Apolonio

APOLONIO

I opened the letter, and read the words “one P please”. This is how Apolonio spelled his name, but I had faulted and given him an extra P. We didn’t correspond much; our acquaintance was mostly in person, and my fond memory of him persists to this day.

Ap, I will use this abbreviation of his name henceforth, was a teacher at Sacramento High School. He taught mathematics, but I knew him as a gymnastics teacher. It was routine in physical education classes to get a taste of all the sports, and I took a liking to diving somersaults, flipping around on the horizontal bar and the rings, so I joined the Gymnastics Club.

We met on Thursday evenings at the gym, perhaps fifteen of us. Ap gave us some instruction, but it seemed we learned more from each other and by trial and error. Error is not a good way to learn gymnastics, but we had no serious injuries. Ap was not a good teacher. He knew his subjects very well, but didn’t know how to teach, and had no concept of discipline. I took no math courses from him, but I recall visiting him in one of his classes one day on some matter. His class was in complete disarray; students walking around, talking, laughing, and seemingly unconcerned about quadratic equations.

He may not have been a good teacher, but he was intelligent and artistic. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology around 1924. He told me that his father had been a personal secretary to J.P.Morgan, and he inherited $100,000 dollars from his father’s estate. Sounds good, but the financial debacle of 1929 left him with very little. He said his first job was as tutor to Richard Smart, the son of the owner of the Parker Ranch in Hawaii, and later became a well-known Broadway entertainer.

I have no knowledge of what he did between the Parker Ranch and teaching at Sacramento High. I first met him in 1934. There was a mystery about his past – some rumor that he had been dismissed from teaching for some impropriety with a student, but he had been re-instated.

He had a pear orchard out of the town of Camino, near Placerville, about twenty acres on Cable Road, the road, that often paralleled the Michigan-California Lumber Company railroad, to the cable across the American River. He spent nearly every weekend there, improving it, adding to his house, reading and listening to music. He invited some of us students on weekends, riding up in his Buick convertible. He brought all the food and did all the cooking. He expected some work of us, but we didn’t contribute much. My favorite chore was splitting wood for the kitchen stove. He never finished building his house; it kept growing, another room here, another room there, not at all fancy or proper or sane. Lots of rugs around, lots of beds, lots of books, but apple boxes for book shelves, and no magazines were ever thrown away.

Ap had a strange gait and other body motions– rather feminine, and it took us a while to realize he was homosexual. I don’t know about my friends, but he never made advances towards me. I recall him standing nude in front of the fireplace after showering, toweling off. He was a handsome man with a beautiful body, but I was not turned on. The townspeople were aware of his character, and probably wondered why we young men were visiting.

I enjoyed Ap most when he and I were alone. He exposed me to a few cultural things I didn’t get at home; he painted, rather well, in oils; he listened only to classical music; he had visited Europe several times and showed me museum books he had bought. He listened to the Texaco radio presentation of the Metropolitan Opera every Saturday morning, and I had no option. He never stopped thanking me for placing a radio speaker in his outside work area. It wasn’t difficult –I merely fastened two wires to a certain two prongs on the amplifier tube, but he thought I was a genius.

After high school my visits with him were less frequent. My summers were spent in the logging camp of the company that had its headquarters in Camino. Occasionally, now, I would drive up alone or with a friend for a weekend. One time I arrived to find his sister visiting him from New York. She had spent the week there, while he, in Sacramento was teaching. She was distraught; the windows had no shades or covering. She had tacked sheets and newspaper over them. The house was well shielded by forest, and no other house within a quarter mile and she was alone with no company and not happy. Though little acquainted, I enjoyed her, but she left for Eastern civilization in short order.

On one visit, not having seen him for some time, he was in bad physical shape, and quite depressed. He had answered a personal ad in The Atlantic Monthly, and had gone to Texas to meet the person –he didn’t give me any of the details. He woke up in a hospital, his face smashed and ribs bruised. He said the police found him unconscious in the gutter. Being gay was a dangerous life.

At another visit, I was really surprised to find he was married. This didn’t make sense, and didn’t, even after he explained. One of our friends had gotten a woman pregnant. The friend was still a student in college, while she was an older woman, divorced from an ex-senator of California, and it would have destroyed his life to marry her. So Ap, in friendship, married her. The woman immediately got a divorce and was granted support for the baby. Though Ap continually got court orders to pay, he never sent a dime. The woman and her ex came up to Ap’s Camino house and cleaned it of all valuables.

Ap had a way of defying court orders. A stream separated his property and the water rights belonged to the Larson family farther down. Ap installed a hydraulic pump in the stream and day and night pumped water up to a tank on his property. Court orders told him to stop and desist, but he didn’t. Many years later I met Mrs. Larson at the State Fair in Sacramento, and I mentioned the incident. She didn’t remember, and had only nice things to say about Ap, which pleased me.

Ap was getting older; I was getting older, and married. I took my wife and children to see him, but he had two snarling dogs that cut our visit short. He was becoming a recluse, and probably needed the dogs for protection from vandals. There were other visits over the years, shorter, but I still enjoyed them.

Sometime in the late seventies I took Cari, my current wife, to see him. His house had been torn down and a new one erected. No one was there, but I knew it no longer belonged to Ap. Ap had a cousin, Libby Hatch, who lived near Sacramento, whom I phoned. She said Ap had deteriorated and was in an assisted living home near Placerville. Cari and I called on him there –a depressing residence. And he was even more depressed, though quite rational. He complained there was no one there he could talk with. We knew he enjoyed our visit, and it was therapeutic for me though I knew I would never see him again.

Within a year I received a letter from cousin Libby. Ap had died.

Ap was a combination uncle, friend and mentor to me. He stimulated my thinking and provided recreation for me and my friends. In retrospect, I sometimes think of him as a tormented soul. Those were not good years to be homosexual. Did he have choices? I don’t know. Did he influence others to try same-sex activities? Many years later I became acquainted with a woman divorced from René Coty, of the Coty perfume family. She said that she knew Richard Smart when living on the French Riviera, and that Smart was gay. Did Ap have any influence on Smart and other boys? I’ll never know, but Ap, you had a good influence on me.

George W. Parker
September, 2009

Leave a Reply