right to hate the Russian government, and that was back around 1949. McCarthy just made things very wild, and drove Americans into a frenzy. Many people lost their jobs because of him. There was a congressional hearing regarding his methods and tactics, and I watched on TV every day.
The incident to which I referred happened one morning when my folks were driving me down to the clinic because it was near their office. We saw a neighbor waiting at the bus stop. So we invited him in and offered to take him to his office downtown. It turned out that he was on the Board of Directors of UKC. When I heard this I started in on him because the Board had just fired an economics professor (Dr. Davis) who may have had some communistic leanings or was more partial to communistic economic theories or some “charge” related to communism. I did not let up for the 30 minutes it takes to get down town. I expressed all my deeply felt anger at the injustice of such an action. My father would never have handled it that way, even though I am sure he would have agreed privately with my position. He would much prefer to find common ground with this man, and not even bring up the issue of the economics professor. He would have felt it would do no good since Dr. Davis was already fired. I can’t remember my mother stepping in at all, although that seems unlikely since she never stayed out of a chance to fight intolerance and bad judgement.
There were hundreds of instances where I was an enigma to my father, and so we did not really talk together a lot. It was my loss. He had a lot to offer if I could have accepted it. He was a very brave, honest and ethical man. I respect him, but I never got to know him. Anyway, we went on the trip. Once during the trip he said something like “Roger, I thought this would be a good time to talk – we never have talked”. I said I thought it was a bit late for that. Of course, because of my smart retorts, we did not talk that time either. Just an aside, there were a couple of other passengers. Dad talked to them frequently during our trip down. He talked in their native language of Spanish. His Spanish was so flawless that the women refused to believe that Spanish was not his first language. Spanish was one of the seven languages he spoke, and undoubtedly was the major language he had used as a Franciscan Monk in California where many of he parishioners’ language was Spanish.
But when I got back, while I had done a lot on the thesis, I had not yet completed it. I think, although they never said much about it that my parents were worried about me. I doubt that they knew how much I drank, but they didn’t like some of the behaviors they saw. So they began to apply pressure on me, and I finally moved from the house and began living away from them. Martha and I were getting closer and closer. Finally she and I decided to get married. We wanted a small wedding with very few people involved with the wedding. We had only a few people there. The best man was Don Gibson who was a Negro. I had not realized it when we asked him, but this caused a great deal of inconvenience. There was no place that we could find in Missouri who would serve dinner to a mixed group. So, we had to go to Kansas to have dinner.
Once married, I had to think practically. It occurred to me that since I had no job, it would be very difficult to support the two of us. I figured I had to get a job. But, then, I thought if I want to get a job as a psychologist, I must get a degree. We were married March 6th, 1955 and I soon had a job that was contingent on my finishing a master’s degree and graduating by summer. I had my first full time paying job as a psychologist. It paid $3,600 a year. Martha claims that I told her “I hope you understand that I will probably never make as much as $10,000 a year.” The clinic in which I got my job was a public agency and took all people who came to the clinic for no charge. I thought that that is the way health should be treated. It should be free to all. Of course, now, in the United States, that is not the case. But because of my feelings about fees, I must have said this to Martha.
AND SO, we began our life together.