Hook Stories: Growing Up in New Jersey

A friend came into town unexpectedly and as old friends will do, we sat up talking and catching up until 3 o’clock in the morning which meant that I fell behind in my blog posting.   But, this did help me to choose from the Hook Stories … a series of short snippets from one of Hook’s childhood friends, Ken Curchin.   Following Ken’s sharing, I share something of my own.  Enjoy …

Growing up in New Jersey by Ken Curchin:

I have known Allan since kindergarten.  We used to hang together all the way through high school.  Here are a few stories….

  • Playing hockey on the pond at “the nursery.”  Allan lived near a pond that was shaped like a hockey rink. We used to play hockey there whenever it was cold enough in New Jersey — maybe 1-2 weeks per year — for ice thick enough to skate on.  When it snowed, we would bring shovels to keep the snow off “our rink.” His older brother Walter would also play with us.  We even played on an organized team our senior year in high school at The Navesink Country Club.  Allan had to wait a week to play on the team because he was playing high school football as an offensive lineman.  I remember a game vs. Red Bank and Allan had to play against John Lee…..6’4″ and 240 pounds…..Allan was maybe 5’11” and 170 pounds. John was the best player in the area and went on to play in the NFL.  You can ask Allan how he did….but I remember him saying that “John Lee killed me.”

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    Allan Hook, Rumson – Fair Haven High School, 1971

  • Allan smoking a pipe (with tobacco) as a 7th grader.  He thought he was so “cool.”  Of course, he only did it when he was not near his house.   I remember it had a big stem….he must have thought he was Sherlock Holmes.  
  • As we went off to college, our paths did not reconnect as much.  He was at University of Maine and I was at University of New Hampshire.  He was a lifeguard and that occupied much of his time.  We would see each other on occasion though.  Allan…do you remember after graduation (we were 24) when we met at Doug Herr’s house?  I had a woman with me…..it was Claudia..now my wife of 34 years!  We were just friends…until sparks flew — along with all of our clothes — right after we left you guys that night!  Now you know….the rest of the story.

I had not seen Allan in many years but we kept each other in the loop via Christmas cards.  Or…I sent a note updating him on my life and he sent a postcard with a bug on it. I live in Massachusetts but about 6 years ago was flying into San Antonio and decided to go see Allan (before you guys were married).  Claudia and I drove up to Austin and went to Allan’s house that day…we picked up like we had seen each other all the time instead of the first time in 25 years!

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From Rosemary:

I finally dreamt about Allan.  He was waiting for me at my favorite coffee house, sitting at a table in the corner with his back facing the door.  I recognized his bald head from behind because it was covered with his white baseball cap with the worn blue flap.  He had on his black fleece zip up HDU_OpaCoffeeBarjacket and his maroon flannel shirt peeked out from underneath it while the rest of him was clothed in his regular blue jeans and tennis shoes.   He was hunched over his laptop typing away, so I slipped into the chair across from him and stared, not sure exactly if I was in the present or the past.

Normally when I dream, everything is fuzzy and confusing.  But in that coffee shop with Allan, I saw with clarity the hardwood floors and the burgundy colored walls, tables with four chairs.  I waited for Allan to notice me, and when he finally looked up and saw me, this huge smile spread across his face.  It was the same smile he’d greet me with whenever we’d agreed to meet somewhere or if we’d gone to an art event together and somehow gotten separated.

He looked so healthy, all tan and clean shaven, with his face full like it used to be, before the surgery.  Then I knew instantly:  This is a dream.  He’s still dead, but he’s coming to me in a dream.  So I asked the question that had been swirling in my head for the last two months, the one that had turned me into an insomniac.  With wide open eyes staring and my heart — not pounding or anxious — waiting and wondering what he would say:

“How are you?” I asked.

Such a simple question but so monumental in its query.  How are you? How have you been? Is everything okay? Are you all right?

Allan smiled again, even larger than before, and with a twinkle in his eyes — the kind he would get sometimes when he had a surprise for me or if he wanted me to guess something.  He started talking, his face becoming animated while his hands gesticulated whatever it was he was trying to describe.  My eyes were so fixated on his face that it took me awhile to figure out that I couldn’t hear him.  It was as though the volume had been muted.  I felt a bit nervous because I didn’t want to interrupt, but I needed him to know — I can’t hear you! — but he was so excited to be sharing whatever it was he wanted me to know that I struggled with how to let him know I couldn’t hear.

