Harold Vinnoir. He came from Minnesota. He is a Minnesot, not
a Native American, just someone from Minnesota. Rural Minnesota, very
He was a slight child, who never seemed to really fit into whatever
clothes he put on. This unmendable glitch always served to accentuate
the unique way he moved. While his arms hung loosely, his hands would
sort of wag like the streamers from the handlebars of your first new bike.
This signature gait would be most visible on the long solitary walks
Harold would take on the dusty roads that stretched to the horizons
and served as divisions between fields of corn, wheat, sunflower, hay, or
maybe cow pasture.
But whatever uninhabited sort of expanse it was, Harold walked those
pathways mostly by himself, and as he walked and hummed, the
meadowlarks on the utility wires above him would fly up, calling into the
wind, and then assume the same position on the same utility wires, a half
a chorus down the road. Breezes would blow, and the crop would shimmy
and dip, as the hot wind directed, and then the sun would go down in a
great hymn of red and gold, and then the magical spirit fireflies and the
music of brother cricket would commence.
Folks figured out that Harold had music in him. He could sing in church
and had the patience to teach the songs to the other kids.
Shirley Bannister, the spinster choir lady, always with flowers on her
dress and minty breath, once asked him,
“My Harold, where do you find the patience to do anything with these
children, let alone teaching them hymns?”
“Meadowlarks, Miss Bannister, umhmm, you betcha, meadowlarks.”
In the small county school, Harold could learn to play the instruments
other folks had forgotten the names of. There was this music closet way
back in the band room, and it was full of weird horns and things with
strings that someone in the town was in the habit of collecting and storing,
for now, in the forgotten closet. Come the little band concerts in town, into
which Harold was quickly and happily drafted, folks would remark,
“What the hell is that kid playin’ now?”
Harold did well in school. He was an absorbent hard-working student. He played with his sisters when they were all of an age to play, but was
marginalized when their more mature agendas required other kinds of
stimulation. Though he loved butterflies, he himself was no butterfly. He
was not beautiful or very social. But, he was very, very likeable.
He had his music and books and golden sunsets and the attention he
received in church and school, but he feared this existence was somehow
temporary, like a good pair of shoes that might be outgrown or worn
As the smart kids were supposed to, Harold went to college, resolved
that his college career would function to build a mighty fortress for the
moments in splendor and glory which he cherished so very much. Folks
would say things like “aim high,” so Harold aimed high. After a successful
undergraduate career at a large state university, divinity school seemed a
perfect fit for Harold, and Harvard saw his potential.
True, once there, he was no longer the strongest player in the room, but
he gained a great deal from the company he found.
He was now surrounded by powerful, insatiable intellects and a lively
city full of distractions and invitations, of which Harold partook.
He saw class divisions in Boston and Cambridge, the likes of which he
had barely even read about back home. Sometimes there was a color line,
not an issue in rural Minnesota in the ’40s & ’50s. Urban poverty smelled
bad, nothing like a field of alfalfa, and Harold came to feel a kind of guilty
displeasure for having had such a blissfull and untroubled childhood.
He was constantly in the company of very attractive women who seemed
to love his company (and he theirs), though never with any notion of
romance. If a female student showed some possibly tender interest in
Harold, he would see it coming and fly to the next telephone pole.
Harold came to realize in these years that his emerging sexual appetites
were whetted by the men he met, not the women, and Cambridge provided
an ample supply of men who felt the same way.
This development was not expressed in any of the letters home. Visits
back to rural Minnesota just got weird. His sisters loved him and kinda
knew…but their high school sweetheart husbands were their bread and
butter, so they were happy and somewhat relieved when vacations ended
without crisis and Harold returned to Boston.
And he had become worldly. He didn’t really fit in their town anymore,
but, “the Lord works in strange ways, and Harold works for the Lord,
Harold graduated from Harvard with honors, a Methodist minister now
and ready for a career in the Army of the Lord, with a love for mankind
and a kind of man love, empty pockets, and the fire lit in the bellies of so
many Americans by the words of John F. Kennedy. But the big kahunas in
the American Methodist church didn’t send their new ministers off to some
wretched, impoverished dessert village in Africa. The Peace Corps did
that, and anyway, there were wretched impoverished villages in Arizona
and New Mexico and South Dakota and most of the other Western states.
So with high spirits, strong spirits, and the spirit of the Lord in him,
Harold went forth upon the prairie to kindle religion in a house where
dignity and spirit did once abide.
Didn’t work, no sir. Harold couldn’t pitch the product when the truth
about the rubes was they were not rubes at all, just tired run over victims
that the Lord would help no more than they could help themselves, which
was not at all. At all.
Harold could love them, but his love put no food on their tables nor
whiskey in their bottles, and hope and joy began to writhe like a run over
snake with just enough life to feel pain but no more.
Then there was an incident involving a young man on the reservation.
The facts about what happens in these matters of the heart may evaporate,
but there remains a stain, indelible and scarlet. Was he banished from a
hell of another’s creation or did he repent? Oh, bother. Harold was not
marching any more in the army of the Lord. No sir, you betcha!
So where does a fallen angel go to rise again? New Yalk! When
Harold told the tale of his time in the wilderness to the blind and lame at
Columbia, they found the means to see him through a PhD in philosophy
and another in New Yorkology. Harold did not just live in New York,
he bathed in it; he slept with it, and dreamed it, and he rose and twirled with
it, and moved through it like a passion breeze through the heart. As luck
would have it, all of Harold’s talents, patience, and intensity, along with his
degrees qualified him to make an excellent bureaucrat, and so he again set
forth to do right, as he saw it, in the offices of the New York State Welfare
to Work Administration. A most civil servant.
And here is where we met Harold, in NYC, working for the state, trying to help someone, playing in community orchestras, fortifying a few hobbled church choruses, amassing a huge little library and a large circle of friends who had known instantly upon meeting him that Harold had a light that glowed bright and real over the unnavigable expanses of our wine dark sea. This was who Celia knew, her best friend Harold. Celia saw his light.