The Cruel World
Mick Morse's high school yearbook shows that he was Mr. Everything.
By ROY PETER CLARK
Jane Morse grabbed the razor from her son's hand.
"David, I told you: You are not to use your dad's razor."
"What the hell's wrong with you, Mom. What's the big deal?"
"I've bought you your own bathroom stuff," she said, almost in a panic. "I just don't want you using your dad's razor."
"Well it's not like he's got AIDS or anything."
Jane rushed to her own bathroom, closed the door and wept. David's words shook her. She knew what her son did not yet know. That his father, Mick Morse, did have AIDS. But he insisted that she tell no one, not even her own children, and the burden of that secret threatened to crush her.
The weight she carried was not just the knowledge that he would die, or fear for her own health or her children's. It was also the weight of mystery - of not knowing. She did not know who her husband was. How can you be married for more than 20 years and have three children and still not know? The questions came to her as she stared at her face in the mirror. Was Mick gay? Had he been living a secret life? How had he gotten AIDS?
He told her that he had gotten it from sex. Someone he had picked up in a bar.
"A man? A woman?" She had pleaded with him to tell her. But he locked the secret tight.
"If it was with a woman," she thought, "wouldn't he have told me that?"
She could only conclude that he had gotten it from sex with another man. It was unthinkable. Not Mick Morse, the boy wonder of Fennville, Mich.
Meghan Morse, Mick's oldest daughter, keeps her father's high school yearbook close to her, on the bookshelf next to her bed. She has always enjoyed looking at the youthful photos of her dad. Reading about him was like reading about a young American hero.
The 1957 Fennville High School Reflector provides an everlasting tribute to the character and accomplishments of the young Michael David Morse. In the yearbook he is called by three names: Michael, Mick and Mickey. Mickey Morse sounds right for the times, a year when Mickey Mantle and Mickey Mouse were capturing the country.
His yearbook picture, the formal one, shows a smiling young man, his brown eyes brimming with intellect and promise. A short athletic haircut is butchwaxed in the front. Of the 34 graduating seniors, Mick clearly is king. He lettered four times in three different sports: football, basketball and baseball. He was president of the student council, a singer in the boy's chorus and president of the Future Teachers of America. He was voted most-popular and got to deliver the graduation speech. The book says of Mick: "This guy has brains, there's no doubt about it. He'll go a long way, with luck or without it."
Meghan especially enjoyed reading the dozens of autographs in her dad's yearbook. The kids in the '50s would sign "your pal" or "your chum" and use expressions like: "remember the swell party we had after the football game."
These scribbles make the Reflector a mirror of Middle American values. There is Mick, the future teacher: "I really don't know how you expect me to get through my senior year by myself, Mick," writes a girl named Barb. "In my Freshman year, you used to come over to Walkers and help us with Algebra."
There is Mick, the singer and musician: "Remember the fun we had practicing for the May Festival Oklahoma Scene," writes Norma. "We sure were scared that you wouldn't be able to make it that night after your accident in Baseball."
Mick lost his four front teeth in a collision at first base, a repeat of an injury he received when he quarterbacked the football team. There are dozens of references and jokes about it in his yearbook, along with a little cartoon of Mick's teeth flying out of his head. "Lots of Luck in College," writes Carol, "and take it easy on the girls and teeth!"
Building on the Morse family tradition, Mick is a dedicated leader on and off the playing field. So attests his coach, Sam Morehead: "In all my years in athletics, Mick, I have never had such a dependable, competitive, hardworking, able, and intelligent player and leader. Coaching you has been a rare experience. Your ability and accomplishment have been phenomenal, your scholastic level makes us all proud, your school citizenship record is great, and we are all so humbly appreciative for your willingness to sacrifice yourself completely to lead us to victory and through defeat."
Even by the standards of the Eisenhower era, Mick was a straight shooter, but no square. There are stories of dances, parties, spiked drinks, and cruising to the "passion pit." Mick liked to drive. He is pictured next to a cartoon car that says on it: "Elvis ... Go Cat ... Cool Man ... Hound Dog ... and Be Bop."
Mick has a pretty girlfriend named Mary Lou, with short bobbed hair, dark eyebrows and a sweet smile. She is only a sophomore. She clearly idolizes Mick and in her long, soulful inscription worries that when he goes off to the University of Michigan, he will change. To prevent that, he should remember the good times.
"Remember your party at the Legion Hall, Barb's crazy basement parties, Judy's hayride, and Bev's party when Warren was in high spirits. Also singing in George's station wagon?" Their prom was special: "I'll never forget that night."
Her final words to him: "Well, Mick as you leave the halls of old Fennville High and venture out into the cruel world, I want to wish you the best of everything. It's been so great knowing you and I'll never forget you. I hope our friendship will last always!
P.S. Be good on your trip! The old ball and chain!"
Near the end of the yearbook is a page of about 30 candid snapshots with funny captions. Mick is pictured several times: debating with a girl, at student council, going for a rebound. His baby picture has the caption "He's cute!!"
One photo shows him facing another guy, who mugs for the camera with a skeptical look on his face. Mick has his arms around his neck. The caption reads, "True Love Never Dies."
Jane would think years later of the irony of that joke. It was a gay joke. Back then, of course, the word gay meant something else. But in its own way, she realized, that little joke said much about the cruel world in which Mick Morse would one day find himself.
"True love never dies." Jane believed in that idea, even after all that had just happened. True love never dies. If it's true.