Brandon’s Boys

Chapter 11
Gene Hillebrand

            After being on the streets for about a year, Gene Hillebrand had at last found a safe home, and considered himself very lucky.  There were those who never found a safe place.  They usually died young.  But Gene had been arrested, if that’s what it was, by Nathan Winter in 2009 and brought to Brandon’s Boys.  There, he was given the support he needed, and so he finished high school in 2011.  At the May commencement of Baltimore High, Eugene Frederick Hillebrand walked across the stage and accepted his diploma.  He was the first of Brandon’s boys to graduate from high school, and they all had what Clarence called “a bitchin’ party” to celebrate.  Gene graduated a year late, but that he graduated at all is due to his being taken in as one of Brandon’s Boys after being thrown out by his homophobic father.  He was very proud of this achievement.  He even sent his parents an invitation to the graduation, which caused his father to go into an angry fit.  His mother, Virginia,  secretly attended his graduation and congratulated him, but she was a mousey creature, never willing to stand up to her husband, and so could offer Gene nothing except her verbal support.

            Brandon’s boys was not set up to deal with boys who had reached legal adulthood at 18 and graduated from high school.  And so, for some time prior to this occasion, Brandon and Gene had talked about what he would do next.  Gene indicated a desire to teach at the high school level, and so Brandon arranged for him to receive a scholarship from the Todd Educational Foundation to finance his college studies.  With Brandon’s help, a plan was worked out which would help Gene to maintain contact with the other guys at Brandon’s Boys.  Rather than living on campus in a dormitory, Gene was provided with a room at the Warren, a boarding house only a short distance in from Brandon’s Boys group home on Chestnut Street, into which he moved right before Memorial Day.  For the summer, he and the older boys at the group home worked for Harvey Brothers Construction Company, so he maintained contact that way as well.  When school started up in August, he would still be at the Warren, and so only a few doors away from the group home, where he was invited to stop in for meals from time to time.  And so the first graduate of Brandon’s Boys began to settle into a new life as a responsible adult.

            In August of 2011 Gene, now 19, matriculated at the University of Clifton.  He was able to attend because Brandon Dowling provided him with a scholarship, but he also earned a minor scholarship on his own.  It was not enough to pay his way, but it did show that he was performing academically, not just depending on someone like Brandon to see him through.

            Gene wanted to be a teacher on the secondary level, but was not entirely sure of his subject matter.  He was more or less equally attracted by literature and history, because they dealt with people, and their study could help us to understand people better.  That’s why they were called Humanities.  Gene would have liked to have Dr. Bradley W. Todd as his academic advisor, as he knew him because of the links between the Todds and Brandon’s Boys.  But for the academic year 2011-12 Dr. Todd was on sabbatical, and, in fact, as the fall semester began, he was in West Africa doing something professional.  It was not clear to Gene exactly what, but he would ask when Dr. Todd returned.  And so, with that option removed, Gene decided to go the History route.  At the University of Clifton, those seeking secondary certification could major either in their subject area or in Secondary Education.  Because  he was undecided, Gene initially declared himself simply a Secondary Education major.  His experience during orientation, advisement, and the first few days of classes caused him to change that quickly.  The orientation meeting for Secondary Education majors was a crashing bore, with several professors trying to act like undergraduates as part of their effort to be relevant.  Then, when it came to actual advisement, the students were herded into a large classroom, and given generic advice, but no personal contact.  His course requests were stamped with the professor’s signature by a graduate student, but he never exchanged ten words with an actual faculty member.  There was no one to whom he could talk about what he really wanted to do with his life.

            On Thursday, the first day of classes, Gene attended his class called Education 101, Introduction to the Teaching Profession.  It was required of all new Education majors, so Elementary and Secondary majors were tossed together in one section of a multi-sectioned course, theoretically taught by a member of the faculty of the School of Education.  In fact, as Gene quickly learned, the faculty member might show up once every week or two.  Most of the actual instruction was carried out by graduate teaching assistants, and most of them did not seem to know any more than he did.  Oh, they could spout the jargon.  There was plenty of that.  But whatever of substance they said seemed to Gene to be just an application of common sense.

