A Bizarre Bus Ride


Talking about buses the other day reminded Mary of a bus trip she took when we lived in Chicago. It’s one of our favorite stories.

One day, Mary got on the bus to go downtown, and saw a man sitting on one of the front seats beside a pile of newspapers. “Don’t touch my newspapers! Those are my newspapers!”

She thought, “okayyyy,” and found a seat a safe distance away from him.

She watched him, and noticed that he’d pick up his stack of newspapers and move with them to an empty seat before every stop along the way, and when a new crowd of people got on the bus, he’d repeat, “Don’t touch my newspapers! Those are my newspapers!” It was a fairly long ride downtown, and soon everyone on the bus was watching him as this drama unfolded.

Finally, at one of the stops in the Loop, the man gets up and gets off the bus.


Leaving his newspapers on one of the seats.

As Mary (and probably everyone else on the bus) was thinking it, a woman said, “Hey! He forgot his newspapers!”

Wednesday for My Wife: The Most Popular Kid At St. Ignatius High School


My brother Patrick told Mary and I this one about his father (Mom’s second husband), who was a Jesuit for about thirty years before he left that job and married Mom. We called him Tex, because his last name was Christian (i.e. Texas Christian, like the university) and because they used to hang around the seminary quoting from old Western movies.

Jesuits go through a lot of training, about twelve years’ worth, before they become priests, and Tex said he was a scholastic at the time, one of the early levels of his training, so this would have been in the late Forties, early Fifties. He was stationed at St. Ignatius High School, an all-boys school which at least one of Chicago’s mayors (Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley) had attended.

At the time, desks were made of wood (as opposed to Formica and steel) and, if a class got boring (which they inevitably did), carving your name and/or other graffiti into the top of the desk with a ball-point pen was a good way to kill time. As you can imagine, one of the favorite expressions was a two-word phrase that starts with “f” and rhymes with “cluck flu.” The diligent and bored-out-of-their-minds boys of St. Ignatius carved it into roughly two-thirds of the desks over the years. (Okay, maybe not that many, but a lot of them.)

One day, Tex and a friend of his were called into the office and were told by the principal that theirs was one of the sites for a standardized test to be administered on a Saturday, and that the girls from a nearby high school would be taking it at Ignatius. He noted the graffiti that had been scratched into the desks, and told them to “do something about it.”

Tex and his friend hemmed and hawed about what they would “do” about the graffiti on the desks, when one of them had a brainstorm: with a few strokes of a pen, they could change that message to something totally innocuous. Several days later, they were able to report that they had “done something about it.”

Saturday rolled around, and when the test was finished, the principal of the girls’ school visited the principal of St. Ignatius and thanked him for his hospitality, then said, “Several of the girls were asking: who is ‘Buck Young’? He seems to be very popular. His name is carved into so many desks…”

Karma’s A Bitch, But Sometimes You Have To Love Her


Not a family story, but one Mary likes anyway…

I’ve mentioned several times now that I used to play the bagpipes. Mary and I were in Scotland in 1979, and somehow ended up in the shop of J&R Glen on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and before I knew what was happening, I was walking out with a set of bagpipes. I came home, learned to play, and joined a pipe band, the Invermich Gaelic Society Pipe Band, which had eight to ten pipers and about half a dozen drummers.

Man playing the Great Highland Warpipes (a/k/a the bagpipes) on the street in Edinburgh. (photo: Postdif/Wikipedia, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) This isn’t me; I don’t think any pictures of me playing exist anymore.

We were a pretty serious group, and spent most of the spring and summer running all over Hell’s half-acre and being contestants in piping competitions. Bands are sorted into grades, with Grade Four the lowest and Grade One the highest, and your band competes against other bands in your grade. At the end of the day, during the closing ceremony (including the Massed Bands, or as a friend of mine called it “mashed bands,” where all the bands involved in the competition get together and play a few tunes together), the winners of the graded competitions are announced, and then it’s party time. Our band had a rule of no drinking before we compete, including the night before, so we were pretty well rarin’ to go by the time the competition closed.

