The Journey Continues: Letters Home from Philosophy Studies, 1965 – 67 – Part 7

The first two letters focus on the philosopher’s father because of Father’s Day and of a concern about his health. The third letter, after reflecting about things ‘at home’, tells of his experiences at Omak, ending with a happy ‘p.s’ about the news of his parent’s impending visit. The fourth brief letter is addressed to his young brother, thirteen years old. The fifth brief letter follows the visit of his parents and his sister and her husband.

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Mount Saint Michael

Spokane, Washington 99207

[Hand written]

June 18, 1966

Dear Dad,

This is just a note to tell you that a triduum of Masses were offered for your intentions during this Father’s Day weekend. I hope you received my card in time. This note is also to thank you for being what you are + I thank God continually for giving me a wonderful dad.

You are always in my prayers. I count on your prayers very much. As one of the newly ordained priests said at his first Mass, “our graces come from the prayers and sacrifices of our parents, families + friends.”

With love,

your son

Frank

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Mount Saint Michael

Spokane, Washington 99207

[Hand written]

June 21, 1966

Dear Dad,

The Rector, Fr. Lemieux, SJ

I just got back from the mission on Monday + found a bunch of letters in my box. By now I hope you are almost completely recovered from your operation– You have been in all my prayers since Sunday and are always in my prayers daily.

I sent a post card from Omak for Father’s Day but that’s hardly adequate to tell you are the best of dads.

Your son,

Frank

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Mount Saint Michael

Spokane, Washington 99207

June 25, 1966

Dear Mum and Dad,

Thanks muchly for your letter, the lovely snaps and for the fine list of birth dates. I guess I have no more excuse for missing any now.

You really did have a late spring as far as seeding was concerned didn’t you? Don’t yo usually plant the last wheat etc around the 20th of May? You are quite right about the landscaping.

I found that out at Guelph when we had to pick stones and rake and rake and rake, then pick stones again, and rake again, just to prepare a lawn. Then after the grass has finally grown, you have to roll the lawn to keep it nice and flat and spend the rest of the year cutting and clipping. But the result is lovely to see.

And the old house [it was replaced by the new house built just summer] is gone too? Matthew must have thought I was a little off my beam when I was home last summer when I gave it a thorough once over looking into every nook and cranny.

But there were many many memories stored there. The morning I left I tried to photograph all and everything in my mind because I had a good idea it would no longer be there when I came back.

I can still see the green drapes on the book-shelves, the cowboy wall paper, the standing closet, and even the big piggy bank that was on top of the book shelf in the first bedroom upstairs. Well, enough of that …

I hope dad is completely recovered by now. As you know I went to Omak for a week. When I got back the mail box was full of letters; and I was surprised to discover most of them were addressed to me.

Your letter must have arrived just after I left, so dad had his operation before I heard about it. They really have a terrible system for hospitalization there don’t they.

They worry their patients sick before any operation. I don’t know if they have the same problem here. What hospital is Jimmy [neighbour] and Uncle Joe in?

Chapel prayer at the Mount.

Everybody seems to be getting married. You know I just can’t imagine Dale [neighbour] married. I’m glad to hear about Alda [neighbour planning marriage]. Have you any particulars about them? It’s good that Clifford [cousin] and Joyce [neighbour] are finally taking the step. They’ve waited a long time haven’t they?

I don’t remember Jimmy Eberle too well. What he did took a lot of courage, going back to school at 23.

Rosemary and Mathew must be done with exams by now. I hope they did well. (I hope by now that Matt’s foot is better and that he’s in fine shape to win all those baseball games.)

They are finishing school and I’m beginning again. Our summer courses began on Monday. I’m taking a course in the Romantic poets and another course in German. The latter will not be too difficult but the poet course is going to take a little work. We have to write an essay on each of the major poets and also write a term paper. That’s much much work for a six week course.

But since villa follows right after it won’t be too bad. Yet it will take a lot of energy because our day begins at five now because some of the classes begin at 7:30 a.m. At first I had to go down to G.U. at 8:20 and return in time for dinner. That meant I had to find a quiet place to study or read for an hour before my classes began.

Now a car goes down at nine thirty so my problem is solved. I have to go down for one class in the afternoon now too. That class was supposed to have been at eleven just after my first class but something came up so they rearranged the schedule. So I leave again at three in the afternoon and get back in time for dinner.

