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A Coat’s Life

by Joseph B. Joyce, ’54
Des Moines, Iowa

In the fall of my junior year of high school I found that I needed a new overcoat for the coming winter. Being a frugal lad, I took my business to the plain, pipe racks of Robert Hall. There a dandy, blue job of a mysterious, fuzzy material drew my admiring glances, and that coat left the low-rent district under my arm.

I had no complaints about my purchase. It had a sturdy, warm collar that turned up perfectly, and my friends’ coats seemed to me to be inferior to my prize. The fuzzy material was rather troublesome, although it held rather well and the first winter failed to penetrate it.

Unfortunately, however, the girl whom I dated exclusively during my senior year was often nervous; she found considerable relief by stripping my coat of its fuzz in firmly rolled, little balls. Her fingers toyed with the garment at nearly every opportunity. Finally it seemed preferable to watch my coat melt away in little balls than risk my companion’s suffering nervous collapse. Shunning the girl would have solved the problem, but how could I have survived without her at that time?

By the end of its second winter, my coat looked used. I had begun wearing it daily to school over jeans and a flannel shirt. It still provided warmth, and the collar was as pleasing as ever. One day in early spring I was standing and eating a couple of hamburgers when my coat caught fire from a small electric heater in the corner of this swank spot where I dined. Quickly extinguishing the blaze and brushing off the damaged area, I decided that it would endure another week or two until warm weather arrived to stay. So it did.

The next fall was the beginning of my freshman year at Notre Dame. As cold weather drew near, my money was disappearing, and the Robert Hall garment was cleaned for another year’s use. The old friend continued to appeal to me. The burn of several months previous was near the bottom and hardly noticeable. That area had as much fuzz as the rest of the coat, practically none. There were no holes, and that collar was wonderful. Moreover, the coat served many uses. Not only was it worn to classes, downtown, Saint Mary’s and Chicago, but it was most resourceful when used as a blanket during my frequent afternoon naps. One day a friend entered my room and found me beneath the coat’s protective shelter on my bed and announced to his companion: “That’s Joyce under the Blue Terror.” It was ever called by that name thereafter.

One afternoon when it was approximately 20 degrees about zero, I went alone to the dining hall to eat an early supper. When I had finished my meal, I passed on my way to the coat rack a group of friends who were eating. While defensively bantering them with clever remarks, I reached for the blue coat hanging where I had hung mine and strolled away. The surprised looks on their faces indicated to me that my last gibe had been a clincher; but I felt a tap on my shoulder after about 30 steps. Turning, I saw one of the jokers’ company. “You’ve got my coat,” he said calmly. Sure enough, it wasn’t mine on my shoulders. (Later I found that it wasn’t his either.) “Oh, sorry,” I said, confused, and hurriedly I handed it to him. The jeers were beginning to carry across to us from the table of humor. “Slug him, Frank, the damned thief!” Those were my friends talking, and I had to pass by them again to return to the rack. “What’s the matter, Joyce, break your glasses? Can’t you even recognize the Blue Terror anymore?”

Thoroughly embarrassed now, I thought all eyes in the hall were upon me, and, indeed, quite a few were attracted by the commotion. My coat was not on the rack, and feeling ridiculous, I returned to my tormentors’ table. “Come on, you guys, were the hell is it?” Hard but innocent smiles met me. “Where’s what?"

“My coat.

“Who the hell’d want that?"

“Come on, did you guys take it?"

“Hell no, we don’t know anything about it.”

For all I knew maybe they didn’t. I was certain that all observers had by this time classified me as a thief or an imbecile. Quickly I turned away toward the door. Laughter echoed in my red ears as I hit the cold air with only a T-shirt over my lungs. In the glances of those I passed on my long trek across campus to Zahm Hall, I read the comment: “Look at that a— ; thinks he’s a nature boy.” Shivering I wanted to run, but I thought they would then gloat besides: “Serves him right, a polar bear in a T-shirt.” Therefore I strode determinedly on, striving to still my chattering teeth and assuming a contemptuous air for the curious stares cast my way. I cut through the Main Building, however, to avoid further meetings and also regain some warmth. Then I made a dash from the rear exit to my hall and room.

One of my kinder neighbors told me the next day that my coat was hung in the locker of one of the fiends across the hall. I made the coat last me through that year, and the following fall I bought a new one. This one isn’t as warm as the Blue Terror, however, and there’s no comparison between the collars of the two coats.

Coming Full Circle

By Bob Gregory ’62 Honorary
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

When failing to meet the minimum required grade average at the end of my sophomore year, the University “invited” me to take a sabbatical. At that moment, I figured Notre Dame would amount to nothing more than an insignificant blip in my life. Wow, was I mistaken!

“My Story” columns usually convey stories of more luminary members of the Notre Dame family. This story is that of a more ordinary family member, but one who almost 50 years after entering the University has developed an extraordinary appreciation for all that Notre Dame is. Some of us were slow learners.

After departing the campus in 1960, I went about the task of putting my life together. The issue had not been a lack of capability but rather a shortage of maturity. Following a year away from school to work and grow up a bit more, I entered a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. At Hobart, my opportunities finally came into focus. Manifesting this were making Dean’s List, graduating and being accepted to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned an MBA. Thoroughly embarrassed by my lack of performance at Notre Dame, I was determined to do better.

My subsequent professional career consisted of brand management in consumer goods, client service in the advertising agency business and, lastly, international marketing in the financial services field. While satisfying and rewarding, an emptiness continued within due to the failure in South Bend. I could never forget dissipating the remarkable opportunity presented to me coming out of high school.

Throughout my adult years, the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful wife and an outstanding daughter. And then my guilt and disappointment were mitigated when our daughter was accepted at Notre Dame as a member of the Class of 1989. What made me particularly happy was that she developed her own interest in the University without urging from either of her parents. To this day, I believe Our Lady was watching over all of us. She provided our daughter with a special insight that drew her to the University, even though she had a few attractive options in the Northeast, where we lived at the time.

Our daughter also struggled with adjusting in her first year, but the support she received from her dorm mates helped pull her through. What she received from her pals spoke volumes about the core spirit and values of Our Lady’s university. Arguably, she would not have survived elsewhere, much less succeed. She eventually went on to make Dean’s List, earn a varsity sports letter and receive her B.A., all in four years. Nothing in my life has made me prouder (except possibly her two little children, after she was married by a fellow classmate to another Domer eight years ago).

Moving to the present, it is intriguing how once one is touched by Notre Dame that the impact only grows. Throughout the years, numerous visits to campus and readings of campus publications have kept me current and kindled further my interest in the University. Recently “retired,” that interest has evolved into affection and deep respect. I’ve officially been welcomed as a bona fide member of the Class of 1962 and have become an active member of the local alumni club, having recently been elected to its board.

Our club is very active, especially for a small one. Community service takes a larger part of my time these days, and what better umbrella under which to do this than the Notre Dame Alumni Club. While engaged in additional service activities, my involvement with the club’s programs brings me closer to Notre Dame and makes its priorities and values clearer. Moreover, how uniquely impressive an institution it is becomes clearer too. Perhaps its most difficult challenge is unleashing student learning in the context of the Catholic framework on which the University is based. While not always easy, Notre Dame is accomplishing this. And Our Lady knows, advancing these dual principles in concert has never been more needed than today.

So Notre Dame has not been a blip for me; quite the contrary. Stopping by campus on Commencement Day this year on the way to visiting our daughter’s family reinforced my belief that Notre Dame has turned out to be possibly the most positive influence in my life. “And our hearts forever love thee, Notre Dame.”

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