“To be, or not to be,” that is the big question Prince Hamlet asks of himself and others in the play by the same name from the quill of one William Shakespeare.
According to the CliffsNotes I glanced at once or twice instead of reading Shakespeare’s literary masterpiece in the ninth grade, Hamlet is discouraged by what he claims is the unfairness of life and considers whether he should continue on or exit stage left to that big theatre in the sky.
I’m not sure how a prince of such wealth could find much wrong with life, but perhaps he just never discovered his purple rain.
What I am sure of is retirement gives me time to investigate a few matters I have not contemplated in more than 20 years. Thanks, Mr. Shakespeare, for such a great query to ponder just how the heck I came to be Dougie and not someone else.
What led me to this very place, time and identity? Was it karma, fate, kismet, destiny, God’s plan or a two-buck Greyhound bus ticket dad bought at Buzzard’s Café one afternoon in downtown Sturgis, Kentucky?
I will go with God’s plan since I am a devout Christian. But, somedays, I can’t discount fate or the power of a $2 bus ticket in placing me in Vincennes right now.
Perhaps I should elaborate on that last statement, but I’m not that fancy of a writer. I’ll just explain it a bit.
After my dad graduated the eighth grade from Sturgis Junior High, he felt a pang of wanderlust or what Papaw Carroll called a “hankering of sorts” to experience what lay outside the friendly confines of Union County, Kentucky. He found his way out of the rugged streets — um, let’s make that ruffled streets — of Sturgis thanks to his only sister.
She and her husband moved north to Lawrenceville, Illinois, to be near a brother-in-law, and they invited Dad to come up and stay for a while. Stay he did, for at least the next 15 years during which he met and married my dear mom and I was born on a cold, January morning at Good Samaritan Hospital.
All this came about thanks to a discounted one-way ticket from Greyhound.
Just stop here for a moment, dear reader, and think about what has transpired in your life to put you where you are at this very moment in time consuming this award-winning prose. Any Greyhound tickets involved?
Thus, I became the first born of a Roman Catholic mom and Southern Baptist dad despite having more than 67% Irish blood running through my veins, according to ancestry.com DNA.
Family lore has it I became Catholic instead of Southern Baptist after my parents flipped a coin and the Pope won three out of five times. This coin flip I look upon more as providence than fate.
I can’t sing worth a lick and that is a huge requirement from what I have observed at the Southern Baptist services over the years. The Southern Baptists I know and love sing and dance so brilliantly during worship while yours truly was born with two left feet and vocal chords.
What this world doesn’t need right now is a screeching Southern Baptist.
That coin flip also led me to my first place of education — St. Lawrence Elementary in my boyhood hometown. I went through the sixth grade at St. Lawrence before my mom, brother and I had to move to Cleveland to live with grandparents.
Without a doubt, I firmly believe much of my personality and moral identity came from attending that little Catholic school near the corner of Collins Avenue and Tenth Street.
There, as a first-grader, I met the twin towers of terror, Sister Bonaventure and Father J. Ralph Arnold.
The first encounter came with Sister Bonaventure, who served as both teacher and principal for St. Lawrence. She stood 7-foot-1 and was blessed with the shoulder width of a Notre Dame linebacker.
Okay, I know she was not close to being seven-feet tall but, from where I stood as a first-grader that day, all I remember is straining my neck to look up at the most authority I had yet experienced in life.
What sin, uh, I mean offense, did I commit during this first encounter? I did not immediately stop and line up when the bell rang to end recess, so Sister Bonaventure swatted my backside with her bare hand.
Believe you me, she hit like a Notre Dame linebacker.
Rumor around the playground (well, at least among us boys) was Sister Bonaventure worked as a Chicago bar bouncer several years before entering the religious life. Fortunately for her, back in the 1960s at St. Lawrence, she could simultaneously practice both.
There would be several more swats and other assorted admonishments for me from Sister Bonaventure, and today I thank her for every one of them.
Father Arnold stood 7-foot-6 at least and was blessed with the shoulder width of Mean Joe Greene. Father Arnold much of the time was filled with grace but on other occasions, uh, well, hell hath no fury like a Pittsburgh Steeler priest scorned.
Not only did Father Arnold demand you toe the line in church and at school, but as a citizen as well. More than once I witnessed Father Arnold reprimanding St. Lawrence students for improper behavior while out and about in our little town.
What’s that old adage? Firm but fair?
Father Arnold was firm — oh how I and my backside do remember that — with his swats, yet fair to listen to a kid’s side of the story and give them the benefit of the doubt. Honestly, I only got one lick from Father Arnold since his stern vocal demand for 10 Hail Marys and five Our Fathers was enough to rectify any problem.
And I thank Father Arnold for that one lick and all his words of discipline.
So, to review, the bus ticket is connected to Lawrenceville; Lawrenceville is connected to my parents’ marriage; my parents’ marriage is connected to my birth; my birth is connected to the coin flip; the coin flip is connected to being a cradle Catholic; being a cradle Catholic is connected to St. Lawrence; St. Lawrence is connected to Sister Bonaventure and Father Arnold, and that’s how little Dougie was made. Or at least formed as person before puberty.
The way I look at it, not bad for a two-buck bus ticket.
Doug Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.