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THE FOURTH STAR
By Bill Simmons
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Bill Simmons
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy long time friend and mentor, Jack Marsel, passed away a few months ago. Jack hired me directly out of college to work with him. Jack was like the father that I never knew. Perhaps that is why his death was so hard on me.
Tomorrow, I am to attend "the group's" annual meeting. I had always travelled with Jack on all of his trips. I was never allowed inside the closed door meetings that Jack attended. I was never allowed to discuss anything that Jack and I did with anyone that we met or with whom I was introduced. Perhaps tomorrow, "the group" will share with me the nature of "the group" and my role within "the group". I hope to be assigned the responsibilities that Jack had once carried out in secret.
My name is Robert Mark Candell. I have used so many aliases over the years that it is getting hard to remember my birth name. I graduated from college fourteen years ago. I have worked for Jack and the group since graduation. I do not say company because I do not know who I work for. It sounds strange when I tell you; I have worked for "the group" for fourteen years and do not know who they are, what function they perform, or who works for them other than Jack and me. Perhaps I should take you back to where I believe it all started, although, I have an impression that it may have begun at my birth.
I grew up with my mother in a large Victorian era home in New Haven, Connecticut. My mother was the only family that I have ever known. Once, when I had asked about my father, she responded that he had died before I was born and that she preferred to not talk about the subject again. On another occasion, when I asked about other family members, I was also told that we had no living relatives on either side of the family.
Her only strange response to questions about any relatives was, "we do not talk about family business." Until I was told to write this book, I had no idea what she was referring to.
My mother never worked and yet we always had enough money to take care of our needs. My mother had told me that she had an inheritance. Although, when she passed on, I looked through her bank accounts, bills, and other papers and could find no record of an inheritance. Her house had been paid for around the time of my birth. Her monthly income payments stopped upon her death. When I looked at the bank statements, there was no indication of where the money came from. When I would think back on all of this and what had happened in my life since that time, I had wondered if my father and mother were or had been working for "the group".
Spring was finally beginning to arrive. The afternoon was warm when I arrived home from school. As I came in the door, I heard my mother's voice calling my name, "Robert, is that you?" I followed the sound of her voice and the smell of her cooking into the kitchen.
"Hi, mom", I said. "What are you cooking?"
"I was down at the market today. The fishermen are starting to bring in their catch of fresh shrimp and crabs. I decided to buy some seafood, sausage, and get some fresh okra, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, garlic, and other ingredients. This large pot is slowly brewing gumbo for tomorrow's dinner," she replied.
"What are we having tonight?" I asked.
"Tonight, we will be having some of the leftovers that are still in the refrigerator and need to be eaten," she said.
"Every time that you cook gumbo, I have to smell it slowly cooking for a couple of days before I can have any," I said.
"That is what makes it so good. By slowly cooking it, the flavors of all of the ingredients blend together for a totally new flavor. Without slowly cooking it, it would not taste the same. The aroma awakens your senses in anticipation of that special meal that you enjoy so much," she commented.
"There is no need to get too scientific on me," I said in jest.
"Robert, I have a question for you," she said.
"What is that mom?" I asked her.
"Have you given any thought to what you are going to do after graduation?" she asked.
I was a couple of months from graduation and had not given any thought to what I would be doing after high school. I hated to admit it, but finally said, "Not really."
She was busy cutting some more okra for the gumbo.
"Have you applied to any colleges?" she asked.
Wow, that was the last thing on my mind. It's probably too late to apply. Mom had never said anything about college so I had assumed we could not afford it.
"No, I have not. How would I pay for it?" I asked.
She never looked up from her task. She just titled her head quickly towards the counter and said, "a letter arrived for you in today's mail."
As I picked up the enveloped, the first thing that I noticed was letterhead, "Yale University". It was probably something they sent out to all local high school seniors.
"I will open it later," I told her.
"Why don't you open it to see what they want? I am curious myself," she told me.
Reluctantly, I honored my mother's request and opened the envelope. I pulled multiple pages out. As I unfolded the papers and began to read, I had to stop and check the name on the envelope again. Yes, it was addressed to me.
"Mom, did you apply for me to attend Yale?" I asked.
"No I did not. What do they have to say?" she replied.
