My limp, perspiring frame was draped over a table in a small railway station in a small Spanish town.
“Want some water?” my sister asked.
Something like “uhnnnnh” slid out of my mouth.
I blamed my brother-in-law. Larry, a college prof, was on a Fulbright Scholarship at the university in Alcala de Henares, Spain. It’s where Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote,” was born.
We found ourselves in Salamanca during my visit. It’s in the western part of Spain and home to the third-oldest university in the world. Six U.S. Fulbright scholars had gathered there.
Dinner ended at 11 p.m. The others went to bed. Doug was on a Fulbright in Barcelona. We were both 30, single and wondered if Salamanca had a nightlife.
Spain is said to have more bars per capita than any other country. It sure seemed like it. I returned to my hotel at 6 a.m., two hours before the train was to leave.
Soon, the sun was shining at that small railway station. A castle loomed about a mile away. There was time to visit it before the next train. That castle seemed to hang from the sky at a daunting distance. I said that I would guard the luggage.
Chivalry was not dead, but hung over. So badly that chivalry was still hung over the next morning in Segovia. I toured it with Larry and Jane anyway.
Larry, who died with a day left in 2020, was also the reason that a few years later I took morning showers in a medieval Scottish castle while calling out to ghosts.
As participants in the “Wisconsin in Scotland” program, Larry and my sister lived with a bunch of college students for a few months about 20 minutes outside of Edinburgh at “haunted” Dalkeith Castle.
The Scots have historically been a bloodthirsty lot. Like most of Scotland, the Dalkeith grounds had been arena to many deaths by terrible means, leading to ghost stories that were brought to life that late October.
Dalkeith Castle is cavernous, with a dungeon. The students made expert use of the joint to create one of the great haunted houses in Scotland’s Halloween history, the Scots not being all that big on the holiday. Why restrict fright to just one day when you can draw and quarter people all year long?
I called for ghosts as I shaved in the shower each morning. “I have razor blades. Come and get ‘em, Grey Lady on the Staircase.” Nothing.
One student drew drama from the ghost story of a dead nanny, leading me to consider that a prof needed a high level of tolerance to live for months with his students, who rushed to the train station each weekend in search of Salamancas.
Larry seemed to hit the sweet spot for accepting all this. I suppose a relaxed attitude is best to survive more than three decades of teaching Native American literature, detective fiction and autobiography to college kids who see ghosts.
Larry was a Dallas native who created and directed the Writing Center at Wisconsin-River Falls. He co-directed a project to infuse literature by women of color into the curriculum and was honored twice for his positive influence on first-year students.
At the university in Spain, he had helped launch a program in North American Studies.
Larry had been jousting with cancer for a few years when we sat in Florida at the start of 2020 and watched “Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.” The three contestants were the crème de la crème. The questions were brutal.
For a guy whose brain had taken a drubbing in Salamanca, I did OK.
Larry sat there, not lording his Ph.D over us as he quietly answered nearly all the questions. My wife has mentioned this about a half dozen times since.
Larry could chat, knowingly, about cooking or baseball or music; about films, literature or geography. He and my sister made an envious number of trips to pre-hurricane New Orleans jazz joints.
A cancer screen in October at the prestigious Mayo Clinic indicated that Larry, 69, would be here in 2021.
Sometimes, even the champions get it wrong.