            By way of contrast, Gene was also signed up for History 101, History of Western Civilization.  This course was taught by Dr. John Andrew Pallavicino, who was a specialist in the Italian Renaissance.  It was a fairly large class, of about 75 students, but Dr. Pallavicino actually lectured at each class meeting.  He had two graduate assistants, who took roll and would help with grading papers, but the professor was there and involved in the subject matter.  He explained in the first meeting that having everyone take a survey of Western Civilization was not intended in any way to denigrate other civilizations.  He recommended that History majors, in particular, take at least one course in a non-Western history, such as China or India.  However, he said, “You are living in the United States, and the history of the American people is part of Western Civilization.  If you want to understand where we came from as a nation, and why we do things as we do, then you need to study Western Civilization.”  He went on to define Western Civilization as the blending for four significant elements from the ancient world.  There is the Greek contribution, which is summed up in the world ‘philosophy.’  By this, he said, he meant the emphasis on logical thought to understand the natural world around us, rather than relying, like most ancient peoples, on mythical or religious explanations.  With logic, there is a pattern, and a predictability to the world, whereas with the mythical approach it is arbitrary.  Things are the way they are because the god or goddess said so, and it could change tomorrow.  The second important contribution to the formation of the West was that of the Romans.  While they tended to be a pretty bloody and unattractive culture in many respects, they did have one important contribution.  That was the ability to organize things.  From Roman law to the Roman Empire, and even to such matters as grammar, it was the Romans who were the supreme organizers.  They also contributed, as part of this, the concept of a public office as distinct from a personal authority.  He mentioned the History of Rome written by Cato the Elder in which only one personal name appeared, and that was the name of one of Hannibal’s elephants.  It was always “the consul” who did this or “the tribune” who did that.  A third important element in the makeup of Western Civilization is the Judeo-Christian contribution.  This is the concept of the transcendent God, the God who is above nature, and is the author of nature.  The gods of the Greeks and Romans were a part of nature.  They were natural forces which the pagans felt they had to deal with.  Zeus is the sky and thunder.  Hera is the earth.  Apollo is the sun and artistic inspiration.  Artemis is the moon and hunting.  Aphrodite is female sex and reproduction.  Adonis is male sex.  And so on.  The names are different for the Romans, and later the Germans, and other peoples, but the concepts are the same.  But the Jewish God, and afterwards the Christian God, is something different.  Not a part of nature, but the creator of nature, and hence the arbitrator of what is natural and moral, and what is not.  Not limited by natural forces and desires.  Something on a different level of understanding.  The power which holds everything else together and makes sense of it.  Dr. Pallavicino also noted that, whereas the pagan gods were satisfied with outward observance, and their own deeds were hardly edifying even by pagan standards of morality, the Judeo-Christian God demanded inner consent and an upright life as well.  It was, in fact, the emphasis on the spiritual, the non-physical, which was the characteristic of this God.  He is transcendent.  And finally, a fourth element was surprisingly, the Germanic Barbarians.  Dr. Pallavicino explained that their contribution was energy.  Energy had been present in the ancient world, but it had died out.  There was nothing new, other than Christian theology, being done or thought in the Classical World after the second century.  No new philosophy: no new literature: no new artistic creation.  It was just more of the same, over and over.  That could lead to some kind of Hindu fatalism, but it did not because of the purely accidental incursion into the Mediterranean world of the Germanic peoples.  Yes, they were crude, and they destroyed a lot.  Even when they admired the achievements of the Graeco-Roman world, they trivialized it, making it crude and elementary like themselves.  But they did re-introduce a dynamism, an energy, into the dying Classical world which the West has never since lost.

            That first lecture in History 101 excited Gene.  He felt like he was part of some great human experiment, trying to refine the best from a variety of sources, and coming up with something distinctively human.  He felt good after his first class in History, whereas he only felt bored and disappointed after his first class in Education.  After about two weeks of experiencing the two classes, Gene came to a decision.  He checked with Brandon, but was told it was his life, and he should follow his own desires, and so he went to see Dr. Pallavicino.  He asked to transfer from a Secondary Education/Social Studies major to a History major, but still with the option of certification at the secondary level.  There were forms to be filled out, but Dr. Pallavicino was very helpful.  He sat with Gene for nearly an hour and discussed with him his goals and ambitions.  Gene felt he was a person, not merely a statistic, for the historian.

