Ernie and Laurine

Posted by on August 19, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo from The Wizard of Ads

“Just as I was to enter the 7th grade at St. Mel’s I was stricken with rheumatic fever and was confined to bed for almost a year and was in a wheelchair for another. When my physician heard that a tutor had been employed for me, he asked Father if his son, Ernie, could join me for the sessions. (Ernie had dropped out of school to roam and consequently, was quite far behind the other students.) Thus we began a regular routine of study as Ernie, in his sonorous tones, read aloud to me; first from the classics, then always from a Zane Grey novel. When I was able to begin attending public school again, Ernie would come and wheel me there and back each day. On the way home, we always stopped at the bakery where Ernie would buy a chocolate Žclair and I would buy a cream puff. Those were happy times.”

Years later: “At that time there was no Cesar Chaves to make the dramatic appeal for justice. There were grave abuses by gancheros in recruiting. It was an evil form of bondage. Salaries and housing were an abomination, and there was nothing against child labor. When Cardinal Mooney heard of the situation, he asked me to tutor his priests in the Spanish language. Though our attempts to set up credit unions and co-ops were always thwarted, we did persuade several families to break the circuit and find jobs in the factories rather than in the fields where work was seasonal and dependent on the gancheros who kept them in slavery.”

“Countless stories could be told about those who were brought to freedom. There was little Pepito existing in unspeakable squalor, his small body battered black and blue, his cheeks, lips, nose and toes nipped by rats. He was six years old, a four-corner-shoe-shiner, whose so-called father grabbed his earnings for liquor. With legal aid we were able to release him from his father and give him into the custody of his grandmother. Today he is a happy, successful businessman in Toledo, devoted to his faith and family. Nor can I forget the depth of purpose of middle-aged men sitting on the floor, practicing writing on old scraps of paper, listening to tapes I made, and repeating after me words and sounds. Reading to the men always made me think of Ernie, my childhood friend who, during World War II, was among the Allied force that liberated Paris from German occupation. I’m told that Ernie personally liberated the Paris Ritz Hotel, where he marched through the front door, walked directly to the bar, laid his rifle upon it and ordered a whiskey.”

“Years later in West Palm Beach, I saw a man with a black moustache outside the church talking to the pastor. As I passed by them, the man stared uncomfortably at me until he finally shouted, ‘You’re Cream Puff!’ Recognizing the voice, I turned and smiled, ‘Yes, and you’re Chocolate Eclair.’ Back in the days when Ernie would read to me and wheel my chair to the bakery, who would have predicted that ‘Cream Puff Catherine’ would become Sister Laurine, a nun of the Catholic church, and that ‘Eclair Ernie’ would become Ernest Hemingway, a writer who would tilt the world?”

Isabel Catherine Neville (1901-1981)

Excerpted from her unpublished memoirs,

Graciously loaned to me by Donna Pugliani


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Chris Maddock

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