Before going on any further I should tell you about my week at Omak. St. Mary’s mission is about a 2 ó hour drive from Spokane and we went by the Grand Coulee Dam on our way there. Another hour’s drive would have taken us to Canada (B.C.).

Seven of us went out after ordinations; nine had been out for ten days before but some could not return. We spent the first few days painting class rooms and other small rooms, cleaning up dorms and other odd jobs. Then the hay season began.

While the other lads hauled the bales, I dug trenches, (Father bought a trailer to be used as a bed room for the volunteer teachers. We had to dig a couple of trenches for the sewage pipes and the electricity.) And when that was finished, mowed lawns.

You should see the mission. On either side is a range of rocky hills covered with sage. Except for the sage the hills are bare and dry. A lovely little stream tumbles down from the top of the hills into the valley and supplies the mission with its water, but the water has to be pumped out of the stream and sprinklers have to be used to irrigate the land.

Where there are no sprinklers nothing grows even though it is twenty feet from the stream. I guess most of the stream bed is solid rock and so does not seep up to the dry land. What is good about the stream is the fish in it, beautiful rainbow and brook trout. Another lad, Jim McGinty, and I fished quite often. Practically every night after dishes, we’d grab our fishing poles and walk up the stream.

It’s really a thrill to catch a 11-12 inch rainbow trout in a stream six feet wide and a foot and a half deep in most places. We used earth worms for bait and by the last day we knew exactly where we could dig up the fattest worms. On the last day we dug up twelve worms.

With them we caught three fish, one a twelve inch rainbow. We wouldn’t fish any later than 8:45 because the fish just wouldn’t bite after that. They would nibble and steal the worms, but we just couldn’t hook them.

At about nine thirty every one would have returned from their after supper strolls, swims, fishing etc. and we’d get together in the recreation room which was a covered smoke house.

(The floor was carpeted and in one corner was a small fire place. There was a fridge in the room, a sink, couch, piano, and some easy chairs.) We’d talk or sing etc. for a while and slowly every one would creep off to their bunks.

We stayed in the boys dorm. I slept in a sleeping bag because it was nice and warm and one didn’t have to make a bed in the morning. One fellow always slept outside just beside the building. It was always pretty warm so it must have been nice, but with rattle snakes etc about I wasn’t brave enough.

On our last day there, Father (rector, Arby Lemieux) took us to some friends of his who live by a lake about three miles from the Canadian border. We left at about two in the afternoon in the school bus and got there in less than an hour. We had lunch (or rather, supper) there, swam and water skiied.

It was here that I made my debut on water skis. I was very surprised to find out how easy it is. It is a little tricky getting started but once you’re up, you’ve made it. It

was a lot of fun cutting back and forth across the wake of the boat and then cutting out to the side until you are travelling along side of the boat. I skiied with two skiies.

I’m looking forward to trying with one because when you turn from side to side you can throw up a beautiful spray. It’s really a fantastic experience. You feel like you’re walking on the water.

Well, that’s about it for Omak. In general we worked quite hard from about 8:30 a.m. to about 6:00 p.m. but after supper our time was our own. All in all it was all very enjoyable, even the work. It was a real break from the books.

Now I’ll have to get down to brass tacks and begin writing essays and term papers. A month is not a very long time to do a lot of ‘good’ writing.

Oh yes my marks weren’t as good as last semester, a couple of A’s, a couple of B’s and one miserable C. I’m a little put out with that last mark, but the A in the prose writing course sort of compensates for it. Since I have always been weak in that field, and since I put a lot of work into that course, the mark gave me a real lift.

I’ll have to write a few more letters very soon. I owe Marlene, Bernice, Myrna [siblings]. . . . Let’s say I have to answer all the girl’s letters. I just got a letter from Myrna today. It’s really good to hear from all of them. Besides that I owe a couple of letters to fellows back at Guelph and one to Shrub Oak, N.Y., and a couple more here and there.

At least this letter is a half decent length, but I’ll have to close now. Don’t forget the prayers. (Please ignore all the typing errors etc. I’ve been away from the typewriter a little too long I guess.)

[hand written] You’re always in my prayers.

Love,

Frank

[hand written]

P.S. I was happy to hear that you might get down this summer but I’d better give you a list of my summer schedule; Summer school ends on July 29 so I’ll be at the Mount until then. Summer Villa takes up most of August so I’ll be at Priest Lake, Idaho then.

