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Chapel, Mr. Callard, and a Cherry-red James Dean Jacket

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Chapel, Mr. Callard, and a Cherry-red James Dean Jacket
FRANK DEFORD '57

      It certainly never occurred to me back then, but Chapel was an ideal way to start the day. It provided time for you to get squared away, to catch your breath and ( optional) listen up to what was going on. Since I departed Gilman, I have found, in life at large, that mornings are different. Post-Gilman, the days just sort of come upon you. A bell rings or the boarding gate opens or someone says, "you can go in now." Chapel was just right for getting the cobwebs out, a quasi-spiritual coffee.

      Looking back, it seems so wonderfully quaint. In fact, I think it was quaint to us, even then. Chapel was held in "A:' Study Hall, which I always thought was a pretty insipid name-couldn't they do any better than just "A:' Study Hall? "A:' Study Hall housed the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Forms. For Chapel, the members of the First, Second, and Sixth Forms would share seats with those permanent denizens. Since there was an abundance of First and Second Formers, some Sixth Formers had to sit on the ledges around the sides of the room, which was the most prestigious place to be.

      The devotional part of Chapel was but a modest part of the whole program, lending itself to the name-Chapel-more so than in spirit. There was a Bible passage and a prayer, and since virtually everybody in those days was Protestant (let alone Christian), the scripture had a familiar drone to it.

      But there were also, on many days, secular divertissements. In fact, if Chapel lasted into overtime, the whole school simply went on "late schedule." This meant everything was pushed back, with a little chunk sliced out of each class period. If you think about it, this was a wonderfully civilized way to run things.

      But then, there was a lot of quaint stuff at Gilman then.

      I may be a little hazy on exactly who ran Chapel. I believe it was something like this: Mr. Callard two days a week, Mr. Russell one day (usually Fridays), other faculty members one day, and members of the Christian Association or class officers or other student muckety-mucks one day. Does that seem right? Some teachers never seemed to run Chapel. I never knew whether they didn't want to, whether they demurred for religious reasons, or whether it was a clause in their contract not to have to. Mr. Marrian, for example. I don't believe he ever hosted Chapel. But then, I don't believe Mr. Marrian did anything outside of the math classroom. He was a specialist.

      There were three things that dragged Chapel out and tilted us into "late schedule." These were: 1) Sixth Form Speeches, 2) Leo Collier's mother's string quartets, and 3) Mr. Russell, who loved Chapel more than anyone. Mr. Russell came from the Cotton Mather School of Devotions, which believed that windiness is next to Godliness. Mr. Russell was genial enough, pretty much off-the-cuff, and would have been perfect for public access cable TV, only it hadn't been invented yet. But Chapel was, under Mr. Russell's aegis, a sort of "Wayne's World" ahead of its time.

      Sixth Form speeches were something you had to endure; the greater interest was whether the speaker would screw up, rather than anything he might actually say. The only Sixth Form Speech I ever remember that anybody talked about ahead of time was Cotton Fite's. Cotton stuttered terribly, especially when he had to make even an informal address in class. It was assumed that Cotton was going to create a late-late schedule.

      But Cotton was an extremely popular fellow, and this was the one time that everyone in "A:' Study Hall was actually rooting for the speaker not to make mistakes. We were all breathless, when Cotton stood up to the podium, looked over the throng and began: "Mr. Callard, members of the faculty, and fellow students." Not a hitch. We sighed. It was all downhill from there. Cotton never blew so much as a syllable. Got a standing O.

      It was one of the finer days I ever had at Gilman, and about the best Chapel of all, the morning Cotton Fite gave his Sixth Form Speech, flawlessly.

      But then: poor Leo Collier. He lived way up in Aberdeen, and the story was that sometimes Leo would sneak onto the Proving Grounds and ride around in the tanks. I don't know whether this was true, but it certainly impressed me.

      But: poor Leo Collier. His mother was determined to improve the Vulgate musical taste of Gilman boys. So, she was always dragooning string quartets and foisting them on us in Chapel. Mandolins and flutes and cellos and oboes-oboes!-and Leo was mortified because he had to take crap all day from everybody on account that his mother made us listen to "fairy music."

      Actually, everybody rather liked the music. Well, we didn't like the music, but we liked it that it always took up a lot of time, the oboes, and put us on late schedule.

      Now, Mr. Russell: he was at his best on game days in Chapel. He would lead as a cheers for the teams and have the varsity boys pick up their books and walk out while we all clapped for them. McDonogh really got Mr. Russell worked up. He had a thing for McDonogh. He called them "The Farmers." It was written on a lot of signs, too: PLOW THE FARMERS, stuff like that. In fact, in normal, everyday conversation nobody ever referred to McDonogh as "the farmers." It was just something that had been made up for effect--probably in Chapel, probably by Mr. Russell himself. Everybody called us "the Gilman fairies" all over Baltimore, so that probably inspired us, "the fairies," to get back at McDonogh. It was pretty weak, but it was all we had.

      McDonogh--excuse me, The Farmers--were our traditional rivals, our arch rivals. I never knew why. Nobody did. I didn't even know where McDonogh was, except it was somewhere out in the sticks. I didn't know anybody who went there. Worse than farmers, too, McDonogh was actually a bunch of little soldiers. Who, in their right mind, would want to go to a military school? Or, even worse, who would want a military school as an arch rival? There were ten other schools around town I had more interest in, but Mr. Russell told us in Chapel that McDonogh mattered, so he would get up and stir us into a frenzy, have Walter Birge lead cheers--the works--and we would all go along and scream bloody murder about the Farmers.

      Late schedule.

