Downhome Magazine

Richard's Ritual

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Back when I was a young boy of seventeen, I attended school on what we here in NL still call The Mainland. The school was located in eastern Ontario and was run by a religious order. The student body was male only and came from as far west as Ontario and east to Newfoundland. They came from many different backgrounds, some even from different cultures as some of their families were recent immigrants to Canada. Some of the students had been there before and some, like myself, were first-timers. For many of us it was our first time living away from home.

As we settled into our new environment, we made friends along the way with other students who had similar interests or talents. I myself became friends with a couple of other fellows, one from Nova Scotia, the other from northern Quebec. We slept in the same cubicle in the dormitory. We each had our own bed and two-door wardrobe for our clothes and other things. Lights went out a 9:00, everyone was expected to be in bed at that time. We were told to shower every night before going to bed, which was fine except the showers were in another building adjacent to ours. I'm sure you've heard it before, the expression that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," but in this case they were separated by three flights of stairs, four floors and another building at least a quarter mile away.

My newfound friend from northern Quebec wasn't French as you might expect. He had an Irish surname and his first name was Richard. Now, Richard was something of a unique character in himself. A kind of slow deadpan in his delivery - he could have been a great straight man in any comic duo. He was funny in his own way and could be real serious when the occasion called for it. Most time he combined the two and easily moved from one to the other, so you could never tell if he was serious or not.

Soon into our friendship, Richard, who slept in the bed next to mine, decided that my accommodations needed a nightly ritualistic cleansing. Why he came to this conclusion, I don't really know. At first I thought it might be something I did, like break wind in my sleep or something. As far as I remember I didn't do that, but who knows what happens when you're asleep. This nightly ritual of his started early in the school year and continued until the Christmas break when he went home and I went further away from home to Toronto.

Now. Wen lights went out at 9:00 everyone was supposed to be in bed. The student director would make several tours of the dormitory every night to make sure everyone was obeying the rules. He would from time to time catch a student reading under the cover or out of bed talking to another student, but Richard was never caught. Which led me to believe that divine intervention was at play. Maybe Richard was performing a worthwhile function and the powers that be were simply providing the space and time for him to share his worthy service to mankind.

As I said before, we each had our own bed with a tall wardrobe beside it to hang our clothes, with some drawers and shelves to store smaller items like socks and underwear. Everyone put their dirty socks in a sock bag which had your name on it.

The ritual began shortly after lights out. Richard would get out of bed, open his dirty sock bag and smell each sock separately until he found one that smelled bad enough for the purpose at hand. (Now, it should be noted here that Richard could have been a considered a connoisseur of dirty socks. He took great care to find just the right smell, not just any sock would do. I often wondered if he suffered from any sort of brain damage in later life due to his pursuit of excellence.)

With the dirty sock in one hand, he would repeatedly wave the sock out over my bed as if he were at a funeral. He would make several trips around the foot of my bed and both sides while uttering strange incantations in a language known only to himself. He was very serious and solemn as he performed his nightly ritual. I would pull the bedsheet over my head to keep out the awful smell. (Over time, with repeated washings, the bedsheet provided less protection from the sock, and as I said, Richard really knew his dirty socks.)

This went on every night until Christmas break. Shortly after our return to school, Richard's father passed away. Richard went home for the funeral and when he came back he was, as one might expect, a little subdued and solemn. We were all young and death was a strange and frightening concept to most of us. We all tried to be a source of comfort to our friend, after all, it could have been any of us.

That night though, I went to bed feeling a little relieved - surely Richard wouldn't be in any mood for his ritualistic practices. Alas, I was wrong. He did get into bed at lights out, pulled the covers over himself and lay back to sleep. But suddenly in the darkness I heard him say "I almost forgot!" and with that he got out of bed and began his usual routine with all its stinky piety and reverence.

I haven't seen him since those days in school long ago, but I always wondered what became of my good friend. Yes, Richard knew his dirty socks, but he also knew about demons. He figured any evil spirit worth its salt and seeking the ruin of souls would visit our cubicle in the dark of night and think, "the poor souls in those beds are already rotting in Hell and have been for some time, judging by the smell," and pass us by.

Cyril Griffin
New Perlican, NL

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