Then I woke up.

My eyes popped open with no sleepiness in them.  After about two long seconds, I said out loud, “You came to me in my dream.”  The sound of my own voice in the quiet of the bedroom so early in the morning startled me.   I realized then that it had not been me waiting for Allan all this time, but him waiting for me as he has always done.  And even though I couldn’t hear, I could see.  I could see he was all right.  I could see he was safe.   I could see he was happy.

Editor’s Note, December 2013: 

There was a small detail I left out of the dream about what Allan was wearing when I saw him.   I didn’t mention it because I was trying to convince myself it didn’t have any significance but that was only because it didn’t make any sense to me.

Hook sometimes had the bad habit of placing his feet up on the arms of a chair or on a table to stretch them out.  He didn’t usually do this in public only in his office at work or at home (and he got a lot of grief for it, too.)   In the dream, once Hook noticed me and sometime before I’d asked him how he was doing, he’d swung his feet over the arm of the wooden chair he was sitting in.  I was so focused on his face but I’d noticed in my peripheral vision the tennis shoes on his feet were black.  Black tennis shoes?  I remember thinking that was strange because Hook didn’t own any black tennis shoes.  But my attention was on his face and what he was about to say so I ignored the shoes.

The image of the shoes stuck with me, though, long after I’d woken up so I googled, black shoes in a dream.  One site had a comment to a blog about whoever is wearing the black shoes in a dream is going on a great journey of exploration, but the explanation seemed vague and random in thought.

The day after the dream, I looked through the master closet, then the guest room closets, then the hall closets, then the garage and finally Hook’s Jeep and even my Nissan Altima but nothing — no black shoes.  I didn’t remember him owning any black tennis shoes so what did it mean?   I kept reminding myself, he looked happy, everything’s okay, but I couldn’t get those damn shoes off my brain.  Then one of Hook’s Trini friends emailed some old photos of Allan that he thought I’d like to have from one of Allan’s many collecting trips to Trinidad.

Hook in the Aripo Valley, Trinidad, 2008.

Hook in the Aripo Valley, Trinidad, 2008.

I almost screamed out loud when I saw the first photo.  There was Hook, standing on a trail in Trinidad in his collecting clothes and holding his net.  On his feet were the black tennis shoes from the dream.

Because Allan traveled every summer to Trinidad, he didn’t bother packing those shoes when he returned to the U.S. but left them behind along with other collecting gear.  Allan was going on a collecting trip in heaven.  Of course.  Why else would he have been so excited?

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Hook Story: Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life

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2009: Hook on campus at St. Edward’s University. Photo taken by fellow biologist, protege, and friend,Tara Maginnis during her Darwin Days event.

Last night, I hosted a mini Hookabration, a celebration of Hook’s life, for the entomologists who are in Austin for the annual ESA conference.  Five different hymenopterists shared heartfelt stories of their relationship with Hook — how he influenced their lives, what he meant to them as a friend and colleague — with 30 other entomologists in attendance.   This mini celebration was a smaller version of the larger Hookabration which we had only a few days after Hook passed away in early September.

One of the testimonials given at the original Hookabration was from a former colleague of Hook’s, Megan Murphy.   Megan had friends laughing and picturing Hook at his finest, ornery self.  Although I cannot share every testimonial or story given at both Hookabrations, I can share those that were submitted during my Call for Hook Stories.   It’s time for me to begin sharing those with you.  Enjoy …

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Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life by Megan Murphy

The first time I heard mention of Dr. Hook’s name was from a tearful student who came to my office to ask if there was any way she could withdraw from his freshman Biology class after the official drop period.  She said he was too hard. She was convinced that staying in his class would screw up her otherwise perfect GPA, which would keep her from getting into graduate school, which would limit her future career options, which would diminish her earning potential, which would ruin her life.  I will never forget her wailing, “Dr. Hook is ru-in-ing my liiiiiiiiife!!!!”

I worked in the St. Edward’s admissions office and learned to keep a fresh box of Kleenex in my desk for post-midterm revelations such as these. I don’t have any statistics to back it up, but it seemed to me like Al Hook stories were responsible for a disproportionate share of the freshman tissue usage.