I read the first page again and told her, "They say that I have been accepted to Yale. They indicate that I have been awarded a scholarship and all of my classes, books, and any other fees will be paid. They also indicate that I have been awarded a monthly allowance to cover personal expenses. This money will not need to be repaid as long as I maintain a minimum GPA."
As I finished reading the first page, I flipped to the second page.
"This page indicates that I will be working on an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and gives my class schedule for the first semester. They must have me confused with someone else," I told her.
"Robert, when you receive a gift, you should accept it with gratitude. Perhaps someone has heard of your accomplishments and has decided that when you complete college, you would be an asset to them," she told me.
"What accomplishments would that be, mom?" I asked her.
"You do have a 3.6 GPA. What may be more important is that you are multilingual. That would be a great asset if you were to get involved in international business," my mother answered.
My grades were good. Mom insisted that I spend most of my time studying and doing my homework. It did help that she was home and would help me when I had problems understanding something. She was not an expert in every subject. She would always get me to explain the problem that I was having to her. She would ask questions when she did not understand something herself. Usually, while explaining the problem to her and answering questions; I would realize what I needed to know to solve my problem. I never knew whether she did not understand what I was doing or if she was just helping me solve the problem myself by talking it out.
I am definitely multilingual. I do not remember when it all started, but I know I was really young. My mother would take me to an afternoon or evening class designed to help children learn a second language. She would sit with me in class and make sure that I was learning the language. I think she was as much of an instructor to me as our instructor was to both of us. We would go over what we had learned in class while walking home after class. I do not know how many different language classes were available back then, but I think that we attend a couple of different classes every six months or so. The challenge was to remember which language class I was in and the correct word to use for that language. I would occasionally make a mistake and use a word from another language. As the years went by, we studied more languages. We still attended classes on the languages we knew in order to keep our skills up, just not as frequently as the new language. As I got older, I was getting tired of going to language classes all of the time. My mother told me that she wanted to go, but did not feel safe walking home alone after dark and needed a big strong man to walk with her. A little stroke of the ego was all she had to do. At that age, I felt that I was needed and that I could have protected her should something happen. I now realize that it was perfectly safe for her to walk home alone and had something happened, I would have been no match against a real man. In all, we studied and learned over a dozen languages not including our native language of Americanized English.
"Robert, you have spring break in two weeks. We can go to the campus and look around during that week. We can stop by the administration office and ask about the letter. We can go visit the Philosophy department. I can call and make an appointment to be sure someone will be there," my mom offered.
"That sounds good to me mom. Thank you," I said.
"If you have homework or need to study, get to it. After dinner, we have the Russian class," my mom told me as she had done each afternoon after school.
I went to my room to do my homework. While computers had been in use for a while, they were mainly used by the large financial institutions and businesses. Personal computers were still a few years away from their initial development. As a result, all of my math homework was done by hand on a sheet of paper using my brain to compute the answer. All of my classes required that I hand write all of my answers and essays in clear, legible, and correct English. I would usually write the answers and essays on a separate sheet of paper first. After I had gone back over the material correcting any problems, I would then take a little more time to slowly copy the material to the answer sheet or a clean sheet of paper to turn in to my teacher. This process took a lot of time to complete just one assignment. There was not much else to do in those days other than going to school and studying to be a better person later in life.
Spring break was here. Mom had scheduled an appointment with the Philosophy department on Monday morning at ten. We got up at our usual time for a school day, had breakfast, and started to walk over to the campus. The campus was only four blocks from our home. We had our language classes at one of the buildings across the street from the campus.
As we walked, my mom told me, "Robert, when we talk with the people at the school, they may ask questions which I cannot or will not be able to answer. So I may make up an answer for them. If you hear me do this, do not say anything that will make them question my answer. Just pretend that what I am telling them is the truth. Do you understand what I am asking of you?"
"I think so. But what would they ask that you would need to lie about?" I asked. I had never thought that mother would lie about anything.
"I do not know that they will ask me anything that I will need to lie about. In case they do, I want to make sure that you understand what you are to do. We can talk about why I did it when we are walking back home," she answered back.
Our first stop was at the administration office. We looked at the directory hanging on the wall in the lobby to find the room number of the admissions office. As we opened the door and entered the room, the clerk behind the counter got up from her desk and asked, "May I help you?"
My mother pulled the letter that I had received from her purse and while handing it to the clerk asked, "Is this letter from your school?"
The clerk had a confused look on her face. She looked at the envelope, pull the papers out, and read through the papers.
