Life at a boarding school isn’t how most people imagine it. Sure there was rigid discipline and our days were strictly structured, but we also had a lot of free time, and we made the most of it.
In 1985, I was in the seventh grade. It was the first time I attended Morris School for Boys for an actual school year. I had gone to summer school there the two previous summers, so I had plenty of time to acclimate myself to the lifestyle I was expected to lead for the school year.
I had also come to know many of the monks who staffed the school and their individual personalities. While I remember every staff member who worked there and have fond memories of each of them, one in particular comes to mind whenever I think of my days at Morris.
Brother Thomas More was a tall, thin man with a quiet demeanor. He had a very thick accent that sounded almost German. Many of the students thought he was from Germany, which he denied. I believe he said his family was from Pennsylvania. He was reserved and slow to anger. In my time at Morris I had only seen Brother Thomas lose his temper once.
It was the beginning of class and we were having opening prayer. Two non-Catholic boys in my class began to speak gibberish during the prayer and laugh at each other. Brother Thomas immediately stopped the prayer, seized each boy by the ear and dragged them into the hallway for a loud lecture on proper respect for the religions of others.
He was also very animated when it came to facial expressions. When he was surprised, he would often jump back slightly and his jaw would drop open, a motion I would call “Puppet Surprise,” because of how closely it resembled the expression of a puppet on “Sesame Street.” It was his animated facial expressions that made Brother Thomas a target for an April Fools prank that got huge laughs from my classmates, but got me and my friend Bryan Henderson thrown out of class.
Bryan and I had been wracking our brains trying to come up with a good prank, and we finally settled on one involving the chalkboard. Brother Thomas gave a lot of information in his lectures and used the chalkboard to write out key terms and information we were required to know for exams.
We grabbed the erasers and placed a small piece of chalk in the midsection of each one so that when Brother Thomas went to erase something he would end up making a mark instead, which we knew would elicit the “puppet surprise” reaction and get lots of laughs from the rest of the guys.
We decided to take our prank a little bit further. We rigged up two of the erasers with some fishing line, which we ran across the floor, so it would not be seen, and connected it to our desks. When Brother Thomas became frustrated with the other erasers he would reach for those ones, and when he did Bryan and I would tug the fishing line, causing the eraser to slide down the chalk tray away from the surprised teacher.
Class began with no one the wiser to our prank. As we predicted, Brother Thomas wrote on the board and tried to erase with the rigged erasers. Each time, his reaction made the class laugh. When he reached for the eraser strung to Bryan, it flew away from him causing him to jump and drop his jaw. When reached for the eraser connected to me, I yanked my line and the eraser flew away from him. Another “puppet surprise” and the class was in an uproar with laughter.
Brother Thomas was left shaking head in disbelief. When he finally figured out the prank, he frowned and asked, “Who is responsible for this?” Bryan and I were still laughing when we raised our hands. The only thing he said was “Get out.” Bryan and I looked at each other, knowing we our asses were grass and Brother Thomas would be the lawn mower.
We sat outside the classroom contemplating what our fate would be.
We knew there would be a beating involved, and we would be put on the campus list. An unfortunate student on said list could not leave the campus on the weekend and had to do extra chores while the other boys enjoyed going to town or home if permitted.
Class soon ended and Bryan and I prepared for our punishment. To our surprise, when everyone left, Brother Thomas wasn’t even angry; he was laughing. He said it was one of the best pranks he had seen in all his years of teaching, but cautioned us to take care who else we pulled it on.
I respected Brother Thomas a lot more after that, and not just because he didn’t punish me, which I was grateful for, but because he also taught me the value of humility and being a good sport. You should never take yourself too seriously or you’ll miss out on the little bits of fun life has to offer.