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  • Tommy Thompson

5th Interlude: "St. Mary's"

Updated: 1 day ago

"An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge."

Also, by this point in time (late-1969), I had begun my freshman year at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Got in there, believe it or not, on a scholastic scholarship. Go figure. Guess the nuns and my mom (she was an English teacher & a Librarian) did a better job on me than I ever gave ‘em credit for.

So, my mom insisted that I live at school in order to get that entire on-campus experience. And because she was paying the additional part that the scholarship did not cover - and she was still relatively ok with me continuing on with “this band thing” on the side - (that is, as long as I kept up at least a B+ average at school) - I decided to throw her a bone and moved into an on-campus dorm room.

Now, that entire time in my life, though interesting to me, would no doubt bog down

both you and the entire story. So, I will keep this very short.

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes.

It involves Russia.”

- Woody Allen

I lived on campus. This was a highly respected Liberal Arts College. A Catholic Liberal Arts College. I graduated in 1975 with a 3.46 GPA and a B.A. in my split-major: Philosophy and Religious Studies. 54/1,000ths off my mom's previously required 3.5 grade point average, but close enough to keep her happy...and me still in the band without causing World War III.

Hey, with our band - as well as my other bands after Cookin' Mama -

it took me six long years to finish the damn thing and finally graduate, k?

And, in all honesty, even though St. Mary’s was a Catholic college, I must say that during all of my 6 years attending that institution I had only one experience with only one teacher who tried to cram Catholic Theology down my throat.

The rest of the teachers, some of them of the Christian Brothers Order, always encouraged free-thinking. And an open-minded tolerance to all of the very diverse and different ideas and beliefs which were discussed at length in class. These dialectical discussions were carried out between all of the students, as well as with the professors.

Average class size? 10 - 15 students. Everybody got a shot at participating. Very cool

As I just mentioned above, I majored in both Philosophy and Religious Studies. Which is what they called a "split major." Hence, we read, studied and debated with each other all of the main ideas and beliefs in those areas:

Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant theologians). The different forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Shinto from Japan. Daoism from China. The Arab philosopher Zoroaster (whose teachings in the ancient Arab world pre-date Islam by centuries). Atheism and Agnosticism. And a large complement of the early-Greek philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle. As well as many of those philosophers and theologians who came after them. All the way up until our modern times.

Saint Mary's College - Moraga, CA

St. Mary’s Campus itself? Gorgeous. Beautiful and extensive lush grounds in and around the school, classrooms, dorms, library, church, and mess hall. Classic old-school California Spanish Mission style architecture. It was an all-boys college at first. But then later on they went co-ed (Oh, yeah!) in conjunction with Holy Names College and Mills College - which had originally been all-girl schools - both located in Oakland.

I took some Music, Philosophy and Art History classes at each of those two other Catholic colleges. Including a Brass Ensemble class at Holy Names where I tried my hand (or lips, I should say) at learning to play the trumpet.

That didn't go so well.

Nonetheless, even with my lack of ever attaining any decent level of proficiency on tootin' the trumpet, all the classes I took - but, particularly those at St. Mary's - were really intense and very mentally invigorating. I loved it all.

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” - Frank Zappa

Except for the fact that my dorm roommate at St. Mary's was - as fate would have it - a dude I knew from a different Catholic grammar school in Alameda. And the guy was simply a pig. That's all there is to it. Slop and mess everywhere. And even though we weren’t allowed to have any girls in our dorm rooms, that didn’t stop him.

Man, I mean if any of them would’ve been at all good-lookin’, then maybe it would’ve been easier on your humble narrator. But, these gals were – and I’m trying to be kind here – every bit the pigs that he was. OK? Arrghh! So, I logged a lot of time in the campus library doing my homework and class reading.

Then after getting all of that done, I’d spend what little amount of leftover on-campus free time I had just cruisin’ 'round to different dorm rooms. Lookin’ for a shot of courage in one form or another.

And, my brothers n’ sisters, there were drugs n’ booze galore all over the place.

“ Now is no time to think of what you do not have.

Think of what you can do with that there is.”

-- Santiago the fisherman, in Ernest Hemingway’s novel:

“The Old man and the Sea”

But, the main drag for me was that I had to figure out how to transverse the 6 – 7 miles from campus to Rockwell - and my brothers in the band. But I had no car. And no public transportation buses ran in that area. And I didn’t have anywhere near the money for a cab. Nor would I have ever spent that kind of money - even if I would have had it - on a damn “Taxi Cab” ride. Copy that, DiNero?

So. What to do? Hmm? Walk it? Come on. Really? Buy a bicycle and ride it over the Berkeley hills? Or, worse yet, thru that “Tube of Death” known as the Caldecott Tunnel? Which even back then more aptly resembled the Indianapolis 500 Speedway than a freeway? No thanks, Lance. But, hey…it was still the ‘60’s, right?

So, what did’ya do back then when you needed to get somewhere and ya ain’t gots no wheels? Well…you hitchhiked. So, I’d stand out there on the road just beyond the entryway drive that led up to the front gate of the campus (I think it’s called Moraga Rd.), and just stick my damn thumb out like some kind of local hobo.

And, it always worked.

FYI: For those of you who’ve never ever engaged in this sort of teen-aged (or adult, for that matter) tossing-of-the-dice, lemme just share with you the verbiage on a bumper sticker that was extremely popular at the time:

“Gas, Grass, or Ass. Nobody rides for free.”

Me? I always availed myself of either the first or second options. And, if I couldn’t get all the way to Rockwell, I'd find a spot right off the number 24 freeway where my charitable charioteers could deposit my weed-reeking bag o’ bones. Then, from anywhere in that general vicinity, it was about only a 20 – 25 minute walk/jog/trot/run/gallop to Pat’s pad - and Cookin’ Mama. After rehearsal someone always seemed to be around to take me back. Or if I didn’t have an early class the next day, I’d just crash on the Thrall's upstairs sofa and try my luck in the morning.

This very short section about my time at St. Mary’s and the subjects which I studied there, will come back into play later on in the story…

See? I told ya it wouldn’t take too long, didn’t I?

Thomas Victor "Twick" Thompson

Graduation Day @ St. Mary's

May 4th, 1975

(Nice "cross" earring, ya li'l non-conformist rebel)

©2024 Cookin' Mama


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