A Year of Living Wednesdays

Daughters disrupted, sons snuck a peak, curiosity insatiable as to what could make their fathers erupt in sudden laughter, then pause in unbearable silence.

As with all things ironic, we first met on a Tuesday. After a pair of rotations, we agreed that Wednesday was a better evening for all of us. The reasoning was practical, but the symbolism was not lost on us. Middle of the week … Hump Day … Gets me through to Saturday. Who have we been all these years? The founding brothers of the Lambda Alpha chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity, many from the Wake Forest University class of 1987.

One of us had the notion to invite the brotherhood in for a Facebook Live chat, but the platform proved clumsy after a fortnight. We migrated to Zoom, and began our weekly reunions in Brady Bunch fashion. For those who’ve come after us, consider this a history lesson of sorts. All references will be intuitive to those children of the 1960s who didn’t really know the 60s, who grew through childhood in the 1970s, and came of age in the 1980s.

We all kinda-sorta knew bits and pieces of our unshared history, the years and months and days since we had all departed the Reynolda Campus by 1990. There were doctors, businessmen, teachers, administrators, lawyers, and other sundry-shop occupations among the collection of brothers. There were marrieds and singles, parents and those without grey hair and balding heads. There was a shared curiosity to learn and relearn, to reacquire a common story, to update a database.

In the beginning, nicknames came storming back with abandon: Luther, Beast, T, Ving and others returned to the lexicon. What followed was a discussion on how those monikers came into existence. Like most stories learned from older fellows, there was a fair amount of truth, challenged by an equal dose of fiction. So be it. We all deserve to be outsized heroes in our lives.

Nicknames gave way to sordid and honorable achievements. Greek week exploits, trips to Sigma Nu national headquarters in Lexington, Virginia, and those unforgettable roadies. During our time at Wake Forest, the brothers of Lambda Alpha had no local history to learn; we were forced and compelled to create our own. Each minor endeavor turned instantly into lore. As we looked backward toward Priazo signs and Dean Reese encounters, other forgotten branches to each tale forced buds into flower.

Reality intervened. A pair of brothers tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, each recovered. Others shared their medical treatments unrelated to the virus, and we held our breath as we awaited the outcomes of their procedures. We knew without voicing our thoughts, that we were all one step away from a similar diagnosis. Such is the state of the mid- to late-50s man of 2021.

Wisconsin. California. Massachusetts. Florida. New York. South Carolina. Kansas. New Jersey. Maryland. Texas. North Carolina. More than one-fifth of the United States represented itself in this assemblage, throughout the year. Spring of 2020 brought plans for a reunion in Charlotte, knowing for certain that we would have this thing under control by the fall. Summer brought sunshine and warmth to all of us, accompanied by the realization that this virus would not be controlled so easily, so quickly. Reunion plans were scrapped, and fraternal siblings recommitted to the weekly Zoom.

Things got so busy at one point, we established breakout rooms so that everyone could be heard. Poochie, Monty, Babar, Mama, and little sis Trish and all the rest were shunted off, against their will, to converse in small-group settings. When we reconvened as en masse after ten minutes, each quietly confessed that the breakout rooms had been a good idea. Of course, no one heard these admissions, as we were all grasping at the microphone.

That’s one thing about Zoom. There’s nothing natural about it. You can’t break away from one clique and join another; you have to be escorted that way by a higher power (the host.) You can’t look left or right, excuse yourself with an I’ll be right back, and take up with another troop. Ghosting is downright hilarious on Zoom. Many were the meetings when one or more simply vanished, leaving the remaining participants to lol and shout Did he just ghost? After some consideration, we realized that said (and anonymous) brothers had honed this skill in the real world, back in Poteat Dorm, and had simply and efficiently transferred the skill to the virtual kingdom.

As host of the weekly engagement, it has been my job to serve as equal parts announcer, welcomer, and emcee. As names appeared in the waiting room, I paused to consider the best way to announce the arrival of a new contestant. I channeled my inner Trebek, my best Vanna smile, and relayed to those in attendance the impending appearance of another member of the cabal.

There is one member of the brotherhood who won’t have the chance to join us, other than in chapter eternal. William Bradley Rudolph, aka Grinch, left our earthly assemblage far too soon, at the age of 48. Seven years have passed, and we tell stories to remind ourselves of his contributions, and the reality that, sooner or later, others will join us. In hoc, Grinch.

We still have a dozen or so members of the troupe, who have yet to make an appearance. Lamont, Ah-Whoo, Perky, et al … the invitation is always yours. We plan to continue until things return to what we always knew, before March of 2020. Then, the reunions will reconvene, in small and large numbers, to celebrate what we had lost, and what will have been generously returned to us.

In the fall of 2020, Brother Rob went out for a late-night, gas fill-up in Annapolis. He went radio silent on Zoom for a while. Some accused him of ghosting, while others assured themselves that he had rotten connectivity, and had entered a dead zone. Brother Wally was knee-deep in another story about the trials of growing up in eastern North Carolina (with equal parts superiority to the childhood of the northern aggressors) when a knock sounded on his door. His smile ran from ear to ear when, instead of Uber Eats, he returned to the camera’s eye with Brother Rob. It was the first and only time that two brothers were in the same, physical space, throughout this entire trip round the sun.

Here’s why this moment mattered: Brother Wally had graduated in the spring of 1986. Brother Rob came to Wake in the fall of 1987. Despite a mutual group of brothers, they had never met in person. Just like that, mid-Pandemic, they were breaking bread on a shared sofa. We all paused, wiped our eyes, made excuses for the tears and lumps in our throats, and recognized that there was much to appreciate in our present and in our future. Thank you to Wake Forest, Zoom, and the brotherhood of Sigma Nu, for this year of living Wednesdays.