      As it mirrored his personality, Mr. Callard ran a subdued Chapel. Even if he was addressing the whole school, jammed two to a seat, he had a wonderful way of making it sound like an intimate conversation. You had to strain just a tiny little bit to hear him. Sometimes, though, he would talk very frankly--if, for example, he had had to kick somebody out, and he wanted to explain his reasons. Other times, there would be homely little anecdotes.

      One in particular I remember was about honor, and about how honor was not just something you had to attest to at the end of every test and every quiz. Honor was something you had to live up to for yourself, within yourself. If anybody else had framed this topic--especially someone from the Christian Association or the Student Council--that's it, lights out in the minds of everybody in "A:' Study Hall. But we all kept on listening to Mr. Callard. I know, because we talked about it later on that day.

      To illustrate his point, Mr. Callard told us about how, early one morning, he was driving to Penn Station to catch a train, and he knew it was going to be a close call, but still, it wouldn't be right to exceed the speed limit. And right away, we all nodded. We could see Mr. Callard's car limping down Roland Avenue at six o'clock in the morning, hardly a car on the road, sticking at 25 miles an hour.

      Everybody just looked at each other, amazed. But nobody did one of those things where then you had to stare down at your shoes and hold your breath to keep from laughing. Because everybody believed Mr. Callard. Everybody could visualize him, crawling down by the Water Tower at the crack of dawn, not another car in sight. We kept talking about it all day. In awe. Nobody doubted him for a minute.

      Mr. Callard said he missed the train, too. You see, that was the real point. That was the price of honor that you paid to yourself. To be honorable, you had to miss trains and go onto your own personal late schedule in a world that didn't accept that.

      So, that was another Chapel I remember vividly. In fact, sometimes I think about that when I speed when nobody else is around. I guess it doesn't stop me from speeding, but at least I know I'm wrong and I have to deal with that myself.

      Mr. Callard and I finally came to a collision of sorts over Chapel-well, a glancing blow. Now, of course, everybody had to wear coats and ties in Chapel. But there was no rule written down that you couldn't wear anything over your jacket. Like, for instance, another jacket. A different jacket. After all, who in their right mind would want to wear anything over a sport coat in a room stuffed with 350 boys, a number of whom probably didn't bathe daily?

      But then, there was James Dean. Rebel Without A Cause had come out during my junior year, and it had made an impression upon me the likes of which had nothing since Catcher In The Rye. If you will recall, James Dean--by now, in 1956, the late James Dean, which added to his mystique (the good die young)--wore, throughout the movie, a cherry-red jacket. When I discovered that such jackets were available at a store in Pimlico, near where the Gilman News was printed, I bought one. The cost was $19.95. The only other vanity purchase I ever made for such a huge sum of my own money was the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension muscle-building mail-order course.

      I wanted desperately to be seen in my James Dean jacket--and where better a place than "A:' Study Hall, at Chapel, where the entire Gilman universe was gathered together? So, I wore it over my standard-issue tweed coat. Every day. I worked it so that I would arrive in Chapel at the last second, as if I just hadn't had time to remove my cherry-red James Dean jacket. Probably this was transparent. Certainly, though, it kept me within the letter of the law and left me terribly smug. In those days, the '50s, the idea was not to break the rules; it was to stretch them as far as you could. Kids battled authority with their wits, not with confrontation; victories were small, but the satisfaction larger, I think.

      Then one day I was elected president of the Student Council for the next year, and my first responsibility in this new position was to go down to the Lower School and address the boys in the Sixth Form there who would be moving up to the Upper School next September. Mr. Callard told me about this and what day I was supposed to make the speech. I started to leave his office. "Oh, Frank;' he said softly, and I turned back.

      There was a little smile on his face.

      "Yes sir?"

      "Now, you won't wear that red jacket of yours when you talk to the Lower School, will you?"

      I hesitated for a moment. He had caught me completely off guard. "No, sir," I said, and I grinned--probably foolishly--and then we both laughed a bit. I got the picture. Mr. Callard never said another word. And even though it wasn't actually against the written rules, I never sullied Chapel again with my cherry-red James Dean jacket.

      Frank Deford came to Gilman via Calvert School in the First Form, Upper School. His main interests throughout his six years were English, history, drama, and basketball, and his favorite faculty members were A. J. "Jerry" Downs (English) and John M. Robinson (basketball). By his senior year, Deford was student council president, editor-in-chief of the News, president of the Dramatic Association, president of the Literary Club, editor-in-chief of the The Blue and The Gray, and a member of the varsity basketball team.

      Winner of the Fisher Medallion at graduation, Deford was also awarded the Sixth Form Speaking Prize and the Armstrong Prize for Prose. He was a co-winner of the Class of 1939 Basketball Trophy.

      Attending Princeton, Deford majored in sociology and history, and was chairman of The Daily Princetonian. He started at a lowly editorial position at Sports Illustrated in 1962. By the 1980s, The National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters had voted Deford Sportswriter of the Year six times, and the Washington Journalism Review had chosen Deford Best Magazine Writer in the country twice.

      Frank Deford is known for bringing a warm, personal, empathic tone to his writing. This was especially true in his book Alex--The Life of a Child. Deford wrote Alex after his daughter, Alexandra, succumbed to cystic fibrosis. As the Chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Deford looks forward to the cure for the disease.

      Currently, Deford is a contributing writer at Newsweek, has a weekly sports commentary--punctuated with wry observations of ironic circumstances and four and five-syllable Latinate words in which he seems to take glee--on National Public Radio, and contributes to HBO television and ESPN radio. He continues to push the boundaries of his oeuvre, in 1993 completing the historical novel Love and Infamy.

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