There were a few competitions that stretched over two days, like the one held at Alma College in Alma, Michigan. Most competitions are one-day affairs held on a Saturday; theirs took up the entire weekend. Saturday was the graded competition, Sunday was an open competition where all the bands, regardless of grade, competed against each other. The party, or ceilidh (“kay-lee”), was on Saturday night, which meant that if you did a little too much ceilidhing on Saturday night, you were in pretty bad shape the next day and still had to play.

One year, one of the bands decided to bring the ceilidh back to the dorm after the official one ended at about eleven o’clock. Until about three Sunday morning, they ceilidhed their rear ends off, including their drummers, who, given two sticks, will bang on just about anything. Of course, given the noise, we couldn’t get any sleep. At one point, one of our older members went down and yelled at the band, ordering them to stop. Which they did, until the guy got back to his room, after which they started pounding and being noisy again.

The next day, we were all exhausted, and more than a little p.o.’ed at the guys in that band. We weren’t alone; several other bands had been kept awake by the partying band. That didn’t matter, though: there was competing to do and money to be won.

Standard procedure for a competition band is to march into the playing field while playing, form a circle with the drummers together on one side and the bass drummer standing in the middle, play the competition set, then re-form ranks and march off the field, playing. A band is judged not only on how well they play but on their marching, their uniforms, and their discipline. We were on fairly early, so we were able to get coffee and watch the rest of the bands play.

Somewhere in the middle of the competition, the band that had kept us up half the night got to play. They were clearly feeling the effects of all that booze and the lack of sleep, but they formed ranks and marched shakily onto the field, playing. Halfway through their set, one of the snare drummers felt ill, stepped into the middle of the circle, and threw up. Needless to say, they didn’t do that well (certainly not on discipline and deportment).

As I said, karma’s a bitch, but sometimes you have to love her.

Dad, the Disciplinarian

Mary hasn’t talked about this week’s WFMW, so I guess it’s up to me.


We loved our Dad, mostly because he wasn’t the one that disciplined us. He wasn’t especially good at it.

Not that he didn’t try…

One time, we were acting up, and he lined the three of us up and started lecturing us. He was really getting into it when all of a sudden Jim stuck his hand up.


“Sir, may I go to the bathroom?”

Mom, who was watching all of this from the couch, started laughing. It kind of took the wind out of his sails.

Another time, we were being noisy and horsing around in the living room. Dad, who was alone with us because Mom had gone somewhere, came in wearing his angry face. “John, go sit in the desk chair,” he said, pointing. I sat down. “Jim, go sit in the easy chair.” Jim sat down. “And Kip, sit on the couch.” Kip sat down. “Now, I don’t want the three of you to move. Understand?”

“Yes, Dad.”

Having done his job, he left the room. After a couple of minutes, I turned to Jim. “Jim, let’s switch seats.” When we had done that, Jim and Kip switched seats. Then, Jim and I switched again, and so did Jim and Kip. Now I was on the couch, Jim was on the desk chair, and Kip was in the easy chair. We were ready to switch again but Jim saw Dad coming.

Dad came into the room. “You three better behave yourselves.”

“Yes, Dad.”

He left the room again. And we moved again. I was now in the easy chair, Kip was on the desk chair, and Jim was on the couch.

We were giggling, and Dad came back in the room. “What are you giggling about?”

“Nothing, Dad.”

This went on until Mom got home. I don’t think he ever caught on. Or, if he did, he didn’t let on.

Wednesdays for My Wife: Easter Memories

This is another dual-purpose post. I didn’t figure out what to write about for WFMW until late yesterday, so I’m doing it today, which is also Writer’s Workshop day.