"Yes, it would appear so. Is there a problem?" the clerk asked.
"Can you verify that these papers are correct?" my mother asked.
"You did put in an application to attend Yale and for financial aid?" the clerk questioned.
My mother slowly looked around the room and then told the women in a low whisper, "I am a widow. My son has done extremely well in high school so his grades would not be an issue. I cannot afford to send my son to your university. I have some wealthy relatives who may have done this. They are the type of people who do not want to talk about such gestures of kindness. I do not want my son to get excited about attending your school only to find out later that a mistake had been made. I hope you understand my concern."
"I am so sorry for your loss. Give me a second to go to the file room and retrieve his file," the clerk said as she turned and left the office through another door behind the counter.
I looked at my mother about to say something when she raised her hand, point her finger at me, and moved it back and forth indicating what I took to mean as 'do not say anything'. Being young and not familiar with the world, I was stunned that a few simple, well chosen words would draw such sympathy and willingness to help from the clerk.
A couple of minutes later the clerk entered the office through the same door that she had walked out of.
"I found his file," the clerk said as she laid it on the counter. "Let's see.
Here is his application. Yes, the address matches the envelope. Here is the information that we have from his high school. Here is his grant approval information. Yes. Yes. Yes. Everything seems to be in order. You have a fortunate son," she said as she closed the folder.
"I have one more favor to ask if it is allowed. Can you tell me who his benefactor is? I would like to eventually repay them for their kindness in what limited capacity that I have," my mother asked of the clerk.
I have never heard my mother talk in that tone of voice. Her voice was soft and sincere, requesting more sympathy and willingness to help.
The clerk opened the folder again, looked through the papers, and said, "I'm sorry. I do not have that information. The funds are coming out of a general academic scholarship fund. This fund was established because benefactors contribute different amounts of money. Rather than have a student get through three years of school only to find out their money has been completely used and they cannot complete the last year, we put all of the donated funds into one big pot. We then award scholarships based on the total funds available so that each student awarded will be able to complete their degree. I wish I could have been of more help."
"Thank you for taking the time to give us what help you could," my mother said as we turned to walk out of the office.
We had finished a little sooner than my mother had allowed time for, so we took a leisurely stroll over to the building that housed the Philosophy department. We arrived in the office of the Dean of Philosophy exactly on time.
My mother told the young secretary behind the desk, "We have an appointment at ten. I am Mrs. Candell and this is my son Robert."
The young secretary told us to have a seat in the chairs against the wall. She walked to another door, knocked, entered the office, and closed the door. A few seconds later she came out and told us that the Dean would see us now.
As we entered the Dean's office, Dean Summerville got out of his chair, walked around his desk extending his hand to shake my mother's hand.
"Mrs. Candell it is a pleasure to meet you," Dean Summerville said.
As he turned me, to shake my hand, he said, "Robert, welcome to Philosophy. Please, have a seat."
We sat in the only two visitor chairs that he had in his office which were in front of his desk.
As he returned to his chair and sat down, he said, "Well Robert, what made you decide on Philosophy?"
My mother quickly spoke, "Robert is considering all of his options. We want to understand Philosophy. What makes your program so unique?"
I did not realize it initially, but this man loved Philosophy and was proud of his department. I believe he could have talked for hours if he had the time.
"Robert, Yale has the best Philosophy department of any university in the country. We have the top professors teaching our courses. Our staff and students will help you achieve your goals. All you need to do is ask for help when you need it. You will get the best education possible here at Yale. Let me tell you about Philosophy. Philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia which means 'love of wisdom'. Wisdom is the ability judge what is true, right, or lasting and to decide on a course of actions based on that judgment. It's an insight to the real truth. An intuitive understanding of what is occurring. So then, Philosophy is the study of all types of problems concerning issues such as existence, knowledge, reason, mind, values, and language. It is a systematic and critical approach to an issue and its reliance on rational argument. Our program offers a wide range of topics. You will be assigned an advisor to help guide down a path that will meet your goals. You will be exposed to a wide range of philosophy and philosophers. Our program is grouped into three large areas of study; history of philosophy, metaphysics and epistemology, and ethics and value theory. Within those three areas you can branch out more to other subtopics," Dean Summerville explained to my mother and me.
Excerpted from THE FOURTH STAR by Bill Simmons Copyright © 2011 by Bill Simmons. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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