It was my first day in my Sophomore year in high school and we were being seated alphabetically (more or less) and I found myself sitting behind a slender blonde kid named George DeCat. I got to see the back of his head a lot in the next three years.
George’s real name was Joris and he came from Belgium. His Dad brought his family with him when he was assigned to the Belgian Consulate in San Francisco for three years. And so George came to SI.
The Jesuits didn’t know what to do about George at first. St Ignatius College Preparatory was arguably the best school academically in all of San Francisco and there were 37 of us (out of about 200) enrolled in the honorary classical diploma program which meant two years of Greek to go along with the four years of Latin, four years of math, etc. The trouble was that George was the youngest person in the Sophomore class, a year or two younger than most others. He probably should have been enrolled in the Freshman class but he already had excelled in all of the courses that SI offered for the ninth grade. I guess that says a lot about education in the US compared to Belgium!
And so George sat in front of me for three years and my friend Dan Flynn sat two seats behind me for those same three years. We all graduated in June, 1957 and each went our separate ways. I went across the street to USF (also known as SI 2) for four years. Dan went to Santa Clara University, forty miles south of San Francisco. And George went back home and attended the University of Louvain. In the 60s George came back to California and received his Master’s degree from UC Berkeley but most of his classmates were unaware that he ever came back.
Life went on for the three of us. George had a successful business career in Belgium. Dan went to Georgetown for his law degree and settled down in the Washington, DC area. Dan and his wife Kate moved to Verviers, Belgium about 13 years ago. I saw Dan every now and then at one of our five-year reunions. And George showed up for our 40th reunion. That was the only time the two of us saw each other in 55 years.
One day a couple of years ago I connected with Dan on Linkedin and sent him a note saying my wife and I were planning to travel to Belgium the following year and were wondering if we could meet up over there. I also asked him for George’s email address and then sent a similar email message to George. And so we met on one weekend in May in Belgium, Dan and his wife Kate on Saturday and George and Jacqueline on Sunday.
Dan and Kate met us at the train station in Aachen on Saturday afternoon, May 26, 2012 and after a quick tour of that city drove us to the American Military Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle to attend the annual Memorial Day ceremony (see my two previous postings for more details on our visits to Aachen and Henri-Chapelle). We then drove back to their home in Verviers for dinner and spent the night in a nearby B & B. On Sunday morning, May 27, 2012, we took the train from Verviers to Brussels and then transferred to another train going to Nivelles, a small town about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Brussels. George met us at the station and brought us to his home a few blocks away to meet his lovely wife Jacqueline who served a delicious lunch on their backyard patio.
We had a lot of catching up to do during lunch and dinner. As the wives got to know each other I told George about working for Kaiser for 35 years, about meeting my wife-to-be at work, about marrying and raising two daughters and now taking care of four grandchilden. George had a similar story: He went back to Belgium after obtaining his Master’s, met his wife-to-be soon after (at church, no less!), raised his family of four and retired (like me) at a relatively young age. Their eldest son was working in Africa but his family was still close by. We could tell that George and Jacqueline were very close to their grandchildren. In fact, they talked about their grandson who ran a half-marathon that very day and placed very high, his best time ever. Of course this led us to reminisce about George’s days at SI when he ran on both the track and cross country teams. George then continued talking about his children. Their other son is still unmarried and living close by. Both daughters, though, live in England: one, still single, in London and the other, married with one son, in Yorkshire. George, Jacqueline and their two daughters work out their travel plans so that they all see each other at least twice a year.
After lunch George took us on a tour of the greatest attraction in Nivelles, the medieval collegiate church of St Gertrude, while Jacqueline stayed home and cooked dinner for us. My next posting will be about our grand tour of St Gertrude’s.