University of Houston Honors College Founding Dean, Ted Estess, will read from his new book—Fishing Spirit Lake -- at the Friendswood Public Library on Thursday, March 26 at 7pm. Ted Estess tells stories not just about the South or fishing or fatherhood or loss but also about the pattern of a life...stories in which we can find both the confusion of a life and the wisdom to make sense of it, to make it whole.
Also, Sybil Pittman Estess, nominated for Poet Laureate of Texas in 2009 and 2015, will read from her new book of poetry, Like That: New and Selected Poems.
The excerpt below is from Ted Estess’ story The Importunate Giver found in his book Fishing Spirit Lake:
…That's the way it is with much that we do in life, certainly with teaching. You get up every day and do what you do, putting life and soul into it. You're on stage, playing your part, and hoping to play it well. You get immediate gratification just from the performance of it. In the case of a teacher, some students respond and perhaps learn a few things.
Then that class, that task, that job, is over and you say, “I’ve had a good run,” and you move on to the next act. Then twenty years later, if you are lucky, you get a letter thanking you. You are glad to get it. It brings something back you thought you had lost and makes you think that what you did counted for something.
But if a teacher is trying to give something, the student must receive. Some don't, or can't.
Ed Zogby ran into this problem more than once. One year Zogby was spending the holidays in Utica with his family. When he got up on Christmas day, he decided to drive the fifty miles back to Syracuse to visit the Jesuits who had remained at Le Moyne. They were older and without family and he would cheer them up.
So Zogby left his family in Utica and drove in a snow shower across the frozen hills of Upstate New York to Syracuse and found his way to the Jesuit residence on the college campus. Walking down the hallways, knocking on doors, hailing fellow priests on Christmas day, he was pleased with himself, a regular Tiny Tim bringing joy, turning chill to warmth, loneliness to fellowship.
Rounding the corner, Zogby saw Father Frank Fingerhut, the treasurer of the college, coming his way. Another opportunity to bring much needed good cheer.
“Frank,” he told me that he had said, “it's good to see you, Frank. How aarrrre you, Frank?” Father Fingerhut was getting on in years, so Zogby spoke loudly, and his voice rattled down the corridor, all the way to the president's suite. Father Reilly stuck his head out to see who was making all the noise. Zogby cringed at disturbing the president of the college on Christmas day.
“Hello, Eddie,” Father Fingerhut said. “Is that you, Eddie?” Father's Fingerhut's eyes were failing a bit; and in the shadows of the hallway, he had trouble making things out.
“Yes, Frank, it's me, Ed Zogby. How aarrre you, Frank? How aarre you?”
“I'm fine, Eddie, I'm doing just fine. As far as I know, Eddie, I'm doing fine, just fine.”
“Frank, I drove over from Utica to wish you a Merry Christmas.”
“What's that, Eddie? You drove over from Utica?”
“That's right, Frank. I drove over from Utica.”
“Eddie, what were you doing in Utica? It's bad weather out there, you know, Eddie.”
“I went over there to spend Christmas with my sister and her family. They live in Utica, Frank.”
“Oh, I see, Eddie, I see.” Zog told me that he had intended to talk with Fingerhut for a few minutes, but it seem like the conversation, such as it was, would never end.
“What are you doing here, Eddie? I thought you were in Utica with your family. But, Eddie, why did you come all the way over here from Utica?”
“I came over here, Frank, to wish you a Merry Christmas.” And puffing himself up again like a rooster, Father Edward Zogby, S. J., leaned up on his toes and crowed, “So, Merry Christmas, Frank. Merrrrry, Merrrry Christmas.”
“Why, Eddie,” Father Fingerhut said, “you ought not to have done thaattt!”
Zogby came back to the office from the holidays still hyperventilating over Fingerhut's reply. He told me, “Estess, I tell you what I should have said. I should have said, ‘Listen, Fingerhut, I didn't come over here in a snowstorm from Utica because I ought to. I came over here to wish you a Merry Christmas. The least you could do is say thank you.’ And raising his voice even further, Zogby repeated, ‘The least you could do is say thank you!’”
That's the way it sometimes goes for gift-givers, especially for impulsive, importunate ones. Sometimes they have things they can't give away, things that others won’t or can’t receive.
“What size shoe do you wear?” I was standing just inside Zogby's office. It was a spring day in Syracuse, and after six months of snow, sprigs of green were finally breaking through.
“Pardon?” I said.
“What size shoe do you wear?”
“Really? Nine-and-a-half?” Zogby got up from behind his desk and came to the side and bent over. With one hand on the desk for balance, he pulled the laces on one of his shoes. Slipping it off, he said, “Here, try this on.”
“Ed,” I asked, “what are you doing?” By this time he had both shoes in his hand and was standing in his sock feet.
“Try these on. I think they'll fit.”
“Ed, I'm not going to take your shoes.”
“Here, just try them on. Don't you like these shoes?”
“They are nice looking shoes, Ed. That's not the point.”
“Well, try them on. You'll like them.”
“Ed, I'm not going to let you walk out of here in sock feet.”
“It wouldn't matter. No one would notice.”
“Ed, that's crazy. You keep those shoes. Besides, I wear a four-E. My football coach always said, ‘Estess, other than an elephant you're the only thing in captivity that makes a round track.’”
“Did he really say that? That's funny.”
“Yeah, that's what he always said. Because I wear a four-E.” With that, I thought that I had deterred Zog in his importunity.
“These are wide shoes,” he said. “Made off a wide last. Just try them on.”
“They won't fit me, Ed. I can see. They won't fit me.”
“They'll stretch. You wear them a few days, they'll stretch. It's good leather. See here.” As though he were selling not giving, Zogby bent one of the shoes double and put his thumbs in the sides and stretched the leather.
“Ed, I'm not going to take your shoes. Thank you, I’ve got to go.”
I escaped down the hall, passing our colleague Al Hennelly before reaching my office, Room 222. Zogby appeared at my door. I looked up to see him in his sock feet, shoes in hand.
“Here, try them on. If they don't fit, forget it. Just try them on.”
“Ed, get out of here, please? I am not going to take your shoes.”
Father Zogby turned and walked, sock feet and all, back to his office. I went to the door and watched him go down the hall, the shoes held together in his right hand. He looked like Charlie Chaplin lost on a deserted street, growing smaller and smaller the further he went. All he needed was a cane and bowler hat. Our colleague Al Hennelly looked out his door to see him walk by. Al chuckled. He couldn't imagine what Zog could be doing walking down the hall in his socks. Al looked to me. I shrugged.
I felt bad.
I still do.
At least I could have tried them on.