            During this same period at the beginning of his freshman year, he was faced with the option of joining a fraternity.  Brandon told him his scholarship would pay the fees and other expenses involved, but the basic decision had to be his.  That was a recurrent theme in his dealings with Brandon.  He had to take responsibility for his own life.  He could not rely on others making the important decisions for him.  Somehow, that sounded familiar.  He remembered a Religion class at Baltimore where Father Hoff had discussed mortal sin.  For a sin to be really serious, there had to be full consent.  You had to be responsible.  Gene also talked to Brandon, to Chris Todd, to Ben Spalding, and to Nathan Winter.  All of them except Nathan had been members of Sigma Alpha Tau, and Nathan’s partner, Gene’s cousin, Frank Hillebrand, had been in Sigma Alpha Tau.  Gene kind of felt he would be betraying some kind of trust if he went with any other fraternity.  During rush week, he checked out the options.  He was impressed with Sigma Alpha Tau’s emphasis on academic achievement, on acceptance of human diversity, and on integrity.  These were virtues which had been stressed at Brandon’s Boys, and they made sense to Gene.  And so it was, Gene Hillebrand applied for membership in Sigma Alpha Tau, and was accepted as a pledge at that crucial meeting on September 13.  Pledge Master Duncan Worden assigned Andy Harvey, a junior Civil Engineering major, to be his mentor, or big brother.  Gene thought that an odd choice, as he seemed to have nothing in common with Andy, but he would do what was required of him, and see how things worked out.

            On September 4, the Sunday before Labor Day, he also attended the cook-out at the Newman Center.  Newman was the association of Catholic students on campus.  The center was a truly impressive structure, with a chapel which immediately appealed to most.  As Gene later found out, the chapel was designed by David Harvey, the head of Harvey Brothers Construction Company who lived across the street from Brandon’s Boys.  He had some help, but it was modeled on the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, and reflected the confidence and order characteristic of the Florentine Renaissance, as Gene would later learn from Dr. Pallavicino’s class.  It was dedicated to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), founder of the Sisters of Charity in America,  with side altars dedicated to St. Catherine Tekakwitha (1656-1680), a Mohawk Indian, and to Blessed Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), the black former slave who helped establish the Catholic Church’s charitable works in New York.  This was diversity Gene could understand.  The Catholic church was, indeed, both catholic and American.  Of course, not all this was on Gene’s mind constantly.  At the cook-out, he was primarily concerned to get something to eat, and pleasant conversation with fellow students.  But this contact did lead to Gene’s decision to attend the meeting of the Newman Club, the Catholic student organization, on the last Wednesday of September.  He had missed the first meeting, on the last Wednesday of August, before the cook-out.

            It was at the Sigma Alpha party for the new pledges, on Friday, September 16, that Gene met Jack Young.  Jack was another new pledge.  They happened to be standing next to each other when Pledge Master Worden informed them that they should enjoy the party, as it was the last one where they would not be working until the end of the semester.  Jack and Gene exchanged a few comments about that announcement, and both went to get something from the bar.

            “You here with anyone?” Jack asked.

            “No.  You?” Gene replied.

            “Well, I know a couple of the brothers, thanks to my older brother, but he’s not a member, so I guess that doesn’t count,” Jack responded.

            “I know some of the brothers, too, but not really well,” Gene said.  With a grin he added, “No one I can count on to get me out of hot water if I screw up.”

            “You planning on screwing up?” Jack asked, returning the grin.

            With an even bigger grin, Gene replied, “No, but you never know.”

            “True, true,” Jack agreed.  “This is good Bourbon.”

            “Yeah.  I wonder whether it will continue this good all year, or if this is just a further enticement at the beginning,” Gene commented.

            A voice from behind them which they both recognized said, “We always serve the best.”

            The two new pledged turned to face Duncan Worden, their Pledge Master.  “Sorry,” Gene said, “I did not mean to be putting down the fraternity.”

            “Okay,” Duncan said.  “Reasonable doubts and questions are okay.  But if I hear you running down the fraternity to non-members, I will have your hides, understood?”

