Happy birthday, Guy

[Note: I drafted this in response to my sister Meg’s email with memories of our brother Guy Michael Church.  This year is the 40th since his death from acute anemia…two days before graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point, five days before his planned wedding to Tricia Reznick, a month before deployment to Germany as an officer in the Army.  Guy was 20 months older than I, one year ahead in school. I have six younger siblings.]

Happy birthday, bro.  And thanks for writing, Sis.

I seem to recall writing of him for T(A)AM (Lou’s The (Almost) Anything Magazine, a family newsletter). Guy was a West Pointer, as I’m sure you know. I have a ticket stub from a post-Army-Navy game dance. The band (says the ticket) was Ruby and the Romantics. That group’s signature song was “Our day will come” (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Day_Will_Come); Guy’s date was Trish who was not yet his fiancée. Nice song, then. Now seems so unfair.

[In a separate posting, Meg mentioned to youngest sib Jimmy that Guy had taken a test (for his martial arts class) that consisted of elbowing his way across a field. Jimmy responded “Wow!”]

Jimmy, the Akido martial arts style used elbows—contrasted with karate or savate. Dragging oneself across a football field by the elbows toughened them up. The concept seemed to be, “Get really close and do real damage”. Guy took the course with some of his summer job co-workers, at American University building and grounds (which seemed mostly a way to pay jocks in the off-season; it was a fairly rowdy crew). The instructor, a fairly small fellow, later became a well-known karate teacher. The crew at AU said the instructor’s dream was to teach karate to the Ohio State football team—with all that muscle mass they would be able to break not just bricks but tree limbs, and wipe the floor with any other karate school. That crew told me that Guy had used the training successfully in an altercation in Ocean City. (Guy told me he made it up; there were a lot of tall tales swapped in that group. I was never entirely sure.) Guy found the job; I joined him for the second and third summers before college. Moving furniture is good for the soul. Being a high school boy on a college campus in summer was good, too. We played word games while carrying boxes—holding our own with the college student-athletes on the crew.

Guy was in the stage crew at Archbishop Carroll High. One year (probably his sophomore year) he celebrated St. Paddy’s day by using stage powder paint to color his hair green. (I think he washed it out before going home, but maybe not.) I remember him jumping up on a table at a pep rally and doing a dance called “The Monkey” (picture a monkey climbing a rope, hand over hand). One of his stage crew friends, watching, told me “Now, that takes guts! You’ve got a lot to live up to!” (I was also in stage crew and drama, following him.)

Guy was in the drama club at Carroll, played a role in “Stalag 17” but I can’t remember what role. As a freshman at Mackin High he had a role in “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” playing the officer-author character. The role I really remember was as Cromwell in “A Man for All Seasons” (I played Archbishop Cranmer). During a break at one rehearsal Guy declaimed the “Silence” speech from the trial scene, stalking forward from backstage, out to and beyond the edge of the stage, ending the speech standing on the railing of the iron stair leading down to the orchestra pit. He had good balance, timing, and a whole lot of self-confidence.

Guy and I delivered newspapers, starting very young.   Guy delivered the morning Washinton Post, I did the Evening Star, but very early Sunday mornings we sometimes walked together where the routes overlapped. I remember walking through pouring rain with him, wearing ponchos (Boy Scout gear, of course), chatting, trying to keep the papers dry and mostly succeeding. Guy said “Nice night for ducks”, I responded “God help sailors on nights like this”, and Guy answered “I expect He does”. Funny what sticks in your mind…cheerfully-shared adversity, I guess.

At a Troop 496 Camp Roosevelt summer camp one year, when Guy was Senior Patrol Leader, Dad came to my tent during siesta and asked me to check that Guy had a spare summer uniform in his pack (he did.) I found out why that evening. The troop held a first annual “Order of the Fly” ceremony, with Guy as King Fly, Dad as MC. The ceremony was patterned after the much more serious Order of the Arrow [Scouting’s Honor Society] Tap-out ceremony. As each candidate was brought forward he faced a series of senior scouts with “fly” designations—and the last was the “letterfly” (accompanied by a smack with a soaking wet towel!). The surprise was, with the last “Let ‘er fly!”, along with the candidate, Guy got soaked with a couple buckets of water. It was hilarious (and the last bit only worked as a “first annual”). A couple of other senior patrol scouts did the honors, with Julian Rocha’s assistance.

When Guy and I were learning to ride bikes, we first learned to stay up after being launched; and needed catching (or crashing into convenient fences) to dismount. Dad told us that whichever of us first learned to mount and dismount without assistance would get a trip to Glen Echo Amusement Park as a reward. Guy won, and I felt that life was unfair—Guy (then) was enough taller that he could straddle the bike and keep it upright for launch. A few inches shorter, I had to use the pedal to mount, and that took longer to master. (Dad took both of us to the Park, and Guy got extra rides as reward. It seemed fair to us both.)

Dad got Guy a car, senior year in high school. A little, used four-door, four seater Fiat with seats that reclined all the way flat. (WAY cool.) We put a green “racing” stripe on it, but failed to account for the curvature of the hood. (My fault, I think.) The curved surface produced a curved stripe. Nonetheless, it was a cool car. Guy and I double-dated to a drive-in movie (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater), parking just out of sight of the VW bus with the rest of the family. Every so often a sibling would come over and offer us some popcorn (or some other excuse). (We actually did not need the reminders! Out of sight was definitely not out of mind.)

Meg, I remember going over the GW bridge on that trip to Boston. I think Mom was more green than Guy.

Guy loved dancing. He and his friends (including girls from Ursuline Academy in Bethesda) would get together and try to create new dances to the latest rock and roll. The Ursuline connection (I think) was: one of Guy’s close friends was Mike Cisar in St. Jane de Chantel parish on Old Georgetown Road, quite near Ursuline. The de Chantel teen club held dances (mixers), and Guy and Mike met some Ursuline girls there (including perhaps Marion and Mary Ellen) (link: not likely!). It was more a group than a set of couples. They sometimes got together at our Cabin John house; Meg and Jeannie may remember being pulled into the dancing.

Guy also loved to sing. He sang the Simon & Garfunkel song “I am a rock” often enough that, some years later (when we were in college) one of the Ursuline girls asked me “Is your brother still a rock?”

But, in the sense of that song, Guy never, ever was.

3 thoughts on “Happy birthday, Guy

  1. Darling,
    This is a beautiful entry to begin your blog with. I loved reading it, and I love that you have started your blog!

  2. Vic,
    I knew that you would have more to add to my Guy stories. Who better than his best friend and closest brother? The rest of Guy’s siblings had so much to live up to. We thought so even before he became the family legend.

    Thank you for wonderful memories to add to those I already had.

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