Sunday Lunch with the COnti's

At the beginning of my second semester at Rutgers, we were all moved from “The Heights” (see my story on my first day at Rutgers) into a new dormitory on campus that had been under construction since the previous summer. It was an eight story building and I had a room on the top floor.

My room-mate had asked me if he could room with another guy from our dorm since they had so much in common and I agreed. We had been friendly enough, even double dating to a Broadway play in New York (we saw Sid Caesar in “Little Me”), but he and the other guy were both Jewish and were in the same major of study.

So it was that I met Raymond Conti who became my new roommate. Ray had been in one of the other buildings at “The Heights” and his “roommate” and most of the guys he had become acquainted with were no longer with us. He was a tall thin guy of Italian-American descent and he lived on a farm along the Delaware River near Lambertville. As curious aside, my first roommate’s father was a poultry farmer from the NorthWest of New Jersey.

Ray was an devout Roman Catholic and this was good because it kept me a bit in line. After I had tried the American Baptist Church in town, I had decided that it was too far to walk on Sundays (especially on bad days) and after 4 weeks, no one had offered to pick me up for youth Sunday School, so I quit going.

Ray then began to pester me to go to Mass with him and it was about this time that his parents began to visit him every Sunday. Ray was an only child and the apple of their eyes and they were proud to have a college student in their family since he was the very first on both sides of the family.

I need to interject here some other information that will become needed later to tie this story together. After I moved to campus, I decided that I would not pay for a meal ticket to try to stretch my meager funds. I had saved enough for the first semester and for tuition, books and lodging for the second. My parents were sending about $20.00 a month, but even in those days it didn’t go far (especially when I bought two cartons of cigarettes a month!). I once ate Cream of Wheat for almost a solid week doctored up with various jellies and honey. I had an illegal hot plate to heat it on and I hung basket out the window to refrigerate the milk and jelly.

Another piece of information is also needed here. Ray was studying Agricultural Science and did well on most of his core classes except Algebra. His requirements were two semesters of math and the first semester was Algebra. I had passed it with a B (and should have had an A, but didn’t take it seriously enough since it was actually easier than Algebra II in Penns Grove High). So, I began my very first tutoring experience by helping Ray understand it.

Back to the Conti family, when they visited, they brought cheese, salami, bread and they snuck in wine. They sat around Ray’s bed and shared a simple meal, but only after being assured that Ray had attended church. I usually went out into the lounge area and watched TV or studied to give them privacy. One Sunday, Mrs Conti told me that they had brought enough for me as well, if I liked Italian bread with olive oil, Genoa Salami and various Italian Cheeses. I tried to defer, but she and Mr Conti insisted. So, I began eating with them each week that they visited with the caveat that I went to church. I did draw the line at the wine, which I had only ever tasted once before (in fact, at that time, I had never had a mixed drink or a beer). So it was that I became a nominal Catholic for one semester.

Those lunches probably kept me going and I am sure that Ray told them I didn’t eat much due to lack of funds. I know they would have offered anyway since they were that kind of people, but this was an extra incentive to help.

One Sunday toward the end of the semester, Mr Conti gave me an envelop containing a $50 bill as he explained it was for helping Ray pass math. I gave the money back explaining that I did it for several reasons; I liked Ray, They fed me and I liked to help people. When I went to bed that night and placed my hand under the pillow, there was the envelop! The Conti’s were not to be denied.

Ray applied for a dorm room on the Ag campus that was on the other side of town, so we only saw each other occasionally after that semester, but I have great memories of him and his parents. I also know the Roman Catholic Mass in Latin!

Davdan @ 2008-2018