Harry, My Old Roomie
Yesterday I learned that my college freshman year roommate, Harry E. Yeide, is now in a nursing home. That saddens me. Greatly.
Harry and I sat on the front porch of the Sig House, the old Van Rensselaer Mansion in Williamstown MA, in late May of 1953, days before our graduation, wondering where time, talent, and energy would take us.
Harry was the smartest person I've ever known well. No one, absolutely no one, could beat him in hearts. I was pretty good at card counting, but Harry seemed to be able to look through the back of the cards in my hand to their faces. More to the point, Harry was a Poly-Ec major (a cross disciplinary subject, political science and economics) long before "the dismal science" achieved its popularity in this moment of our fascination with and contempt for Wall Street. His major professor, Emile Despres, was reported to have said that in every class discussion Harry came up with at least one brilliant idea.
The first night of our freshman year together in Sage Hall, Entry F, ground floor, we swapped dirty jokes through the wee hours. That's what eighteen year old boys did in 1949. If predictable, still not in most congregant's minds, a suitable way to spend the midnight hours for a couple of fellows who found themselves at the same seminary in 1957. Harry, a Lutheran, went on to a career in college teaching, most notably as a professor at George Washington University. He poses, holding one of the books he authored, in his study at the top of the page. Dr. Yeide, once head of the Religion Department at GWU, was, I learned from one of my confirmands in the Long Island congregation who attended GWU, the hardest grader she ever had. Sounds like Harry: not mean, just exact and exacting.
His wife, Betty, whom he met and married while at Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she was enrolled in the School of Sacred Music, recounted Harry's reasons, the predicable ones, for his entering a nursing home: dementia, incontinence, and the need of a walker. But I can still see him in my mind's eye at Weston Field on the one-third mile track running the two mile race for alma mater. He wasn't our best distance runner, but that he did it again and again impressed me with the intensity of the persistence he brought not just to track, but to everything he did.
What saddens me the more is Betty's report that his sense of humor has departed. Oh, I once would have gotten some wry smiles and not a few shakings of the head out of him recounting our first night together sharing sleazy tales. Or we might have gotten a glazed eye or four remembering our last night at college when the future spread out before us like a blank page on which we were going to write a noble narrative. I never did get to ask him about his theological passions, though I dearly wanted to. In an Email a few years back he referred to me as the "mightiest Methodist" he knew. I wanted to press him for an explanation.
Years and years ago, maybe twenty-five of them, during the brief space Barbara and I were empty nesters, we drove to Washington D. C. to see the cherry blossoms. One evening we went to a movie theatre in the northwest corner of the capital. We parked on a side street. Returning to the car after the movie, I noted the name of the street on which we had parked, Ingomar Place. Inadvertently we had landed at Harry's home where he lived when he was in high school and his Dad worked for the government. I rang the doorbell at the house I thought was Harry's, but no one answered.
I got Betty to promise me she would give Harry a hug from me the next time she visited with him. It's not likely he will remember his old roomie. But his old roomie sure remembers him.