“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

— Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

I, too, have a few regrets as I approach a very big birthday, but no biggies. I regret not moving to Paris in 1958 to live in an atelier to paint and write. I didn’t know what an atelier was, but it sounded like fun. Then one winter day, I ran into this French girl from Maine, and I figured, why waste the plane fare?

I would have liked to become a cowboy. I loved cowboy movies as a child. One Christmas, I got an entire Tom Mix outfit, complete with hat and two tin guns; but then, at age 11, I was forced to live in Seattle with a crazy brother who made me groom his two horses. After two years of shoveling manure on weekends, the Tom Mix thing lost its charm. For those of you too young to remember Tom Mix, you may substitute Kevin Costner.

I still regret not buying that old Chinese junk. While visiting Hong Kong on R-and-R in 1953, four of us saw an ad for one for sale. I liked the idea, but the others wanted to go home. I regret that. I could be living there now under Chinese rule, floating around in a Hong Kong bay and eating great dim sum seven days a week. The good news is that I still exchange emails with Sui Han a couple of times a month. Long story.

But my biggest regret is not having become a monk. You may well scoff, giggle and snort, but as a child, the idea of donning the brown robes appealed to the seeker in me. I imagined how cool it would be walking around the neighborhood in sandals and swinging the belt rope.

This idea started in Catholic school in the fifth grade. It was one of the first-ever “bring someone to school” days. Alan Powers brought his father, who was a detective, and John Desnoyer brought his uncle, who was a fireman. We had grown up with them and already knew their stories. Alan fell asleep.

My brothers were all away at war, so my cousin Pete, who was 4F, volunteered to stand in. Pete owned a saloon called The Four Aces and he joyfully listed the biggest problem drinkers in the neighborhood and how funny they were. Sister John Bosco, who took her name from the saint, sent a note home with me. True story.

Later that month, the brother of one of the sisters came for a class visit. He was a real monk and looked just like the statue of St. Francis in the hall. He wore a brown robe and talked about how they made bread and got honey from bees at his monastery. I thought that was wonderful.

He talked about singing at Mass, and how they spent the days working in the fields with the bees and flowers, and eating soup for lunch and supper. I liked singing and I loved soup. I was hooked. I remember raising my hand and asking where his convent was located. He reminded me that it was a monastery, not a convent. The kids snickered.

I went to the library that summer and read all I could about monks and was surprised at how many different kinds there were. Some make a vow of silence. I planned to skip that order.

When I was in high school I saw Edward G. Robinson in “Brother Orchid,” about a gangster who takes refuge in a monastery. It was quite a revelation. They were all old guys, really old, not a young monk in the bunch.

Years later, I did get to play a priest twice, on stage and television, but never a monk. I still think walking on stage twirling that rope belt would have been fun. I am old enough now to be a monk, but there’s the matter of the French girl from Maine, the one I canceled Paris for. Who would open jars for her? I should have been a cowboy.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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