BY JAN WIEZOREK
Jan Wiezorek writes and teaches at an elementary school in Chicago. Copyright is held by the author.
I WAS LOOKING through old black-and-white photographs in mom’s album after she died, and she had saved my college shot of the lightning bolt hitting the campanile. It’s a worm’s-eye view looking up at the green oxidized roof. It shows the brightest, white-hot electric bolt I have ever seen. I took it with my pride and joy — the double-lens Yashica D. You can still buy that model today on eBay.
The charge came crashing down through the sky, spreading out sparks onto the tiled pyramid that topped the tower and its 50-bell carillon. It was a fluke, I guess, that in the wind and rain I was able to take the shot at all — much less at just the right second to capture the stunning flash of light.
Just before the storm began that night, I was under the campanile with Cynthia Williams, my partner for the kiss. I think we both thought we’d do it just to say we did it rather than because we really liked each other. Tradition says we were supposed to kiss under the campanile at the stroke of midnight, but since we were there early — very early — we thought we’d kiss then. And we did, at 7 p.m., as the carillon’s bells were chiming.
Cynthia said to me, “Michael, you’re such a lousy kisser.” Some lines I just don’t forget — even if they do lack originality. I remember to this day her assessment of me.
We both parted in disappointment — she to the library and I to my voice lesson inside the campanile itself, which, I admit, was an odd place to rehearse. But Professor Timbers had her reasons. So, I opened the iron door-like grill at the base of the square limestone tower, more than 100 feet tall.
I called out: “Professor Timbers, it’s Michael Donovan. I’m here for my lesson.”
“Let’s go,” she replied. “You’re three minutes late.” I remember her voice carried down through the tower like thunder itself. It took me a few minutes to climb the metal stairs that rounded upward until I felt slightly dizzy at the top.
Professor Timbers, who played the carillon within the campanile, often rehearsed in the early evening. To save time, she sometimes scheduled voice lessons up there, too. She was wearing her typical black dress. She always wore black to school, and she reminded me of a recitalist preparing to sing in a jam-packed funeral parlour.
“Well, open your music; we’re running out of time,” she said to me, clearly disturbed. She sat at the carillon with its keyboard of levers that were attached to the bells. She would pound the levers with her hands and the pedals with her feet to create the bell concerts for which the college was well known.
She struck a lever that gave me a tinny starting note for my ballad. Unfortunately during my lesson, I stopped much too frequently for her. Whenever I asked a question, she was bothered tremendously. “Just try to get the note out, and support the voice with your diaphragm,” she would say.
That evening, I stood near a small window inside the campanile during the lesson. Suddenly lightning hit, and the white light filled and then flickered within the tiny chamber atop the tower. Next, thunder piled on top of the roof, and I stopped singing once again to observe the torrent out the window — inquisitive and somewhat fearful of what could happen in such a storm.
“You’re done. Just go,” she said.
At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. Eventually I said, “But my lesson isn’t over.”
“Go. The lesson’s over,” she replied. “You haven’t the discipline.”
“I’ll focus on the music,” I pleaded. She said nothing else, ignored me completely, and began to review her own music for next week’s carillon concert. So, I sheepishly took my sheet music and camera and left. I climbed down the circular staircase, hearing thunder all the way.
Once outside, I was wet all over in seconds. But I reached up toward the rain, flashes of light, and thunder to take the shot. Just then, the bolt struck the patina-towered roof with catastrophic force. I didn’t bracket my exposures or try for a better shot. Instead, I clicked this single picture into life.