            “Yes, Sir,” both pledges said.

            Duncan grinned.  “Enjoy yourselves.  Oh, and working at the other parties for the rest of the semester is not entirely negative.  After all, they are parties, and you’ll have some time for a free drink of two of our fine Bourbon.  And then, assuming you don’t tick us off too much, at the end of the semester you become brothers, and then you can enjoy all the parties for the rest of your entire undergraduate career.”

            “Nice to know you think we’ll have a long undergraduate career,” Gene commented.

            “We wouldn’t have accepted you if we didn’t think so.  The academic side of things is important.  But not too long a career.  We don’t want a professional student either,” Duncan replied.

            “Four years, and then face reality,” Jack commented.

            “Time enough to adjust,” Duncan pointed out.  “Enjoy it while you can.”

            Duncan then moved away, circulating among the other party-goers.

            “Nice to know we can carry on a decent conversation with the Pledge Master,” Jack said.

            “Oh, was that a decent conversation?” Gene joked.

            “About as decent as you’re going to get at a party,” Jack speculated.  “You’re what?  A Sec Ed major?” Jack asked, turning the conversation more personal.         

            “I was, but I switched to History,” Gene replied.

            “I’m Art History, so maybe we’ll overlap some,” Jack said.

            “I know you’re called Jack, but I’m afraid I don’t remember your last name,” Gene said, making it even more personal.

            “Jack Young,” Jack replied, then laughingly added, “Andrew Jackson Young for you history gurus.”

            Gene smiled.  “I’m Eugene Frederick Hillebrand.  I’m not named after anybody famous, I’m afraid,” he returned, shaking hands with Jack as though they had just met.

            “Believe me, it’s not something you want to wish for.  It can be a real nuisance.  But my dad is a history buff.  Not the same thing as an historian, I know.  He’s fascinate with the War of 1812, so I got named for the victor at New Orleans.  At least, it was not something like Tippecanoe or Van Renssalaer,” Jack stated.  “I don’t know, though.  There are some pretty interesting possibilities.  I could be named ‘Frolic,’ Jack reconsidered.

            “Not unless you want to be captured by the ‘Wasp,’” Gene teased.

            “I see you know the history as well as anyone,” Jack replied.

            “I’m a history major,” Gene said.

            “No guarantee.  You know your stuff a lot better than my history teacher last year in high school,” Jack said.

            “Mine was pretty good, but I just happened to bone up on 1812 because of the bicentenary approaching,” Gene replied.

            “How many people even know that?” Jack complained.

            “At least you’re not named Pakenham,’ Gene commented.

            “Poor guy.  But I’d rather be named for a winner than for a loser,” Jack agreed.  “I don’t know about all Andy Jackson’s policies, like Indian removal, but he was successful at New Orleans,” Jack noted.

            “Let me introduce you to a couple of guys I know named Greywolf,” Gene laughed.

            “Don’t tell me.  Cherokee,” Jack guessed.

            “No, Sioux.  Excuse me, Lakota.  But they still have a pretty negative attitude towards Andy Jackson,” Gene said.

            “In that case, if you ever do introduce me, just make it ‘Jack’ okay?” Jack grinned.

            “Deal,” Gene agreed.

            On the whole, as far as Gene was concerned the best part of the party was his conversation  with Jack Young.  He found it interesting, and he found Jack interesting.  The next day, when he talked with Brandon, Brandon laughed and mentioned that a member of the faculty in the History Department was Justin Greywolf, whose speciality was American Indians.  “If you’re interested,” Brandon said, “I’ll but you in touch with Anna Birdsong Greywolf, wife of Justin’s nephew Cyprian, but also a descendant of Attakullakulla, or Little Carpenter, the Cherokee chieftain at the time of the American Revolution.”

            “Hey, I was not asking for another assignment,” Gene replied, “I was just saying it was interesting to discuss things with Jack.”

            Brandon grinned and noted the name of Jack Young.  He had a feeling it would come up again in conversations with Gene.