Somewhere in the blurry early years of my 14-year tenure at SEU I finally met Dr. Hook. By then he had become a mythical creature in my mind.  Part man, part bug, and according to my tissue count, as heartless as the Tin Man. It was at one of those obligatory faculty/staff gatherings in the Maloney Room (the ones you really only go to because there’s free food), that I walked up to him and blurted out something like, “You’re Allan Hook, right? Do you think maybe you could stop making my freshmen cry?” He flashed me that exaggerated/open-mouthed “how dare you” look and then just started laughing …sort of loud….at me. He suggested I consider recruiting students with stronger backgrounds in the sciences, and then just walked away.

How we became friends after that less than gracious introduction I’m unsure, but over time we did.  Looking back, I think I can attribute our friendship to two things:

1)     Hook is funny (I’m a sucker for funny), and in spite of his crustiness he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. Hook didn’t seem to mind that I called him the Orkin Man when he dressed in head to toe khaki like an exterminator. Obviously he wasn’t too caught up in what anyone thought of his fashion sense because he swam laps in the school pool in a bathing suit that was so famously awful it had a name  — “The Rat.”  Over time I warmed up to his grumpy irreverence, his fascination with wasp copulation, and his creatively profane language.  In fact, I kind of liked it. All my life I’ve heard people say, “nobody likes a smart ass.” Well I disagree.  Some of us actually do.

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Megan Murphy with her fossilized scallop shell and dinosaur bone from Hook.

2)     Hook gave me two of my most prized possessions. Everyone at St. Ed’s knew that I collected found objects. Whenever fellow employees went on vacation, I asked them to bring me back something they found. I got everything from tiny jars of sand to pennies, but my favorites were the rocks and seashells. By the end of my employment I had amassed such a large collection of objects that there was little room left on my desk for anything but a phone and a Kleenex box. The found objects all ended up in a box somewhere, except for Hook’s contributions: a fossilized dinosaur bone and a fossilized scallop shell. They have been on display in my home ever since, and if my house were to catch on fire they would be among about five things I’d grab as I fled out the door.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably add that over the years there were far more students who bragged about surviving Hook’s classes than there were freshmen begging to get out of them.  Hook was a right of passage for a lot of science majors. They liked that he made evolution interesting and that he was curiously animated when he lectured on the topic of mating.  They groused about his tough grading but took pride in working along side him on his projects.  Hook had many devotees who credited him with preparing them for graduate education, research, and careers in science-related fields. I’d like to say that all his good deeds were somehow the result of my repeated requests that he consider taking a kinder and gentler approach to student advising……. but nobody likes a smart ass.

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WATCH YNN AUSTIN interview about Hook http://youtu.be/OmFFv0hfYbI
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Calling for Hook Stories

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Professor Hook, 2010.

Do you have a story you’d be willing to share about Hook or Allan or Al or Dr. Hook?  If so, I’d love to receive it via email so I could:

  • Read these to Hook.  He seems to enjoy having me read to him just before he dozes off.  (I read to him all of the comments from the blog postings.)
  • Share them on a future post titled, Hook Stories (or Stories About Hook), something like that.
  • Include any photo you’d like to send with the memory.

I welcome all quotes, anecdotes, stories… old, new, funny, sad, long, short.   I’d have to OK everything with Allan before publishing and I’d probably make any R-rated stories PG-rated (where possible).    Otherwise, your stories would be shared verbatim.

Email stories (w/ photo if you have one) to:  rosemary@hookthetalent.com

How about if we say that you’ll email by the 15th of August?   This will give you some time to compose.  If you would, let me know how you’d like me to reference you, e.g. Bromance buddy from UGA or fellow student at Colorado State or …

On a separate note, next week I have a special blog post.  I’ve been writing it in my head for about a month on a subject of a delicate nature — delicate but positive —  something I hope everyone will be open to reading.   I wish I could tell you what the post will be titled but I’ve no idea.  I can tell you that in a roundabout way it is about religion and God but not in the way you might think.   There will be no soapboxes, no preaching, no soul-saving, just a sharing of who my husband is, has always been, and the mysteries we keep discovering together.

Until that cryptic post …wooooo…. send those stories of my wonderful husband if you would.  All old, ornery, and obscene memories welcomed of course!  (They may not get shared via the blog but I’m sure Hook will appreciate hearing them.)

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