Today, Mary and Kat must be on the same wavelength, because Mary said, “Why don’t you write about Easter when you were growing up?” and one of Kat’s prompts for today was “March 20th is the first day of Spring! Let it inspire a blog post,” so I’m going to write about both. Well, Easter is a spring holiday, after all…


Mom loved Easter. Everyone called her Bunny, because she was born on Holy Saturday. (Saturday, which would have been her 84th birthday, is also Holy Saturday.) She didn’t even know her real name was Genevieve until one of the nuns at St. Ignatius curtly informed her that there was no St. Bunny of Paris, and she had better learn to spell it.

The fun of having a birthday between March 22 and April 25 is that, eventually, your birthday is during Holy Week. For example, I was born on Palm Sunday. Mary, like Mom, was born on Holy Saturday. My cousin Dan was born on Good Friday. (Happy birthday, Dan, by the way.) It’s a moveable feast, kind of like Paris.

Easter was a big holiday in my family, almost as big as Christmas. Even without the presents, it was a special day. It would start with getting all dressed up so we could go to church. This is a picture of us on Easter 1965, the year my mother decided to dress us in fedoras and trench coats, like miniature Frank Sinatras. It was April 18 in Chicago, which is why we’re all bundled up.

Left to right, Kip (6), Mom’s Aunt Cash, me (9), Fabulous Auntie Jill (my godmother), and Jim (7). Sorry the picture is blurry. To get all of us into it, Dad (who took this on Jill’s camera) stood halfway down the block. I cropped out most of the background.

After Dad died, we would celebrate Easter at Fabulous Auntie Jill’s and equally Fabulous Auntie Moe’s apartment with most of the rest of the family. When we moved to Northfield in my sophomore year of high school, we celebrated at home with what my brother called “The Usual Crowd”: Grandma Holton, her sister Florence, and Mom’s Aunt Cash. Tex, who married Mom after I graduated high school, called them “The Lavender Hill Mob,” after the 1951 movie starring Alec Guinness. Mom would also invite anyone else in the family who might otherwise spend the holiday alone. That was the way we were in my family: you don’t have anywhere to go? Come on over! There was always plenty of food, enough to feed the assembled crowd and send the Lavender Hill Mob home with enough leftovers for a couple of meals.

In our family, Easter meant ham, which is great when you have a crowd, not so much when it’s just two people. Mary and I decided to buy a Honey Baked Ham once, and we couldn’t finish it before it got stinky and we had to throw it out. We learned the truth of what Grandma Holton always said, “Eternity is two people and a ham.” Ham didn’t go bad when I was at home. It didn’t last that long.

It wouldn’t be Easter without candy. All os us had a sweet tooth. Mom loved jelly bird eggs, which were the same as jelly beans, but different. Of course, we’d get Easter baskets; even after we got older, we’d set them up for each other and hide them. You could always count on a hollow chocolate bunny, various marshmallow eggs, jelly bird eggs, and, of course, Marshmallow Peeps.

I talked about Peeps during last year’s A to Z Challenge (and I hope you’ve signed up for this year’s), and, since Mary loves the story, I’m going to repeat it here…

Picture this: the Holton boys are sitting in the living room on Easter morning. It’s maybe 9 AM. We’ve sought out and found our Easter baskets, and are going through the candy buried in the fake grass lining the bottom of them. One of my brothers (I can’t remember if it was Jim or Kip) found several Marshmallow Peeps in his basket, took a bite out of one, and decided he didn’t like them. “Toss it over here, then,” I said. So, he sent the Peep flying over to me, sitting on the couch. The throw went a little high, but I managed to catch the flying confection and, in the same motion, stuff it in my mouth.

By the time our mother got up that morning, I had eaten all of the Peeps in the house, all of which were tossed at me by my brothers, and didn’t feel sick.

We don’t get together for Easter that much anymore, but you can bet that the day wouldn’t be complete without one of them tossing a marshmallow Peep at me, and me catching it and stuffing it completely in my mouth in one motion.


Happy Easter, all! That’s Wednesdays for My Wife and Writer’s Workshop for March 24, 2016.