If you happen to come then there won’t be too much of a problem. Our retreat is at the end of August. Now you’ll know where I’ll be + when, so you can find me when you come.

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Mount Saint Michael

Spokane, Washington 99207

June 26, 1966

Dear Mathew

Thank you very much for your letter. You write a good letter and should write oftener. By now your exams must be over and I hope you did well. Thanks for the picture of the plane. Does it fly well? How do you control it?

When I was at Guelph we went to watch a number of men fly model planes. They had a box of buttons and controlled the planes by radio signals from the box.

They could send their planes almost a mile away and bring them back, loop the loop and many other tricks – but their equipment was very expensive. While we were there we witnessed one plane crash (that is, a model air plane crash. It went out of control.)

How did the field day go? I always enjoyed that day. Do you still play ball at the field meets?

Yesterday was a lovely warm day + I finally got out for some exercise. We played tennis for a couple hours then went swimming. Late in the afternoon I had to go down to Gonzaga University to bring two fathers (who came from Montreal to a meeting of the University presidents at the University) to the Mount.

They wanted to see the place and say hello to all the Canadians. After supper we gave them a tour of Spokane and it was about 9:30 by the time we got home.

Today is another beautiful day. This evening a number of us have to go to a park in town and play a Hootenany for a group of Sodalists having a day of recollection. It should be fun, but it’s another evening of work down the drain–

I’ll be waiting for another letter from you in the not so distant future. O.K.?

With love,

your brother

Frank

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Mount Saint Michael

Spokane, Washington 99207

August 2, 1966

Dear mum and dad

I don’t know how long this letter will be because at any moment I’ll be picked up to go back to villa. As usual, the time has passed by too quickly and the letter is over due, but . . . .

The top of the Mount.

First, thanks very much for the visit. It was so great to see you. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and it’s only too bad you couldn’t stay a little longer. It was so good to see Myrna [sibling] and Charlie [brother-in-law] too, and I want to thank them for making the long drive.

I’m glad that this time you could meet some of my brothers in Christ and see what a more normal Jesuit life is like. It is just a little different than at Guelph or any novitiate, but there are good reasons for it then. A special hi! To Rosemary and Matt [siblings]. I’m sorry they couldn’t come too.

Well, summer school is ended and I think the results for the courses should be lower than B’s; I’m hoping for A’s. As it turned out we only had to write one exam. Since we wrote so many papers for the Romantic poet’s course, we didn’t have to write an exam, and the German exam was simple, too simple perhaps, because I made some silly mistakes.

My last paper for the poet course wasn’t that good and so wasn’t published, but, oh well, inspiration doesn’t come for every paper.

We’re out at the villa now getting much sun and skiing and boating. It is really fantastic. I still haven’t been able to ski on one ski but perhaps in a few days and may flops, it will come.

Just before we left I got my curly locks lopped off and took a little ribbing because of it. But it is much cooler this way even though I got a little sun-burn along the white ridge close to the thinning hair line. I was able to get a start on my tan before I left so I can spend all afternoon boating or what not without worrying about roasting to a crisp.

[hand written correction] N.P. New Paragraph. I’m practising my essay correction symbols for the time when my students will hand in many many essays. [back to type written letter]

We had to come, or I should say, nine of us had to come back to Spokane last night for a funeral mass this morning. We drove back last night, got up at six this morning, practised singing for a half hour before mass. It was a beautiful funeral, if funerals can be spoken of as beautiful.

It was a concelebration with seven priests and there were only about twenty in the congregation. Even the singing didn’t turn out too badly.

(Some of the fellows took an outboard motor down into town just a while ago and will be back shortly. We will then drive back out to Priest Lake.)

I didn’t tell you about the beautiful speed boat we have at the villa. It’s an inboard motor boat and powerful! It pulls two skiers without a flinch and would probably do the same with four.

Oh, oh, there’s the car. . . . I’ll have to sign off. Once again thanks for the visit and everything. The lighter works [zippo cigarette lighter] beautifully, I can keep track of the date with Mathew’s chosen gift, and the butterfly [that mum made] looks lovely on my wall. (And the food was delightful!)

Bye for now. Don’t forget the prayers; you’re always in mine. Hello to all.

With much love

Frank

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All photos courtesy of Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ

Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

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