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Over Troubled Waters

David's high school graduation


Morse family photo

David's high school graduation in 1989 was emotional. David, left, would go to college in St. Petersburg. Mick and Jane would move to Spain with the girls.


By ROY PETER CLARK
Special To The Times

Back in 1957, Mick Morse stood on the stage before a graduating class of 34 kids from Fennville, Mich., to bid a valediction to his friends and classmates. Some of the girls in the class had begged him not to make the speech "too sad," but Mick could hear their sniffles as his words ushered them through this rite of passage from high school into the cruel world.

Now it was 32 years later, June 1989, and Mick found himself at yet another high school graduation. He was principal and acting headmaster of the American School in Rio de Janeiro. And now his only son, David Morse, was graduating.

As his father had done years before, David stood on the stage before 60 classmates and a small auditorium filled with friends, family members, faculty and school workers. Even David's friend Ed Pares, who had been expelled for a long list of transgressions, snuck into the graduation ceremony to hear David sing.

Jane gazed lovingly on her son. She had to admit that he was a man now and not her little boy. His athletic physique, dark wavy hair and bright smile made the high school girls swoon.

His father, Mick, sat at the piano and began the chords of a familiar ballad. David began to sing: "When you're weary ... feelin' small, When tears are in your eyes ..." His voice cracked with emotion.

It was a difficult time for all of them because the Morses would be leaving Brazil, leaving their home, forever. David would be going to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. The rest of the family would be moving to Spain.

They didn't want it that way. For a year, Mick had performed well as the acting headmaster of the school, even as he continued his work as high school principal. It was a grueling combination, and Mick's friends and co-workers were worried about him. He seemed buried in his work, and somehow older and more frail, not the boyish looking administrator they remembered from years ago.

He seemed out of breath and fatigued. But that was certainly from the stress and disappointment of being turned down for the job of permanent headmaster. The Board of Directors admired Mick, but he was too closely associated with the administration of the former headmaster, and they were looking for a change.

Jane was furious. In the past, she would only come to the school to check in with the children's teachers, or to deliver her famous chocolate sheet cakes as gifts to the secretaries. She was admired for not interfering in the politics of the school, as other administrators' spouses had done. But this was too much for her. She barged into the little administration building and complained to anyone who would listen. Mick deserved better than this. He had given everything he had to this school. He was working so hard, it was even affecting his health.

The family's pride required them to leave. Mick would be a headmaster after all, but it would mean a move across the Atlantic to the American School in Bilbao, Spain. Mick and Jane would never forget their experiences in Brazil. They had been profoundly changed here, in ways they could barely have imagined. But it was time to move on.

"Let's start over," said David Morse to his father, who sat stoically at the piano.

"Come on, David," said his dad, "get a hold of yourself." If anyone knew how to control his emotions it was Mick Morse. It was the essential part of the Morse Code, and he had tried to pass it on to his son.

David took a deep breath. "When you're weary ... feelin' small, When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all." His voice got stronger. "I'm on your side ... when darkness comes, And friends just can't be found. Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down ..."

As David reached the song's crescendo, he could hear the sniffles from the audience. From his sisters, who would be leaving their friends. From his classmates, who might never see David again. From Jane and Grandma Ruth because, well, because that's what mothers and grandmothers do. And from Mick's friends and colleagues, who were worried sick about the man they had come to love and respect.

THE SERIES: This is the 13th installment of a 29-part story.
Next: Chapter 14, Jane in Spain


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