            In fact, Jack was in the same History class as Gene.  With 75 students in the class, and most of them freshmen and not knowing each other, it was easy to miss someone.  But now that they had Sigma Alpha Tau and that conversation in common, making contact was easy.  When Gene entered the classroom on Monday, he saw Jack already there, and immediately snagged a place next to him.  The two greeted each other, and passed the time before the lecture began.  After class, both had a free period, and so went together to the Union for coffee and more conversation.  It was then that Gene learned that Jack was living in the Neighborhood, with his grandfather, Maj. Randall Logan.  In return, Gene shared the information that he was living in a rented room in a place called the Warren.  When Gene said the Warren was at 1317 Chestnut Street, Jack looked interested.

            “That’s real near this dude I’ve heard about named Brandon Dowling.  Maybe some day you’ll run into him,” Jack speculated.

            Gene laughed.  “For the last two years I practically lived with him.  He’s set up this kind of group home for guys who don’t have family.  It’s called Brandon’s Boys, and I lived there, next door to Brandon’s house.”

            “You did!  Gee, that must have been something special.  He’s famous, you know.  Do you suppose you could wrangle an invitation for me?” Jack enthused.

            “Sure,” Gene agreed.  “And I do know Brandon is famous, but you’d never know it from talking to him.  A really nice guy.  What time do you finish here today?”

            “Um, 3:00,” Jack replied.

            “Hold on,” Gene said.  “He pulled out his phone, and called Brandon.  “Hi, this is Gene. ... No, I’m not in trouble.  Can’t I call you when I’m not in trouble? ... Okay, I admit it’s been known to happen.  But listen, there’s this guy here who wants to meet you. ... Yeah, how’d you know that?  ... I have? ... Since the party on Friday? ... Okay, if you say so.  Are you going to be home any time after three today? ... Preparing for you class? ... But you’ll have time to meet Jack, right? ...  Great idea.  I never refuse one of Aunt Luisa’s dinners. ... Thanks, see you about 5:30 then.”

            “Did you just get me invited to dinner with Brandon Dowling?” Jack marveled.

            “I did.  That is, if you can tear yourself away from the exquisite cuisine here at the Union,” Gene grinned.

            “Wow!  His film Precocious Grace is my all time favorite,” Jack stated.

            “I’m beginning to get some vibes here.  Are you gay?” Gene blurted out.

            Jack drew back and looked cautious.  “You’re not going to cancel my dinner invitation, are you?”

            Gene laughed.  “No way.  I’m gay.  So is Brandon.  That’s why I got kicked out by my homophobic father when I was 16.  Brandon was a life-saver for me.  I was on the streets for a year, and believe me, that’s no fun.  If it were not for Brandon, I might be dead by now.  He took me in and paid for everything.  Got me back in school, got me a job, got me in school here,” Gene lauded his patron.

            Jack looked at him carefully.  “Are you lovers?”

            Gene laughed.  “No way!  Not that I’d mind that.  Brandon is really sexy.  But he has a partner already, a guy named Chris.  If you like Precocious Grace so much, you should know that story.”

            “That’s true?” Jack said in awe.

            “From what I understand, it’s pretty close to what really happened when those two met.  And the ‘precocious’ part is Chris’s contribution.  It’s his favorite description of himself.  I forgot to ask whether Chris will be at dinner tonight.  They spend a lot of time at the Farm.  Chris is something else on horseback.  But if you do meet him, you’ll never forget it.  He’s one of a kind,” Gene informed his friend.

            “The Farm?”

            “Todd Farm, out in Jouett County, about an hour’s drive from here.  The Todds – that’s Chris’s family – have a horse farm,” Gene explained.

            “I can’t believe it.  Dinner with Brandon.  Hey, maybe that can be the title of this next film,” Jack laughed.

            “I don’t think Brandon is making films any more.  But you can suggest it when we have dinner.  But now, I’ve got a class.  You think you can make it on your own this evening?  It’s 1324 Chestnut,” Gene asked.

            “Yeah, I can find that.  But you’ll be there, won’t you?” Jack said, showing some nervousness.

            “Oh, yeah.  I just didn’t know whether I’d have to come and guide you or not.  See you this evening,” Gene said, as he gathered his book bag and took off.

            “See you,” Jack returned.

            It did not occur to Gene until he was seated in his next class that he had not followed up on discovering that Jack was gay.  That might be interesting, especially if he had no special friend.